Friday, January 11, 2013

Library aesthetic and 3-ring binders

     Does the appearance of the books in the library matter?  It does to me - I like to walk up & down the aisles of my library and look at the books, but I always cringe a bit when I see three-ring binders and other inferior binding formats. They just look ugly. I am not normally and interior-design kind of guy (just ask my wife) but the look of these sort of bindings bother me. I want our library to look inviting, pleasant and above all, intellectually stimulating. To me, three-ring binding, comb binding, spiral binding and paperboard covers are indicative of inferior or at least cheap production. This in turn calls into question the value of the content: if it was worth printing, why wasn't it worth printing well? Was your subject matter not that important?
     
     The value of the book is supposed to be in the content on the pages. A former library director used to talk about students wanting "the tomatoes, not the can", meaning the content is more important than the way its presented. He was speaking particularly about the differences between print and e-books, so I agree with him in that regard; but I'm not sure that the dictum applies so well to the progressive state of disrepair to which print books are subject.

      All library material gets worn, but these binding formats lose pages much, much more easily than book bindings do. Comb & spiral binding also tend to have cheaper covers, front and back, which are even less resistant to wear and tear. They are more likely as a result to end up in the mending process than standard books. This adds to the expense of dealing with them, as well as taking them out of circulation for a time. 

     I spent some time searching the library science literature for any published writing on the subject of a library aesthetic, but so far I've not found anything substantial. So, I am planning a project/study in which we put brand-new copies of books and the shelves next to old battered copes of the same books and see which ones circulate more over a year. Once I'm finished I will write up results and see if I can get it published. In the mean time, I'm going to continue my beautification project by pulling these ugly books (and worn-out standard bound books)off of the shelves and either replacing them with better copies or discarding them.
      As a humorous side-note to this post, I would like to share a site I discovered a while back, that might have gotten me thinking about this subject:  Awful Library Books 
Librarians share, in blog format, cover images and stories about books they couldn't wait to get off their shelves. This site should make all librarians want to weed their collections.

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