Discards

I have recently been following the blogs of Harvard economists Danni Rodrik and Greg Mankiw. The high quality of Harvard economist Danni Rodrik has a post about libraries:

I have been reading Erik Reinert’s How Rich Countries Got Rich… and Poor Countries Stay Poor, which is a lot of fun because it covers ground that economists have long forgotten (even though I do have questions about Reinert’s understanding of contemporary economics). One of the snippets in the book is that the Baker Library at the Harvard Business School discarded in 1984 all of the books that had not been checked out in the last fifty years (including most of its collection of Friedrich List). Reinert says that he subsequently bought some of these books from book dealers. [Dani Rodrik’s weblog: Librarians’ folly?]

I have no knowledge of this case. I thought there were some interesting things in the note:

  • His view of the library is influenced by his undergraduate years there: “Baker library holds a special place in my heart as I spent a god bit of my undergraduate years in its bowels.”
  • His current search habits are not surprising: “The typical deep research (i.e. a Google search) has not turned up any more information about this infamous event in the history of librarianship.”
  • The library as place seems outside the current workflow: “I suppose I could walk over and ask myself …”. Does he interact with the librarians by email? Maybe not: “And I remember the librarians at Baker as nice and wise folks who would not have made such a blunder… “
  • His current work habits also seem typical: “What would now take about ten minutes sitting in front of a PC took me days and days of walking the stacks at Baker.”