Old Books: Research Archive or Landfill?
King, J. E., History of Economics Review
I recently had a rather disturbing meeting at La Trobe University. It stemmed from an earlier session of the university's Library Committee at which there was a reference to the 'weeding' of 'superseded editions'. I expressed sufficient alarm at this to be offered a private meeting with the library staff who make the decisions as to which books should go into store, and which to landfill. It was not at all reassuring. The senior librarians whom I met seemed very reluctant to accept my argument that 'superseded editions' are a potentially valuable resource for historians of thought, and focused instead on the cost of storing them. So long as a copy was retained somewhere in Victoria (Melbourne University, Monash, the State Library ...), the line was that La Trobe should save itself some cash and opt for landfill. But--as they admitted--there is no guarantee that these other libraries will not one day perform a large-scale 'weeding' exercise of their own. And it is clear that there is no national policy on this, let alone a national depository to ensure that somewhere in Australia there is one copy of every edition of every book, preserved for future researchers. I do not know what the position is on this overseas, but I would like to think that the British Library has that responsibility in the UK, and the Library of Congress in the US.
In all probability HETSA members will need no convincing about the need for such a depository, but the arguments might be worth stating anyway. Different editions of textbooks shed valuable light on what was being taught, and presumably what was thought to be important, at particular points in time, and on how these perceptions changed. (I believe that there is at least one published article in this vein devoted entirely to the many editions of Samuelson's Economics. …