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Here come the book-cullers, a species far more dangerous to this state's literary, political and cultural heritage than the ordinary book-burners. For they operate under the protection of modern gods like efficiency and economy. Their latest ill-advised plan is to move three-quarters of the collection of literature, which numbers some 1.2 million books and printed materials, from the University of Arkansas' Mullins Library into off-campus storage.

That move would largely eliminate the library's invaluable function as a place for students and the public to browse in search of serendipitous discoveries.

This would mean the choice given readers would be severely curtailed. Those who use the library would lose the sense of finding hidden treasures they might never have suspected were buried deep in that library's commodious stacks. They would lose that "A-hah!" moment which comes with unearthing a book thought to be long lost or non-existent. It's a moment with personal meaning for bibliophiles the world over.

The result of this heartless purge of books would, to an extent, end the library's usefulness as a place to browse and so claim for one's own its treasures. For one might as well save a soul as save as a good book, particularly one that a reader has heard tell of, or even seen cited, but never before laid eyes on.

The university's administrators argue that the demand for printed books is low, yet browsers check out more than 30,000 books a year.

The university library has moved to cut its number of volumes with a secrecy that would more befit the country's nuclear arsenal than a library. There has been no public hearing or transparent process. In a curious way, this kind of hush-hush approach to a university's holdings is a great compliment to its importance.

It's as if readers are supposed to be distracted by the plans for a new storage facility instead of what's being done to the school's collection of old volumes--a crime against the art and science of reading.

Gentle Reader is being assured that a once great collection of printed volumes can be replaced readily enough by ebooks. Except that e­books are awkward to use, and can't be checked out and borrowed with ease for inter-library exchange. To quote one fan of reading, "Print continues to be central to scholarship and we should promote it instead of making it harder to access."

In a cry from the heart to the university's leaders, one reader pleads, "I presented you with facts that I believe make a clear case against the removal of the [print] collection as planned. If you see merit in my argument, I ask you to weigh in and request a revision of the plan and save the browsing collection of the University of Arkansas. The campus community overwhelmingly wants to keep it. It is vital to the university's mission. It is the right thing to do. As the American Founding Father and President Thomas Jefferson said: 'Let us save what remains, not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.' "

The writer of this plea knows of what he speaks, for he was raised in a Communist country where the regime kept close tabs on what its subjects were reading. Why not just let folks read what they want to read? As if this were still a free country.

My thanks to Josef Laincz of the University of Arkansas Libraries for the letter that inspired this column. His point should be well taken by the powers that be in the university's administration.

Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Editorial on 07/08/2018

Print Headline: The new vandals


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  • BoudinMan
    July 8, 2018 at 5:49 a.m.

    Good stance, Greenberg. You are n the right side of this one.

  • mrcharles
    July 8, 2018 at 11:03 a.m.

    Now what state had a school ban wizard of oz.

  • Foghorn
    July 8, 2018 at 11:36 a.m.

    This is outrageous and very troubling. Kudos to PG for shining a bright light on it. How can this be stopped; it must be stopped.

  • TimberTopper
    July 8, 2018 at 12:22 p.m.

    People, People, one must stop and consider what is truly important. One must weigh the importance of the decision to the future of the state. They say they need more room in the library, and by taking out the books, that extra room will be available. That way they will not have to make that horrible decision on the amount of money they would need from the sports division, to be placed in the intelligence division. After all just what the hell do you people want, educated young people, or great sports teams? Now, back to the important stuff, do we need a stadium the same size as AT&T for the cowboys or do we need one larger for the future Go Hogs Growth.

  • LRCrookAtty
    July 8, 2018 at 12:56 p.m.

    TT...You are right on top of this one. Way back when I attended graduate school at the University of Arkansas Engineering school, most of the students were from the middle east, India and china. They could not wrap their heads around the fact that we had to beg for money to do research while paying a coach millions of dollars to run a brown watermelon down the field. Don't get me wrong, I love football as much as anyone, but education is the most important commodity of the University. When standards start to fall (not only for sports but W's stupid "no child left behind" legislation), an education is not worth the paper it is written on. You can see it in the failing BAR exams around the country. We went from 70%+ pass rate to below 50%. The graders said they just believe that an attorney should know that a sentence starts with a capital letter and end in some type of punctuation.

  • ozena
    July 8, 2018 at 3:38 p.m.

    The UA has never been user-friendly, especially to its bread and butter clients, undergraduates, who are treated like peasants. When I was at UA only grad students and faculty were allowed to browse in the stacks. We proles had to go to the Dewey decimal system and submit book requests to a hard woman behind a counter, who may or may not have approved your selection of The Illustrated Kinsey Report. Maybe Hendrix still has a library full of books that students can peruse.