My new colleagues have engaged in an online discussion that happens in university departments everywhere: what should we do with the materials in this storage space that no one seems to be using? In this case there are video and audio cassette collections in addition to textbooks, DVDs, and so on. The colleague who began the discussion made proposals for some of the materials, including in caps “DUMP.” A second colleague responded that he needed the VHS tapes as backup for when DVD fails and, thus, he offered to store them in his office. I chimed in a suggestion to digitize the materials to save space while preserving content, and colleague 1 told colleague 2 that if he wishes to store all of the items, they will take up an onerous amount of space in his office. Finally a staff administrator wrote in with the following advice: “The idea of this isn’t to make people throw out useful items or create a certain quota of space, it is to get you to toss out anything that no one ever uses so we can make space for things that actually do get used. My Rule Of Thumb: If no one has touched it In the last year there is a very good chance that no one will ever touch it again; therefore you toss it.”
I am especially enjoying the evoked vocabulary, “Dump, chuck, and toss,” added to suggestions such as “rehouse.”
This all ties back to the value of the objects and the sense of libraries. Once again I’ll be working in a country that is quite far from the source of the language resources. Every object becomes precious because it is imported at some expense. These are items we made space for in our suitcases or took the care to purchase and ship. With the advent of internet shopping and e-books, it has become quite a bit easier to access language resources, but no one can bring back those VHS tapes from the garbage or revive defunct language learning systems and texts that are forever out of print. We also have nostalgic attachment to our daily interaction with those sources that we may have used to teach for hours each day for a year at a time.
My personal library is full of rare and out of print texts fished out of street markets in France, Switzerland and Quebec. If you asked me to chuck, dump, or toss those items that I haven’t touched in a year, I might just bite your head off.