Finding Inspriration from the Great Library of Alexandria

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina (photo: Argenberg)

If you are a student, you probably have a feeling that textbooks are enormously expensive. It turns out that over the past few decades the cost of textbooks have been rising at a rate much higher than inflation, even outstripping the rate of medical services.

For this reason, one of the most common questions students ask at the beginning of the semester is whether Langsdale Library has a copy of their textbook. In some instances we do have a copy, but it is usually put on reserve for in-library use since we only have one copy available. However, in most cases we do not have textbooks or maybe we only have an older edition, because we simply cannot afford to buy new editions of every textbook used on campus while still providing the resources students, staff, and faculty need to do independent research.
So, what can a library do?  Well, it turns out we have found inspiration in an article by Daniel Heller-Roazen entitled “Tradition’s Destruction: On the Library of Alexandria.”According to Heller-Roazen, one of the ways the Library of Alexandria became so great was by adopting a rather aggressive collection development policy. By aggressive, what I really mean is stealing. Apparently when ships would visit Alexandria, if there was a scroll on board that the library did not have, they would simply take it, make a copy and keep the original for themselves. They would also borrow items from other libraries, make a copy and keep the originals for themselves.
So, if that worked for the Great Library of Alexandria, why couldn’t it work for the Great Library of Langsdale? In today’s more enlightened times, we have laws that prevent us from fully following the Library of Alexandria model. As I am sure you have figured out, the laws to which I am referring are the copyright laws which prevent us from making an unauthorized copy to give back to the original owner. As a state institution, what we can do is use the doctrine of eminent domain to confiscate books for the general good of the UB community. Eminent domain does demand that owners be fairly compensated for their property, however we are pretty sure we can get around that by merely offering a credit towards any fines the textbooks’ original owners may incur during their stay at UB.
So this summer we will start a pilot program where, for the first few weeks of the semester, we will be checking the bags of all visitors to Langsdale Library.  If you have a current edition of a textbook that we do not already own, we will take it and put it on reserve for the class. Don’t worry, you can still read it in the library. Well, as long as none of your classmates are using it. Plus you can use your late fee waiver to keep that book out overnight once or maybe even twice before having the fines exceed the value of the waiver.  So if you are lucky enough to have your textbook chosen for this pilot program, go ahead and keep that DVD out a few extra days over the summer, and rest happy in the knowledge that the textbook you purchased is now going to help the entire class.
Happy April 1 everyone.

3 Replies to “Finding Inspriration from the Great Library of Alexandria”

  1. great April Fools! I remember visiting the library in Alexandria and them telling the story of the confiscated scrolls….

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