Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Social Literature

Was alerted via Rana's post "Literature or social studies?" to a ST online forum letter (6 Feb 2006, "English literature: Keep its beauty pure").

NOTE: This post is not a response to the forum letter per se. The issue being discussed over there is of a different track.

Anyway, reading the forum letter reminded me of this:

Public Libraries, in determining what books and materials to acquire, will always face -- to some degree -- a tussle between those that are 'Popular' and those that are 'Literary' (books like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code are categorised as the former).

Does the library acquire materials on the basis of "giving the public what they want" (i.e. popular works) or "give them what we think they ought to have?" (e.g. classics, materials of informational value but hardly considered popular).

I think it's all about striking a balance: Yin/ Yang, Equilibrium, Harmony.

Public Libraries have to be pragmatic: If materials do not used, then demand for library services would decrease. Yet we can't be a library comprising entirely of comics and graphic novels. We would be well used but would also be neglecting the needs of readers who want more varied materials.

Personally and professionally, I don't really care if a book is considered "Popular" or "Literary". I'd always think back to these two laws from Ranganathan's Five:

  • Every Book its Reader
  • Every Reader his Book
It's about Balance, remember?

I see Public Libraries providing that balance -- exposing readers to works they would not necessarily be exposed to (either because the materials are beyond their economic means to acquire, or they are not inclined to make the purchase out of non-interest).

Whether they are reading Popular works or Literary ones, so long people are reading, that's always a good thing, isn't it?

Does it matter what categories they are? If it helps, let's call all of it Social Literature. It's a reflection of how reading needs evolve.

Terms like 'Popular' and 'Literary' are just terminologies that, when the argument is taken to extremes, just serves to distract what reading is about -- the exposure to ideas.

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