Flash in the pan vs. staying power

What a world of wonders we live in. We get play-by-play instant news coverage as rebels storm Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli. Within moments of Jack Layton’s last breath, the news of his passing — and his lovely letter to Canadians — is across the Internet. And along with military and political storms, we know about devastation by tornado in the charming town of Goderich, Ontario, and before those winds have died we have gust-to-gust tracking of hurricane Irene.

What a world of wonders we live in.

We get play-by-play instant news coverage as rebels storm Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli. Within moments of Jack Layton’s last breath, the news of his passing — and his lovely letter to Canadians — is across the Internet. And along with military and political storms, we know about devastation by tornado in the charming town of Goderich, Ontario, and before those winds have died we have gust-to-gust tracking of hurricane Irene.

When the Vancouver Canucks were in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Greystone books had A Thrilling Ride ready to go, with hopes that the final chapter would be about the win. That’s history, of course, and now the book is subtitled simply The Vancouver Canucks’ 40th Anniversary Season (on order for the library shelves).

You can bet that there were new biographies of Jack Layton ready for that final chapter, too, as well as new analyses of political unfoldings in Libya, the better to understand that heady play-by-play.

In a world increasingly demanding instant information, and where boundaries and political leaders and breaking news situations shift and twist like a white flag pinned to the West Bank wall, choices come hard to this librarian when it comes to acquisitions.

We are a culture of words and a species of thought and opinion, and we like to put the two together. For every news event we receive in a two-minute CBC soundbite, there’s a backstory, a careful analysis, and a different viewpoint to be had. That’s where the library comes in.

After the September 11th events in New York and elsewhere, news media and Internet were bursting with information from sources sublime and ridiculous, both. I know people who still believe the whole thing was a hoax. But the library is your reality check, the librarians your navigators. We try to choose acquisitions in print, audiovisual media, and downloadable materials that will give balanced viewpoints — from Palestine to Israel and beyond — and historical perspective.

I’m not saying it’s not sometimes tricky to know what to order. When the name Barack Obama emerged on the airwaves, the question of whether to order Dreams from my Father was a reasonable one; who could say what would happen? Similarly, we have Kim Campbell’s biography on the shelves, one of our shortest-termed PMs (who knew?) and not one of our frequent-circulation titles.

Politicians — from Trudeau to Ignatieff to Mulroney — have always written books, it seems. Some have staying power, some not so much. And some, such as Jack Layton’s book Homelessness: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis (363.50971), will enjoy a sudden resurgence of interest.

Some world events and political situations carry on, sadly, for a long time; books about famine or child soldiers have a long shelf-life because, unfortunately, these problems persist. Taking action takes understanding, and so these remain important to our collection, even as circumstances around these issues change. Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil (967.57104) will be around for a long time, lest we forget the Rwandan tragedy. Gideon Levy’s The Punishment of Gaza (956.953044) offers a window into an issue that’s not going away anytime soon, and for which there are no easy answers.

So we do our best, trying to satisfy our patrons’ need for information while stretching the acquisitions dollar. We always welcome suggestions, because it gives us a better idea of the issues you need to understand. Think of us as the post-game analysis to the news media play-by-play.

And around the world goes.

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