'Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself...

by tosca on Thursday, August 18, 2011

...You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.'
~ Angela Carter

In which Tosca started to write about her family (because it's Thursday) and does (in a roundabout way) but ends up with more questions about New Zealand public libraries. Again. And this time asks: Why don't we talk about books, anymore? When did it become a dirty word? When did it become incidental to what we do? Did it just happen over time as library services started to change? Did we not notice until too late? Have we noticed at all? I do apologise in advance for making this week a Cranky McRanty Pants weeklong barrage of library-related posts *pulls a face* but I have lots of questions and no answers. I don't know what I would do with the answers if I did have them. I just find that the more I puzzle things through, the more questions it always engenders. I guess that's life.

My love of books and the written word is because my parents are, and always have been, readers: science fiction, fantasy, westerns, adventure, crime, biographies and memoirs, travelogues, indigenous histories, politics, graphic novels and oh so much more. If it had words, it had a place in our home. As a child my father would sit with me and let me make up wild and fantastical stories about the picture books we had in the house. It was nonsensical babble. I was three years old. I couldn't read. What did I know? Not much, except that magic began and ended within the pages of a book. My parents taught me that an escape to worlds unknown and roads less travelled was mere seconds away if you had a book. And so I read. And read. And read. Through primary, intermediate, high school, tertiary and, now, as an adult. I read for leisure, I read for knowledge, I read for the hell of it. I enjoy everything about books: new books, old books, fonts, spines, covers, blurbs, author pictures, smell of old pages, smell of new pages. Every part of a book is magical to me because I have seen firsthand that books have the power to transform lives. I work in a public library for that very reason. I've been told time and again that my love of books is 'cute' and 'quaint' and 'sweet' and 'charmingly naive.' Sometimes that attitude still pisses me off. Over the last few years, though, I've noticed that we talk about books less which strikes me as really odd because it makes up such a huge part of what I did when I worked in the branch. Think about it: weeding, shelving, mending, checking them in, checking them out, recommending them to customers, making purchase suggestions to acquisitions, facilitating teen book clubs, selecting which ones to display in newsletters, reading them for book club, discussing them with staff and even putting them in displays. But we've stopped talking about them out loud and it makes me sad.

I talk about books everywhere. At the risk of sounding like a Dr. Seuss picture book I talk about them on buses, on planes, in supermarkets, on trains, in book club, at home, online and on the phone - nowhere is sacred as far as I'm concerned. You think I'm kidding but I'm seriously not. These are a few of the conversations I've had while out and about in public over the past year or so:

  • Bus: I was reading an ebook on the bus and the young man next to me asked if I felt that my ebook was responsible for the demise of the physical book
  • Plane: on a daytrip home to Wellington to visit Gran the young woman next to me overheard me telling my nephew about our downloadable media and asked me for a demo
  • Countdown: checkout operator saw my name tag and asked me for an author who was similar to Karin Slaughter
  • Train: reading a gay male romance novel and the young man next to me asked if libraries carried 'books like that' which started a great discussion about what is/isn't appropriate reading material in libraries
  • Book club: discussing how it is that we can technically enjoy and appreciate an author's writing style and yet not 'like' the novel at all or feel any empathy for its characters
  • Home: earnest discussion with siblings about whether or not Carol O'Connell's character Mallory is a sociopath or not
  • Online: weekly SPBK Chat where we talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of books
  • Phone: discussing with my BFF why she likes to read Oprah's recommendations when I would rather swallow poison

  • I was asked to appear at a liaison meeting a couple of months back to give them a digital update - a quick rundown on what was new on the library homepage and in the way of events and databases. So I did. It's an easy enough thing to do and doesn't cost me anything but time. At the end of the talk, I gave them homework. I asked them to tell three people each week about our enewsletters. They looked at me funny, which prompted me to tell them that if they believed 100% in what we do, in what we stand for, in what we're trying to achieve then they would talk about us everywhere and with everyone. I don't think they believed me when I said that I quite happily talk people to death about what we do. I deliberately wear my name tag to and from work for a few reasons. I want people to understand that librarians are approachable, I want people to see that I work for the organisation that I do, I want them to feel that they can ask me anything about our services and, more than that, I want them to ask me about books.

    A few years back a colleague told me she didn't read. Not even for leisure. I was equal parts horrified and amused. And then I realised that it was actually becoming more and more normal to bump into non-readers working in our branches. I would love to know how readers' advisory questions go at the front desk, in that case. Or maybe I don't want to know. I'm not sure. I haven't solved anything with this post, really, have I? Except to end with the same questions I started with:

  • Why don't we talk about books, anymore?
  • When did it become a dirty word?
  • When did it become incidental to what we do?
  • Did it just happen over time as library services started to change?
  • Did we not notice until too late?
  • Have we noticed at all?

  • I absolutely understand that we are not just about books, but surely it's still ok to talk about them out loud amongst ourselves and most certainly with customers? Oh, and one last thing. I talk about books. I'm going to continue talking about books. And if you tell me it's 'sweet' I'm going to give you the evil eye >.<

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