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We can preserve book culture 

William L. Seavey’s letter (“Physical books do survive,” July 3) pondering the survival of books made of paper, ink, and cloth merits further comment. Case in point: Last month I visited a book sale section in a Central Coast library. To my astonishment, I discovered Norma Broude and Mary Garrard’s 1994 lavishly illustrated and definitive study, The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact. I purchased it for an insultingly low $3.50. (Copies in fine condition often sell for $30 or more.) My field is art history and this 18-author seminal volume is the only comprehensive history of American feminist art of its kind; it went out of print in 1997.

Back home I logged on to the Black Gold Co-operative Library System website that includes libraries from Carpinteria to San Miguel, and I found just one copy (at the San Luis Obispo Library) in either San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, meaning that this single copy must serve a population of 705,000. And if it is damaged or lost, then what? But my field of interest is not the only one that is losing significant, scholarly, or classic texts from library holdings. I am certain that important books in all disciplines are at risk of vanishing from library shelves as the digital era advances.

I am of the belief—conviction, even—that browsing shelves of real books is a historically tested and beneficial way of learning, and the attitude engendered by holding and turning the pages of a physical text encourages more deeper and ruminative comprehension than back-lit computer monitors or mobile tablets. Further, tangible books incarnate the culture that produced them and the issues of their times. It seems reasonable that both hard copy and digital texts have their uses. It should not be that one technology must vanquish the other for our libraries to serve their communities.

So what to do? Some colleges and universities have pooled their resources to keep older valuable books at off-site facilities, rather than send them to a pulping mill for destruction. Books in these “warehouses” are available for patron usage upon request. Could not San Luis Obispo County create such a facility that would serve its city branches from Nipomo to San Simeon to Simmler to Shandon? People like me would be enthusiastic to donate our personal specialized libraries to such an organization.

Retired scholars, teachers, academics, journalists, etc., could volunteer to serve on an acquisitions committee, acting as gatekeepers for quality control. Rare and costly books would have to be used on site in special study rooms. These are only a few ideas, and certainly there are more ways to preserve a significant legacy and midwife a renaissance for a book culture that is at risk of vanishing.

-- Gordon L. Fuglie - Central California Museum of Art, Atascadero

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