Friday, May 18, 2012
50 Shades, Libraries And Collection Development 101
I have a lot of pet peeves, but the one that gets my blood boiling faster than anything is when librarians lose sight of "good" collection development practices. Simply put, it's a balancing act between giving people what they want and what they need. And as a librarian, it's not my job to beat them over the head with what I think the difference is between want and need. My job is to provide materials and information in an unbiased manner and let folks make up their own minds. So yeah, while I could happily never buy another Danielle Steel book ever again, I still buy her. And when someone requests one of her books, or grabs one to take to the check-out desk, I don't pull them aside and say "Why are you reading this hack? Let me give you something good to read!"
The argument bandied about over public libraries not collecting 50 Shades is that the reviews have been "bad." That it's poorly written. A flash in the pan. A novelty. A series with absolutely no staying power that will fade into obscurity in a few years.
To which I say, fine. It can sit next to The Da Vinci Code in The Book Obscurity Grave Yard.
Do librarians base their purchases off "good reviews?" Yes. Yes we do. But we also, if we're halfway decent at our job, learn quickly to read between the lines. "Bad reviews" also sell books to public libraries. Whether we're talking professional review journals or blogs, reviews are still one person's opinion. My job is to look at the black, white and gray (tee hee), take out my crystal ball, and figure out if the audience exists for Book X within the population my library serves.
Also, I'll be blunt - as many reviews as I read, there are some books I just don't bother with reading the "critical" commentary. John Grisham could publish a major turd of a book, but you know what? I'm buying it. It's John Grisham. And it doesn't even have to be a "huge" author to get me to not read reviews. Folks who are "names" within their genre get a free pass as well. Ask the average person walking down the street who Julia Quinn is and they probably won't know. But guess what? She's a major name in romance circles, which means I'm buying Julia Quinn. I just am folks. I don't need to see the reviews.
Today Show? Guess what, those reviews don't mean squat anymore. Because as much as I love readers? Dude, we're sheep. Something gets enough attention and there's going to be a body somewhere who wants it. (In the case of something like 50 Shades, a lot of bodies).
Does this mean librarians should throw their baby expertise out with the bath water? No. Because I don't think libraries should solely be in the business of popularity contests either. It's about finding a way, and the room, to have things like 50 Shades and the latest installment from the James Patterson Writing Sweat Shop sitting next to Shakespeare, Voltaire and that critically-lauded coming of age story translated from the original Swahili.