Heinlein manuever

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Forgive the jargon, but I need to explain a library phrase. “Collection development” is the process of deciding which materials to buy, how many of them to buy, which branches to shelve them at, which formats to buy them in (hardback or soft? e-book or traditional? Large print or audio?), and when to withdraw them.

I’ve just started my job as a collection development librarian. I get to buy books all day long.

This is an extremely unusual job description. You’ll see it sometimes in academic libraries, but public librarians usually do collection development along with reference, computer instruction, programming, cataloging, and stopping creeps from looking at porn on the public computers. That last bit happens more than you’d think.

It’s almost a shame that I’m no longer supposed to escort drunks from the premises. After my stint volunteering at the homeless shelter, the typical problem patron at the library would be tame by my standards. If I ever become queen of the library, I’m going to give people bonuses for volunteering with the homeless. Best public service training I’ve ever had.

But there is no public contact for me at this new job. I will miss the readers’ advisory component (that is more library jargon, this time for “helping people find books to read”), but you know what? I GET TO BUY BOOKS ALL DAY LONG.

Also music and movies, though to a much smaller extent. My new colleagues have only known me for a few weeks and already they understand that I can’t be trusted with popular media. Put the music budget in my hands, and next thing you know the library is a superb resource for tuba bluegrass and not much else.

Mostly I’ll be in charge of the adult materials, but again: my new colleagues recognize that certain collection areas are not my strength. I happened to mention that my favorite romance novel is Hannibal (that would be the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, starring Dr. Hannibal Lecter) and suddenly I’m not allowed to buy romances for the library. Honestly, some people can be so narrow-minded.

Collection development at Mid-Continent Public Library is not like collection development anywhere else. At first it seems familiar, and then you realize that you’ve stepped into an alternate dimension. It is exactly like going to Canada, a country I’ve never visited but let’s pretend. You’re enjoying your day, quite at ease because everyone except for the Québécois speaks English, slightly mangling words such as “about” but in a very charming way, when suddenly you see a police offer and OH HEY THAT POLICEMAN IS ON A PONY THAT’S NOT HOW WE DO IT BACK IN THE STATES WHO IS A GOOD HORSE, ARE YOU A GOOD HORSE, YES YOU ARE, YOU ARE A GOOD HORSE, WHO IS A GOOD BOY, DO YOU HAVE A SIREN, HOW DOES THAT EVEN WORK, HERE IS A CARROT YOU GOOD BOY YOU.

While I am stronger in some areas than others (romance novels may be incomprehensible, but ask me about Women’s Nonfiction: A Guide to Reading Interests, Jessica Zellers 2009), I can confidently claim to be good at books in general. Books have personal, professional, and scholarly relevance for me. Collection development is my bitch — but even so, I’m having to be extremely resourceful to adapt to this unfamiliar model of collection development.

(Can I say that? Am I in a community where I can say “bitch”? Er — just so we’re all clear, nothing I say here is endorsed by the library, though now that we’re on the subject I noticed today that my stapler is manufactured by a company called Bostitch. I am tempted to artfully cover the “ost” with a bit of colored tape. I mean this in the brassy feminist way, obviously, not in the degrading-to-women way.)

(Also, while sitting through an orientation that was probably quite helpful for newcomers but not so useful for me, as I am already aware of concepts such as intellectual freedom, angry patrons, and collection development, the latter in fact being my bitch, I realized that the word “crumpets” anagrams into “spectrum.” I think spectrum was the brand name of the projector or somesuch. I stared at it long enough to discover its anagram potential, by which point of course I wanted a breakfast pastry.)

cthulucircusSpeaking of food, I am a stranger in a strange land — stranger than Canada, even. One colleague mentioned in passing that she does not like Mexican food, and although I am clear on the definitions of the individual words that came out of her mouth, when I string them together into a sentence I do not grasp what she is saying. “I do not like Mexican food” must be a syntax error, or else something so conceptually outside my experience and presumably offensive to the fabric of the universe that ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

Also, another colleague has never even tried Indian food, for the love of Yog-Sothoth.

Clearly I’m going to need to start bringing in tasty ethnic foods or, failing that, breakfast pastries, though between you and me baking isn’t my strong suit. It’s a shame that the only Indian food in Independence is in my own kitchen. This town has Mexican and Chinese places stacked up to my eyeballs, but the global flavors stop there. Which really does strongly indicate that I’m living in the Outer Realms.


3 responses »

  1. Jessica,
    Had a premonition that you would bring a chapter of the bookworm to the air this morning as my fingers hoovered over the Friday midnight keyboard ,so am pleased to receive an update on life in the world of Mid-Continent. Will reread your Post at least once more before addressing the individually interesting bits, but as it’s only 06:30 here on the outskirts of Billiousburg am going to ingest caffeine to fire up some still dormant cells. May your Saturday be a pleasant one at home or on the job… No Subcontinent foods in Mid-Continent… must be a reason… No Sikhs trained at local military bases during WWII?
    Tom B.

  2. Independence is going to have a whole new flavor now that you’re there.

  3. Buying books for a living is one of the best jobs ever…I should know.


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