Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Welcome To The Real World

Two things that get on my last good nerve? Anonymous bloggers who are anonymous for the sole purpose of stirring up shit and people who think they're just oh so clever, oh so intelligent, and oh so better than the rest of us mindless, drooling peons.

No, I'm not talking about the latest kerfuffle in Romance Bloglandia (although to my knowledge, there is no kerfuffle going on right now), I'm talking about some of my librarian brethren who need to shut their pie holes because they have no bloody clue what the hell they're talking about.

So what has Wendy's panties in a bunch? Yet another useless discussion on how public libraries are bowing down to the lowest common denominator by offering up entertainment drivel to people who are too cheap to join Netflix, how we're determined to expose porn to the masses, and how we're responsible for the dumbing down of a generation because we offer video gaming programs in libraries. Public libraries should be all about education! And great literature! And intellectually building up the masses of humanity!

Seriously, just shoot me now. It'll be tidier than waiting for my head to explode.

This "debate" always annoys me because it tends to be started by 1) Librarians who should have retired 20 years ago 2) Librarians who have been locked in some academic ivory tower for the last 20 years and wouldn't know how a public library works today if it bit them in the ass or 3) all of the above.

I tend to get annoyed by pointless discussions, and this one is beyond pointless. Want to know why? Well, your Auntie Wendy is here to tell you. Should libraries be all about the intellectual good? Or about puerile, mindless entertainment?

Wait for it. Ready for the answer? Here it is....


A public library's sole purpose should not be one or the other. Libraries offer popular movies, video game programming, and entertaining genre fiction for one reason and one reason only. Ready for it? Here it goes.....

To get people through the front door.

I know, shocking isn't it? We want people to use the library. We want people to "show up." Shit, public libraries are funded by public money. It's in our best interest to stay relevant.

The mission of any halfway decent public library should be two-fold. Give 'em what they want and offer them what they "need." You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Certainly, that creepy guy who checks out online dating sites every morning is most likely never going to pick up a copy of Hamlet, but whose to say some other library user won't. Who says the kid who comes in to read graphic novels, won't later discover that the library also has books that will help him write his college essay? Or the harried single mother who comes in for a Baby Einstein DVD to get her toddler off her back - who says she won't use the library computers to get information about grants and scholarships so she can go back to school?

I'm not sure public libraries can be all things to all people without librarians slowly losing our minds, but as a profession, I think we have to try. It's what we're here for. We're here to help. And whether that help comes in the form of a loftier ideal or puerile lowest-common-denominator entertainment, who are we to judge?

The answer is, we can't judge. We shouldn't judge. Because we don't really "know." People seek information and entertainment from their local public libraries for a variety of reasons. Whether it be for comfort, escape, or to better themselves. Maybe that woman who only reads "trashy Harlequins" reads them because she's an ESL learner and Harlequins don't have $50 words that trip her up? Maybe that kid who comes in to only play computer games does so because his home life is shit and playing computer games is the only "fun" he has all day? Maybe that older gentleman only uses the public computer to check his e-mail because it's the cheapest and easiest way for him to stay in touch with his daughter who lives 3000 miles away?

I'm not one to make my job out to be more important than it really is. In the grand scheme of things, I know my place in the universe. That being said, I do think that I do "good work," just as many other public librarians around the world do. We don't get into this profession for the money, accolades or prestige (good thing to, because talk about a rude awakening!). We do it because we want to help people. And that "help" means different things to all walks of life. The minute librarians lose sight of that, is the minute they need to think about a change in careers. It's not pretty, it's not glamorous, but we're here to serve. And that means everybody. Even the people who are too cheap to get Netflix, the teens who show up for video gaming programs, and the little old ladies who only want to read Danielle Steel.

Librarians who don't like that, don't understand that, and continue to whine about it need to get over themselves. You aren't that important and we don't like you anyway.


Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

Back a few years ago, I stopped going to my hometown library because one of the librarians there made me so uncomfortable. I was on the search for looking for very out dateed romances from the 80's and used the inter-library loan program like you wouldn't believe. The librarian who ran the program always gave me dirty look because of the books I wanted. Not sure if she had a thing against romance or just had a stick up her ass. I guess she made some assumptions about me because I read these books, not taking into account that I was taking out 6 books a week from other genre ranging from mystery to non-fiction. Finally I stopped coming because she said I was abusing this system for "those types of books"
And at the time I wanted to donate my money to the library. I decided to donate my money in other ways.

Lana said...

I think you've definitely got it right. The point of a public library is to serve the public - to give them what they want, hopefully provide them with some of what they need, and best-case scenario, instill a love of reading.

And if they love to read, who cares whether it's graphic novels, Harlequin romances, or Plato's Republic? If we only had "high-brow" stuff at the library, you probably would never find me there.

Our university library suffered from just that problem in its 'popular reading' collection. (Do they seriously think Dostoevsky is what brain-fried law students want to read for pleasure?)

To those prim-mouthed librarians: Remove knickers, untwist, replace. Thank you.

azteclady said...

And this is one of the many reasons I love you with undying passion, Miss Crabby Pants: your common sense and vision.

Thank you for being the best example of the best type of people, let alone librarians.

Anonymous said...

I hear you...I'm an academic librarian who loves romance novels, and now that we have a bestsellers collection, see me checking out my Christine Feehan or Nora Roberts with much glee!

I love your blog...


shayera said...

