Category Archives: Books

Self-explanatory.

The Librarian’s Paradox: There are too many goddamn books.

That’s right. There are too goddamn many. I was so excited to get into this field, overcome with joy at the books I would be exposed to, the hours of reading pleasure to which I was about to surrender. I was not prepared for the very obvious problem that any decent person who listened to my declarations of delight (I’m looking at you, friends and family) could have pointed out to me: working a 40 hour week means I cannot possibly read the amount of books I have checked out in anything like the amount of time I’m used to. I’m a five-hours-a-day-minimum kind of reader. I like to get drunk off it and pass out at four in the morning with a great last line still buzzing in my head. I like to read a book every week, or two at time, or five or six a month, which is HELLA easy when you are unemployed. That’s what the library is made for!

Now I’m lucky if I can squeeze in two hours before I have to make and eat dinner, only to subsequently pass out.

And it’s not just that I have less time to read. It’s also that I now have a surplus of reading material! Every day I hear about a new book, a novel, a short story collection, a nonfiction work, a children’s adventure book, a graphic novel, a something, old or new, that I MUST get my hands on. It’s a terrible, terrible affliction, and I place the blame squarely in the blogosphere. (That, and my propensity to pick up books when I’m shelving, occasionally taking down more than I put back…) At some point I will get around to linking all the book blogs I started reading and you will see that I clearly have no idea what I’m doing.

I should stress that prior to landing this gig, I was a book lover on my own terms. I don’t like book clubs, because I hate defending my opinion in front of a group. I was a solitary reader up until college (with one or two exceptions) because I was the only person I knew who liked to read like a fiend. And although I was among the lucky children to embrace the first tentative webs of the internet (I’m talking Prodigy, bitches), I have almost never used it to get book recommendations. In between being autonomous and being a chronic rereader, it wasn’t so much that I read a lot of books, but that I read the same books A LOT. When I grew tired of traipsing after Bilbo or running from Cujo, I would bust out my library card and hit the shelves, book by book, looking for my own personal treasure.

Whatever appealed to me, that’s what I read. It did not occur to me that the world of reading had a structure, a community that kept track of who was making something worthwhile and who was not, when they were making it and for whom. My unconscious theory was if it was that good, I would hear about it eventually, and in the meantime, why not have the added fun of doing my own legwork? I actually KNEW my library, if someone wanted to know where to find an author, I could tell them just from memory. My reading has always been intensely personal, because it’s like living another person’s life, thinking their thoughts, and actually being somewhere else, if only for a short time. My biggest regret in life is that this gift has waned and I don’t yet know how to get it to come back. (Possibly by giving up the internet.)

But enough self-pity. The point is, I found the lair of the Bookish and also found myself dangerously under-read. Now I’m lost on the sea of books with not a single compass to guide me, or rather, too many compasses. In the space of one hour at the info desk, I can find myself on BookRiot, EarlyWord, and NPR: Books, as well as Shelf Talk, Shelf Check, Shelf Renewal, and No Shelf Required… And I don’t even OWN an eReader. Granted, there are many worse places to be, and planning time for books is not totally out of the question. I already squeeze pages out of my breaks and during my lunches, wrest a few paragraphs between cooking and eating dinner, and giving up TV in the evenings in exchange for tea and parchment, and of course, my blessed, often obligingly rainy weekends. But I’m still way, WAY behind.

At this point in the program, I would like to share with you an illuminating anecdote about those who read for pleasure vs. those who don’t read, or read only because they think they should.

One evening, I was at the apartment of a close friend, and we were moments away from leaving for dinner, when he had to go to the restroom. I’ll spare you the details of what that trip was like, because uh, ew? Anyway, I had just started The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherine Valente, and with my few precious minutes, I decided to finish the first chapter. My friend returned to find me in my reading “zone,” where I look somewhat like an angry shrubbery (hunched over, face scrunched up in concentration, hair sticking out like twigs, etc.), and he says, “Were you that bored?”

And I said, “aHA!” Actually, that’s just what I WISH I said, what I really said was something silly explaining myself, when I didn’t have to, because aHA! That’s what some people think of reading. That’s it’s something you do when you have nothing else to do. They think of it as a leisure activity, not as drinking the golden waters of eternity from the diamond cup of creativity… to put it mildly. It’s not necessary for their mental well-being. I’ll have to assume it’s because they’re aliens.

Reading is LIFE. And while I will hyperbolize greatly in this blog, I mean that completely… for me, and anyone else who finds themselves taken with it, burying themselves in ink and paper like happy little book hamsters.

I wouldn’t normally use a watermarked image, but this one was by far the cutest.

Anyway, I’m off to put my money where my mouth is. Or my eyes where my fingers… wait, no… I’m gonna put my… Screw it, I’m going to go read. Peace out, ya’ll. Also, if you know where there is an Ultimate Reading Guide for Book Addicts Who Are Newbs, holla at me. Otherwise, I’ll have to make another blog with that title.

Also, there is a very good article on the “I don’t have time to read” baloney over at Bookriot, one of my new favorite websites I use when ignoring loud patrons. Check it out.

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Weeding vs. Keeping Up Appearances

If Awful Library Books has taught me anything (and it has), it’s that some books no longer merit taking up sacred shelf space in the hallowed carpeted areas of the public library. Some books are outdated, some books are too beat up, and still some books are just too weird (a magnificent feat in a place that stocks everything from mid-20th century erotica to Mein Kampf.) But what about the books that fall into none of the above categories, but have to go simply because they aren’t moving?

Innocent until no longer socially relevant.

