Anybody who has read this blog on a semi-regular basis knows that I have a beautiful, intelligent older sister and a beautiful, intelligent younger sister. What does that make me? The Middle Child With An Inferiority Complex. So it's almost fitting that I became a librarian.
Librarians are the only people I know who routinely justify their jobs. We're like the romance readers of the professional world. "See, my job is important!" "See, libraries provide a valuable service!" "See, the library is the greatest!"
Big Sigh. I made the decision a long time ago to stop justifying my reading habits to people who can't be bothered to listen. I'm starting to think I should do the same with my job, but given that my job is dependent on public funding (and I like paying the rent and buying groceries), I'm probably stuck on the Rah Rah Libraries Are The Coolest Bandwagon until the day I die. I'd say retire, but librarians don't retire - we move to part-time.
So in an effort to stay relevant, libraries keep looking for the next big score. Computers, check. Downloadable audio books, check. ebooks, check. Cafes in libraries, check. Free wireless service, check. DVDs, check. In recent years there have even been libraries built and modeled after chain bookstores. Shiny, new, housing what the public demands - their pop culture bellies filled till they burst.
As much as I love going to Borders, this practice tends to send a chill up my spine. Libraries and bookstores are not the same thing. (If you work for a publishing company please read over that last sentence again).
Yes, chain bookstores are bright, shiny, new and you can always find a copy of the new assembly-lined produced James Patterson novel there (seriously, I have this theory that he has a writing sweatshop set up in Guatemala). But half the fun of libraries is the hunt. We have James Patterson too, but you'll also find so much more. Long out of print gems that don't exist in Borders-land. Foreign translations. Well-reviewed books that had dismal print runs. Long-forgotten classics. Browsing the library is a feast. A treasure hunt where you can find untold riches.
But there's still that continual need to justify. To convince non-library users that yes, the library is vital! Yes, we're important! Love us! Validate us! And the easiest way to the do that is through raw numbers. See, this DVD of Spiderman 2 circulated 75 times! See, this John Grisham novel circulated 150!
I'm certainly not saying that libraries shouldn't offer popular titles. I mean, hello? Romance and mystery reader here! But that's not to say that libraries can't be both. They can be cultural clearinghouses and cater to pop culture desires. Naturally it's impossible to be all things, to all people, but libraries need to try - because if we don't do it, who will? I mean, you're certainly not going to find that foreign film that had limited distribution at Blockbuster. But you just might find it at the library. Hopefully one day all libraries will get it right. In the meantime I think I'm stuck wearing my Librarians Are Special button.