Friday, 20 June 2014

In The Libraries Bad Books

There are books that are no doubt worthy, but truth be known they are just not attractive reads, and would never stay in print if printings 'natural selection', sales, was allowed to makes its choices  .... but these dull but worthy tomes, often survive in print because they meet some socially 'special' criteria.

These could be that they are deemed as important nationally e.g. The works of Shakespeare, which I can't imagine are big sellers, and probably only survive in print because of sales to schools etc. Another factor is that they meet some criteria that the library system defines amongst its local authority administrators. 

Possibly one such book is "YOUNG FREDERICK DOUGLASS: The Slave Who Learned to Read" by Linda Walvoord Girard.

In The Libraries Bad Books

.... a book which has set some sort of record, by remaining untouched on the shelves for 17 years in a Sheffield library ... by that I mean it was never lent to a single person.

Now it doesn't take a genius to work out the attractiveness of this book to the local library system:

  • Its about black people rising above adversity.
  • Its about black people being victimised by white people.
  • It espouses multicultural values about the equality of mankind. 
  • And it would have sold about a dozen copies and been remaindered if left to public taste. 

So into the library system it was bought .... raising its sales into the thousands of copies.Where it no doubt lay unwanted on many a shelf for the last two decades or so .....

On the other hand, there were popular books in the library system that suddenly were deemed as not suitable for the shelves of public bodies such as schools and libraries. These books were often:

  • Popular, with a high take out rate.
  • Have big commercial sales 
  • Remained in print for decades
  • But contained 'inappropriate ethnic stereotypes' ... such as the works of Enid Blyton.

Of course, these bans can backfire and revive sales of books that had flagged as public tastes changed over the decades. A good example of this was when there were a series of challenges to bookshops and libraries which continued to stock 'Tintin in the Congo' by Herge. The book was of its time, but popular still ..... but under pressure from the usual suspects, it was redrawn over the years, because the original pictures were deemed to be 'racist' by portraying the African characters with exaggerated physiognomies (depictions of a hunted rhinoceros being blown up, were also removed for animal welfare concerns).

The redraws have subtlety changed African physiognomies.

However the irony was that when Borders the booksellers moved its copies to the adult section, it prompted sales to grow, to the point where it was their fifth highest selling title.

The message being that 'You can't buck the market'.


  1. I can see it's a difficult balance between what the public should want to read and what we actually read. It's similar to what we should eat and what we actually eat; I'm in favour of reducing fat, sugar and salt in ready-meals because market forces won't do it, they are the cause. The Slave Who Learned to Read, I suspect, is an extreme case.
    Shakespeare is an interesting case because they are plays and perhaps were not intended for reading in book form.

  2. Personally I suspect that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of books that rarely see the back of the shelves. As for Shakespeare, perhaps the Sonnets survive by their own merits ...

    1. Straw poll of 20 people at work .... no one had read any Shakespeare whatsoever since they had left school. The group included those who left school 5 yrs ago, and those who left 30 yrs ago.

      So this begs the question, why does Shakespeare survive in the modern world?

    2. Hmm, have to think about that question .... thanks for the comment.


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