Chronological Snobbery and my Library

Libraries experience a great pull to stay up-to-date, to provide the newest material and the newest technology. They’ve got to try to keep people interested in them, have to justify staying open. Who would visit them if they couldn’t provide the newest bestsellers, the neatest computers?

Sure, they could cater to the reference crowd, but honestly, with the internet explosion, who wants to dig through a paper copy of a reference work?

So libraries, willingly or unwillingly cater to what C.S. Lewis refers to as our culture’s “chronological snobbery” – assuming that newest means best.

Never is this more evident (or more annoying) than in my local library’s online catalog.

Wichita Public Library’s online catalog sorts search results by DATE, then by title. Which means that if you search for C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, the title is third, below The Great and Holy War: How World War I became a Religious Crusade and C.S. Lewis at War: The Dramatic Story behind Mere Christianity.

In a surprising accident, the book I was searching for ended up on the first page. Searching for Lewis’s The Four Loves gives me 80 titles before I get to the one I want. And I’m lucky that The Four Loves was reprinted in 2004 – and that was given as the publication date. Otherwise I’d be waiting until response 101, a reprint from 1991.

Chronological snobbery.

You should really try it out yourself.

Thankfully, there is another option – I can select “Sort by Relevance” after the search is conducted and end up with the results I was actually searching for. But it takes extra steps that shouldn’t be necessary, wouldn’t be necessary if it weren’t for that darned chronological snobbery.

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