an open letter to my library

A Modest Proposal:
How the Eugene Public Library can increase the number of volumes in its collection and make more popular titles available without a single additional purchase.

To my dear friends at the Eugene Public Library,

I write to you today with an idea that will revolutionize our library. For years as a patron, taxpayer, and donor to the Eugene Public Library I have enjoyed your wonderful collection, great service, and beautiful facilities. I have been troubled, however, by two chief concerns. Firstly, I worry that despite the work of the Friends of the Library there are still too few books on the shelves, and secondly some of the most popular titles seem hardly to be on the shelves at all.

Thinking long and hard on this problem I have hit upon a solution that is as novel as it will be effective: the library should take new and popular books, cut them up into individual chapters, and place them on the shelves to circulate separately.

To help one fully appreciate the vast improvements in efficiency and circulation, let us take the recent hit Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as an example. The current collection stands at 65 copies with 33 available. Overnight, when the books are razored into 30 individual chapters the number of volumes in the collection shoots from 65 to 1,950. The number of volumes available will increase even more. Everyone currently holding a complete copy of the book would have only one chapter and 1,918 volumes would remain on the shelves waiting for the next eager patron.

Speed of circulation would also be greatly improved for each “title”. If all 1,950 volumes were checked out, patrons would no longer have to wait while someone reads all 652 pages but rather a single chapter which an adult reader could probably finish in one evening. Certainly the individual chapters might not be read right away or take a week or two to get returned, but that lag time can’t possibly be more than waiting for someone to finish a gripping novel.
Flexibility is one great advantage of this system. If a patron gets tired of waiting for a copy of Chapter 27, The Lighting Struck Tower, where beloved hero Dumbledore is killed by wicked magician Snape, he or she can always check out Chapter 28, The Flight of the Prince, which describes the aftermath of Dumbledore’s death.

For those who are unable to come into the library often to pick up each new chapter, the hold system would provide useful assistance. By putting a hold on all thirty chapters one at a time, each time typing in his full library card number and 7-digit PIN, When the patron visited the library, the chapters most recently returned would be there waiting for him. Which will it be this time? Chapters 4, 5, and 7? 2, 19, and 20? Or even 2, 3, and 4? The patron might prefer to put only one chapter on hold at a time, stretching out the enjoyment of J.K. Rowling’s prose for months.

Of course, the demand for the first few chapters would be higher than for the last few. As people grow frustrated with the new system and give up reading “divided” books and possibly the library altogether, there will be plenty of copies of chapter 30 to go around. Very few copies of chapter 1 would remain, of course, making it most likely that the chapters would arrive in reverse, creating a Memento style backwards narrative, or at the very least at random, creating a fractured 21 Grams style narrative.

Imagine how full the shelves would seem! Clogged as they would be with all but the first few chapters of every book in the collection, patrons could experience the joy of finding a copy of that summer’s bestseller still on the shelves before they realize that chapter 1 is not available.

I am confident, however, that you at the library will dismiss all these concerns, just as you have already done with your DVD collection.

A quick perusal of the DVD shelves shows that my idea has already been put to practice: shelves laden with discs 4, 5, and 6 of the third season of popular TV shows, the middle volumes of miniseries, and rarely a volume 1 to be seen. Shows with “heavy continuity” like Homicide or 24, where later episodes are nearly meaningless without having seen earlier installments are broken out from their original packaging and placed as separate titles. Would anyone like to see only the episodes “2:00 PM” through “7:00 PM” of taught thriller 24, without ever watching beginning or conclusion of that show’s 24 hour cycle? Certainly not, but that’s how it’s made available, just in case someone might. Patrons are given a choice whether they would like to reserve all the discs of a shows season and receive each at random or put one on hold at a time, wait the days or weeks, watch the four episodes in one evening, and go on the list for the next disc.

The result of this grand experiment? More titles on the shelves, higher circulation numbers, and patrons who would once have waited agonizing months to watch their favorite shows can now see the whole season out of order over the course of several months.

I know it may seem hard to take the blade to the most popular books in your collection. The system may seem arbitrary, a bureaucrat’s innovation that serves no one well. But I trust when it comes time to cross the line where we slice our solid, whole stories into separate chunks for no reason, we will take a look at the DVD section and realize: there’s no line to cross, we’re already there.

Thank you,
Toby Fee