Immoral Librarianship

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The subject line is a teaser, naturally. What sort of immorality are we talking about? Heroin-shooting librarians? Gluttonous librarians? Menage a librarian?

To get to the answer, you’ll have to first read through a paragraph of whining. (I suppose the very clever among you will realize that you can skip to the next block of text after a line break, but none of my readers except Marian are very clever.) (That was just a joke, other readers.) So here’s my whiny bit: OH SWEET LORD BUT I AM TERRIBLE AT SOCIAL INTERACTION. It’s like middle school all over again. I have this desperate need to fit in and to get to know people and to have them like me, and I don’t have the first clue how to go about doing it. I have decided to stop going to work because the social anxiety is just unbearable. I am going to stay home and do crossword puzzles. But don’t worry, I’ve made an arrangement to have Jessica Kennedy-Rockefeller fill in for me.

Now then. Immoral librarians. Here’s the question: To what extent are librarians obligated to read books they don’t like?

(I suppose it’s a stretch to couch this in terms of morality, but I like speaking about moral absolutes. It’s nice having God on my side.)

I posit that every public librarian needs to read The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter and the [pick one]. These are unique cultural phenomena. You simply have to read them to be in tune with your patrons.

Beyond Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling, though– what’s the obligation? What books do we need to read to best serve our patrons? Do we even need to read them at all? Are book reviews acceptable substitutes?

On the far side of the debate you have the laissez-faire librarians, whose argument goes something like this: "I’m not in high school anymore. Leave me the fuck alone." On the other side of the debate you have… me. I think a good librarian needs to read widely in all the main genres (fiction AND nonfiction) and in emerging genres such as Urban Fiction and Street Lit. Reading should include a sampling of seminal genre works, current buzz-worthy titles, and bestsellers.

It’s a nice idea, but there are two big dilemmas: you might not like a particular genre, and even the most diligent of us don’t have enough time to keep up with everything. Things get especially ugly when everything you read is for duty and nothing is for personal pleasure.

Even I don’t have enough time to read as widely as I should, and I have remarkably few distractions: I don’t watch teevee, I don’t have kids, I don’t trouble my pretty little head with housework.

So if Little Miss Boring here doesn’t have time to complete a comprehensive study of the genres, there’s no way that normal people can be expected to.

And yet…

And yet. I think we ought to try. (Librarians, I mean. All you other folks? You’re not in high school anymore.) To be truly good librarians, we ought to read outside our comfort zones, and we ought to be fluent in all the major genres. You can fake it okay by reading reviews, but for a visceral understanding of what your patrons want, you need to read what they read. Amen.

I am going to go do a crossword puzzle. Leave me the fuck alone.


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