A collection of library books is a living thing. Its cells are individual books, each one with a span of life, and belonging to a subject heading, representing a topic with its own life-span. The 300's, Social Sciences, are especially volatile. They map the rise and decline of attention paid to various social and political issues over time, (examples: women having both careers and families, Communism, AIDS, drug testing, date rape, electromagnetic health threats, sports doping).
You think at first that a title is too old, only to find that its subject hasn't been much addressed recently, and that your book is not so bad after all. It's just not going out because the subject isn't on society's radar anymore.
In other cases, more recent material is out there, but no longer in printed form. Vocational rehabilitation and careers for the disabled is a good example here. A Google search limited to .org or .gov domains will yield a wealth of information. Support groups, which I recently blogged about, are another example. Ratings and help for choosing senior communities and facilities are a third. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has gone completely digital. Resources and forums for these issues and others like them have left the print world and now exist primarily in cyberspace.
This is a heartening rebuttal to the impression that the Internet has gone to the dogs. Yes, the Web is host to all manner of vanities now, but it continues to fulfill the high expectations of its founders as well.
It leaves me to wonder, though, what lies in store for my print collection in the Social Sciences? There will be far fewer printed directories, handbooks, manuals, and other kinds of institutional literature.
In some cases, the collection will be the poorer for it. I found that Peterson's, a publisher of directories in the field of education and of test-preparation materials, appears unlikely to update its 2005 print directory of internships. They want instead to sell access online, with single-user accounts. This is a disturbing trend for libraries: publishers not wanting to sell them a printed work that can be used by many.
Treatises and subject surveys with new perspectives and fresh arguments to make will continue to engage a print readership.