As you may have guessed, I was given my first real weeding assignment this week, in a section that apparently desperately needs it: romance. And my criteria was simple: if it hadn’t been checked out or requested within the past year, dump it. At first, I was dubious, but then I thought, what the hell, they’re romance novels, not literary genius, so I began orchestrating their demise… also known as deleting them from the system and putting them in the dark, mysterious “discards” bin. In the morning, a delivery truck would come and take them away to live on a farm with all the other unwanted books and we would never see them again.

I like to think the romance novels spend their days being read by people who were silly enough to pose for their covers. Who let him wear that hat?

I amused myself for the first hour by poking fun at the models, laughing at the hilarious titles (“One Night Pregnancy” took the gold), and occasionally wondering who was checking these things out, since I had not seen hide nor hair of a harlequin within 20 feet of the check out desk. But apparently, except for these unlucky few, they were flying off the shelf. It was only after I tired of playing God of Book Death that I began to think about what was actually happening to the books… well, not those books, but other, more interesting books that hadn’t been checked out in a year.

This is what the God of Book Death looks like. That blade is for gently removing bar code stickers.

Were there different criteria for different sections? What about keeping the shelves looking full? What about discovering an old book no one had checked out in ages? And where did these dead books go? I received worrying answers to these questions, mainly along the lines of “I don’t know” and “Shouldn’t you be working?” As a new hire, it seemed prudent to do as I was told, but still, I wondered.

Work: Apparently more important than asking probing, but irrelevant questions.

Anyway, in my neck of the woods, all energy flows according to the whim of the great magnet and all books are discarded after approximately one year of idleness, give or take. Do all libraries have this rule? This was something that, in my days as a blissfully ignorant patron, I had never given thought to, but apparently weeding is a major deal. Supposedly, all “good” librarians do it, and I want very much to be a good librarian. But I can’t help feeling badly for the books that are consigned to the scary discard bin, to go off to who knows what fate, just because no one had noticed them for a while. Although, maybe it’s just the beginning of their adventure…

Further up and further in! … you know, the book version of that.

But from this end, it seems pretty unusual to me. Weeding is major part of collection evaluation and development, I get that, but based on what the internet has told me, there seems to be more to it than the last activity date. The coolest (and I use that term very loosely) guideline on weeding had a set of criteria called MUSTIE that, in addition to being an adorable pun, actually laid out really good reasons to get rid of books.

M= Misleading, full of outdated or inaccurate information

U=Ugly, kid drew on it too many times in what we hope is brown lipstick

S=Superseded, replaced by a new edition

T=Trivial, book is about post-modern art

I=Irrelevant, see above

E= Elsewhere, the book is totally obscure, probably no one will ever ask for it, and even if they do, there are other copies available

I am sure you noticed, as I also did, that the T does not stand for Time, no one has checked out this book since dirt was invented.

Clever quip about old books.

So why is my library doing this? It’s not as if books are pouring off our shelves and out into the street, but the way the other librarians go at it, you’d think we get a tax break for every inch of free shelf space they can wrangle… We actually might, I really don’t know, but that’s not the point!

Not pictured: the point.

Part of going to the library, for me anyway, was the strangely reassuring look of packed shelves. Knowing I had a relatively unlimited supply of knowledge, actually SEEING the manifestation of it, was a source of immense comfort to me. It’s not terribly important to the functioning of the library, I guess, but why the hell would I want to look at a half empty bookshelf? I don’t have half-empty bookshelves at home! I like them full to bursting, spilling out over my dressers, books piling up in the corners and on my bed. But that’s just me, maybe other library-goers like the “spartan” look. I personally find it depressing.

Way back when, when the card catalog was emperor and borrower provenance was kept track of using stamps instead of bar code scanners, I used to LOVE pulling a book off the shelf and seeing a ridiculously old date stamped on that little card in the back. I felt like an archaeologist unearthing a relic, something no one had seen in a thousand years. (When you are seven years old, 50 years might as well be a thousand years.) It meant I was special too. The book and I were meant for each other. It had been waiting on that shelf for decades for my tiny little hands to grab it and now it could at last be taken home and read once more. It was glorious and it fed my love of books by allowing me to bond with them in an admittedly not-quite-sane fashion. But you can’t want your kid to love reading and not have them be a little insane. It doesn’t work that way.

So where are the patrons supposed to get that high from now? Granted, it’s not as if the age of the book is really visible to the borrower any longer, but every reader knows a neglected book when they see one. The dust on the top that belies the neatness of the spine, or, in the case of very old books, that musty smell, the way they sort of fall open in that “Yes! Read me now!” sort of way. Or even just by the old-sounding titles, e.g. A Blah-blahery of Blah-Blah in Blah, or the Blah-blahbying of Blahbler. (I’d read the hell out of that book.)

Despite these (in my opinion, quite valid) complaints, I really have no say in the matter. I still don’t know where the books go after the delivery truck takes them. The person I asked muttered something vague about a sorting facility or something or other, and couldn’t explain why we don’t just sell the ones that are in good shape. Not that I am particularly eager to add “One Night Pregnancy” to my own collection, but I’m not convinced it deserves whatever fate it eventually comes to wherever that truck stops. But then again, it’s not in my nature to get rid of any book, ever… except maybe this one.

The worst abuse of alliteration I’ve seen in a long time.

I may update with other amusing titles as my weeding continues. Also, if you’re interested in a buttload of free romantic novels, let me know, maybe we can work something out. I still kind of want to rescue them from the so-called “sorting facility.”

Sources: Weeding GuidelinesA Weeding Bibliography

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