What do you expect to find in a public library?  I would like—though no longer expect—to find a large selection of old, unusual, and out-of-print books, music, and videos, the kind I am unable to buy from Amazon or borrow from Netflix.  Shouldn't that be a basic purpose of libraries:  to be a treasure store of valuable materials outside of whatever happens to be popular at the moment, especially those not otherwise easily obtainable?  Unfortunately, most libraries seem to be divesting themselves of these materials in order to make more room for the the latest favorites.  To be sure, this is also a function of libraries, and I appreciate being able to borrow a book when all I want to do is read it; I prefer stocking our own bookshelves with materials I already know are worthwhile.  (One casualty of the libraries' jettisoning old books is that our shelves are overflowing; I can no longer prune our collection of lesser books on the grounds that I can always borrow them from the library if needed.)  Most libraries, I believe, are out of balance in the way they address both functions, and our culture is suffering for it.

Thanks to my sister-in-law, who should have her own blog because she and my brother send me interesting ideas much faster than I can write about them, and to the Percival Blakeney Academy blog, I now know that this phenomenon is not limited to libraries, but has had a major impact on the Oxford University Press Junior Dictionary.

The battle over which words to include and which to exclude is not new for dictionary makers.  With language constantly changing and growing, keeping a dictionary to a reasonable size requires excising some words when others are added. This is especially difficult with a children's dictionary, which must be extremely limited.  That said, I believe the Oxford University Press has fallen into the libraries' error, depriving children of important information in favor of what's new and popular.

Words taken out:

Carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe

Dwarf, elf, goblin

Abbey, aisle, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, vicar

Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade

adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.

Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow

Words put in:

Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and paste, analogue

Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate, EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate, endangered, Euro

Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum, classify, chronological, block graph

Removing spinach to make room for chatroom?  Replacing devil with MP3 playerPoultry with trapezium?  And what about block graph?  I'd love to know the new dictionary's definition, as all my dictionaries and Wikipedia failed me.  I suspect they mean a simple, graphical way of presenting data, and not the higher-level math of graph theory, or this definition I found via Google:  "a block graph...consists of a plurality of logic blocks interconnected by nets which carry logic signals between the logic blocks."  In any case, its inclusion at the expense of emperor seems bizarre.

On the other hand, they do include common sense for the first time.  I'd like to think that, like MP3 players, Euros, and celebrities, common sense has been included because it has become popular and commonplace.  But I doubt it.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 6:06 am | Edit
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Thanks for mentioning my blog. I also have many library orphans on my shelves. I sympathize with the poor librarians. It would be a hard choice to try to balance new books that are avidly read (especially the light series books that our family calls popcorn books) with the quality literature that might not go out so often (especially when they are bound in drab rebindings that put off inexperienced readers.
We frequently vacation in Cincinnati, where we can marvel at the Hamilton County Library, a huge library that still takes the research and preservation aspect of its charter seriously.

Posted by Sebastian a lady on Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 3:19 am

Thanks for commenting! I have cousins in Cincinnati; I'll have to pay them a visit and check out the library.

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 7:04 am
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