That's what Tammy and I always say. If I give the people what they want, they check it out! Therefore, my circ stats go through the roof and my bosses think I'm a genius.
I just don't get the librarians who don't understand the correlation.

Mollie said...

Well said.

-A like-minded Librarian.

P.S. I hate to hear stories like Katiebabs. When I worked in the public library I always tried to encourage reading/use no matter what my personal opinions regarding the material was.

Egyptindian said...

I agree. We need to find better ways to connect with library patrons. I think gaming that ties into books and learning is a good first step. We've been trying to work with libraries to help with this effort. We'd love to explore more ideas

Anonymous said...

I wish there were more librarians who think like you! You're awesome, Super Librarian!

Ann Bruce said...

Video gaming programs?

Ooh, I must make that suggestion to my library.

Lori said...

Clapping. As one who works in the publishing industry (and as a parent), anything that gets someone into a library, public or otherwise, is worth it in my book.

I just wish my library carried more of what I want to read. Can't count how many rants I've done on that topic. BTW, they finally got hooked into the states ILL system. WOOT!!!

JamiSings said...

Only reason I'm not fond of the video game idea is our library is way too small for it. It was built in the 1960s and there's barely enough room for the books, let alone a video game system. The bigger and newer libraries are welcome to it.

But one thing that some of the libraries are doing I think is just plain crazy. Speed Dating events.

I just can't help but think of them getting up so fast that they knock down a whole shelf of art books on themselves. Seems a library would be a dangerous place for speed-anything.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add my voice to what Egyptindian said about linking things together.

My story: I bought a US fashion magazine as a teen and there was an add for Pepe Jeans with a cute guy with a sword and a tattoo [insert kittenish meow here]

Anyway, there was a quote by Shakespeare and something went tilt in my brain. I NEEDED THAT BOOK.

Now, I knew vaguely who Shakespeare *was* but I hadn't actually read anything by him.

I'm also, I confess, one of those crazy purist so I wanted the book in English...essentially a foreign language to me.

The school libray only had the sonnets translated to Fr, so I searched high and low until, AT LAST, months later, I found the friend of a friend of the cousin of somebody who worked with my mother who had an old copy. Eurêka!

Ok, took a longish tangent, but all this to say that that kid might start by playing games but if *someone* were to hint that a book had a similar plot, who knows what might happen...

An ESL teacher

Wendy said...

Kate: Most likely she hated romance AND had a stick up her ass. Whenever I have a run-in with one of these types I have to bite my tongue almost clear off to keep from saying, "You know, you're making my job harder. Could you just retire or die already? Many thanks asswipe."

Lana and Anon: Well academic libraries are a whole other kettle of fish - but yeah, Dostoevsky in "popular reading?" That's just plain cruel. Gawd, and depressing! Aren't college students depressed enough?

Ann: Oh sure! Libraries have mainly been focusing on group-oriented games like Rock Band and Dance, Dance Revolution. You should mention it to your local librarians. All they'd have to do is open up any of the recent professional literature on Teen Services.

Thanks for all the great comments everybody! And for those of you who said nice things about me....

Your check is in the mail.

Kerry said...

I need library speed dating. As a former librarian, and a single girl, it's hard to find a man who reads!

Barbara said...

What you are saying makes complete sense. A public library is to hopefully supply the public with what interests them reading wise.

I personally don't go to the library anymore to get books. I'm big on romance novels and it just seemed like the romance section dwindled, while the dvd movie section grew huge. Hey, you can't have it all.

I do like taking my little girls though. They offer story days and have a wonderful children's section!

Uppity said...

Holy spinsters, Batman. I've always revered librarians as champions of learning of ALL kinds, not just that of so-called "great literature" (which is just code for "dead white guys' writing" anyway). You've knocked librarians off my pedestal, that's for sure. ;)

JamiSings said...

Kerry - sadly it's offered the the patrons, not the library workers.

I suppose it happens at one of the libraries big enough for a meeting room. We're not a branch like that though. We're really small. So I keep envisioning someone running to the next table and knocking into the stacks, sending hundreds of pounds of books crashing onto people....

Wendy said...

Uppity: Librarians aren't any more special than any other profession out there. Just as there are "bad" doctors, nurses, and teachers - there are "bad" librarians.

Which probably doesn't earn me any brownie points among my colleagues - but damn, it's the truth so they'll just have to suck it up.

But the good librarians? They're worth their weight in gold and I wish I could give big wet sloppy kisses to all of them :D

I've been extremely lucky in my career to have worked with so many talented, wonderful, dedicated librarians. Oh sure, there have been a couple rotten apples - but generally speaking they are few and far between.

Big sis said...

I'll admit I skimmed this one Sis, but did anyone mention that everyone in the community pays taxes that keep ye ol' library up and running? So dontcha think we should have a little somethin' for everyone? It is called a PUBLIC library after all. You know you're preaching to the choir with me. If you don't like video games, don't play them! If you don't want to see "mindless" movies stay out of the video section. Or better yet...make a donation to your library and earmark it specifically for the kinds of literature and film you WANT to see there.

Wendy said...

The word is out. My sisters skim my blog. If that isn't a dead giveaway that I'm the middle child in this family, nothing is.

Big Sis: Yep, yep, yep. I subscribe to the school of thought "a little something for everyone." And donations get earmarked all the time! At my old job I remember spending donation money strictly on audio books because that's what was specified.

BookBukNut said...

I couldn't agree more or said it any better. I totally agree with you and get tired of the high and mighty twits out there!!!!