The Book of Dead Philosophers

I will continue with my silly-yet-very-librarianish method of naming my posts after books, just because I can.  Since my husband (a philosophy professor) enticed me with this book title the other day, it seemed very appropriate to use it for the post I was planning to write.  So, I ask, are books dead?  That seems to be a big question here on our campuses lately.  We’re under a huge budget proration right now, and of course the library got hit very hard (I can’t order pencils, much less books, these days!)  Somehow the administration doesn’t quite recognize [understand? acknowledge?] that libraries are not static collections.  We need to continually add books to our collection which will support our programs, as well as weed those titles that may be significantly out of date.  (Yes, this library has only been open since last August, but the bulk of my monograph collection came from another branch and contains many old, dusty, nearly useless books.)  So I desperately need to order new nursing titles, recent books on history and literature, and some fun-interesting-useful books for general consumption.  Alas, that may not happen this year, nor next year if the budget doomsayers prove correct.


I’m not completely without resources, though.  I have some generous donors who have given several boxes of general fiction, which I accepted happily and joyfully.  Even though Dean Koontz and Nora Roberts may not fit our academic programs, they play an important role here.  So many of our students need remedial work in reading and composition, and what better way to help them than by providing fun books to read and enjoy?  I find that students new to the library look surprised when they see Douglas Sparks, Tolkien, and Robin Cook face out on a display table, right next to resume and interview guides.  I’ve even had one or two ask, “Wow – do people still read?”  I encourage all my students to try a book or two.  Some take me up on it, and some don’t.  But those that do often come back for more, and that is a highlight of my day.


So I ask again… are books dead?   And if not, how can we get more books into the hands of folks who need to read?  And an even better question, how do we get the word out to the college administration and corporate bean-counters that library budgets actually do serve a purpose?

7 thoughts on “The Book of Dead Philosophers”

  1. A recent NY Times review of Dead Philosophers reproduces the book’s apparent perpetuation of the discredited but still widely held view that Nietzsche suffered from syphilis. Those interested in the likely cause of Nietzsche’s mental collapse may enjoy this philosophically-informed but quite enjoyably accessible essay by Charlie Huenemann (Utah State):

    Nietzsche’s Illness

  2. I’m reading Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night right now, and he discusses the difference between those who love learning and those who love reading.

    I think our academic libraries support those who love learning (granted maybe ‘love’ is a strong word sometimes), while books are for those who love reading. What I mean is, if a student is trying to learn something books are not the only source to turn to. If a student is trying to read something, books are fantastic.

    Reading and learning aren’t unrelated, obviously, but if academic libraries are responsible for materials that support learning, we may not be exclusively about books.

  3. No. More books are published than ever in history. The most recent annual sales figures indicate a 3% rise in sales from the previous year. Used book sales are through the roof. Even the NEA is conceding that reading of fiction is on the rise.

    Looking through essays submitted for a research prize, I was amazed at the percentage of books cited in bibliographies. Books – even scholarly ones – are often more accessible to undergrads than scholarly articles.

    I taught a class on books and culture in January. (We have a one-month interim session in which students take one intensive course). It filled quickly. I got e-mails from students asking to be allowed in. I had to finally stop saying yes because the room simply couldn’t accommodate more students.

    They surveyed students and found that out of 150 subjects, only one said he/she didn’t read for pleasure because he/she wasn’t interested in reading. The others wanted to read more but had trouble finding the time. (Faculty would probably say the same.)

    When asked about Kindle’s and Google’s announcements that they would start making books available for cell phones, the students in the class universally gave it a thumbs-down. They want “real” books.

    Students had to read three books of their choosing during the month and all of them not only did it without complaining, they were happy to be able to read something for fun. Incidentally, one of the field projects conducted during the class revealed that a large percentage of our students thought we don’t have any fiction because it’s not shelved separately.

    I wish people who assume students aren’t interested in reading books for information or for fun would ask students instead of making assumptions. (Sadly, those most often making critical decisions are not themselves great readers of books.)

  4. Thanks for the article link, Barbara! I bookmarked it and plan to read it more carefully tonight.

    Your class sounds really interesting… We had something similar (a Jan-term) at the small liberal arts college where I was bookstore manager, before finishing my Masters. They offered a bunch of classes on all kinds of crazy stuff, but the most popular ones were the ones focused on books and reading (A Tolkien class, a Lewis class, one on Jane Austen, I think….) And the students were really excited when they’d come to buy the books, “I’ve always wanted to read this!”

    I’m having a much different experience here at the community college. There’s a different demographic, a different academic culture, and definitely a different reaction to books and reading. So I’m trying to change that, one student at a time. ::grin::

  5. Good luck! When students are busy, stressed, have loads to do, reading beyond what’s necessary isn’t high on the list. And not everyone loves reading, which is okay. Really. People who don’t read fiction for fun are not morally bankrupt, though you might think so for some of the hype 😉

    But it’s great if you can support those who do like to read, or who might develop an interest.

  6. Books aren’t dead. Among our students, who often do not have computers and whose computer skills are often limited, books on topics related to their assignments are the first choice (after cutting and pasting from Wikipedia). Our academic journal database is hard to search and often returns irrelevant results, and although our topical databases are more helpful, the more general information contained in books, especially the Opposing Viewpoints and similar series that are specifically intended for students, is exactly what they need.

    Very few of our students read for fun or to pursue personal interests, but this is a community college, not a research university. I guess there’s only so much we can expect. I do collect both enticing (hopefully) fiction and nonfiction on interesting (hopefully) topics, because I think it would benefit our students to read more. But you can lead the horse to water…

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