Where I fit as a librarian and reader: not either/or but and

My last few weeks have been incredibly busy as I had three in-person interviews at three quite different independent schools. I’m not going to go into detail about these interviews but they did get me thinking about perceptions of libraries, librarians and books. Then last night I was reading an article in The New Yorker about guilty pleasure reading, which is a phrase I dislike and I wanted to write about the views of books and technology.

Two of the schools I spoke to have iPad programs and I ended up dealing with many questions that were variations on: we have it all on the ipad, what can you do? These questions weren’t too surprising considering the language that the media and the educational world use in terms of these new technology tools, that its all right there at your fingertips and your students can do it all. This seems rather short-sighted because another discussion that swirls around technology is how there’s so much information, it’s hard to know how to navigate it. I found that my best answer was by talking about two quite different aspects-the library has a third place and community gathering point and how I as a librarian can help navigate the resources available. This seemed to make sense and it was fascinating to see the different ideas that being in the library brought about in discussions, I could almost guess the people who grew up spending their time in libraries and those who didn’t. Then in terms of technology, when I spoke of how my job as librarian was to gather and curate the resources to get them prepared and easy so that the focus in classes could be on education, that made sense.

I found these conversations amazing as I was able to get a sense of how the sense of what is a library is in such flux, this was something that came up, again and again in the course of my degree. We were constantly debating and discussing what is a library, sometimes in comparison-what is a library in comparison to an archive or online or in a school? I found the chance to bring see how those thoughts played out in the arena of schools a reminder that I have found the right career for myself.

Now the other aspect I was thinking about was who I am as a genre reader. One of the quickest ways to make me lose my temper is to call any book trash since it adds an element of shame to reading, which is awful. Last night at work, I was reading an article in The New Yorker called “In Praise of Guilty Reading Pleasures” by Arthur Krystal. I would link it but its behind the paywall but if you have access I recommend reading it because the author didn’t do a good job arguing for genre books in particular mysteries and thrillers.

What got in the author’s way from the start is the idea that any book is a guilty pleasure, this brings shame and I shouldn’t be reading it into the equation and is insulting. My view has always been if a book brings you pleasure, its worthwhile. If someone wishes to criticize a book there are many other ways to speak of them that don’t make the reader feel as if they’re not good enough such as talking about the quality of the writing, the characters, the plot, the world-building, the cover or even the editing. All of these elements exist in every type of book and create a level playing field. The author was trying to argue that these genre books can be well-written and are good in their terseness and effectiveness and talked about the fascinating history of the novel, which hasn’t always been the darling of the literary establishment. It was at the end of the article that this all fell apart. I’m going to quote the first and last lines of the final paragraph that I tweeted last night to show what I mean about the author destroying his own point.

Apparently we’re still judged by the books we read, and perhaps we should be.

And, if we feel a little guilty for getting so swept up, there’s always “Death in Venice” to read as penance.

I just don’t get this attitude and its so prevalent that people enjoy that on their e-readers, no one knows what they’re reading. If we’re to continue nurturing readers, we need to make it clear that reading is wonderful and we all have different tastes. I think my biggest issue with this article is how it brings in strong and harmful religious ideas about penance and almost a diet analogy in read your veggie books, do your penance instead of enjoy what you like.

To end on a happier note, today on Tor.com I read an article about genre fiction that completely got it about how genre can be fun and deep and complex called Why Genre is Synonymous with Pop. I also highly recommend Tor’s Genre in the Mainstream series as it looks at why some books are literary and some genre and how the lines blur far more often than we expect. Usually what puts a book on one side or the other is the author or the publishing house and how they’re considered. That’s another longer discussion about how publishers decide where a book fits and best left for another time.

In the end, I see myself as a librarian as someone who connects resources and helps makes sense of all that’s out there. We don’t have to do either e-books or print, its a matter of and. The library is a place to meet as a community and talk about what we love. Just as books aren’t a matter of either literary and good for you or a guilty pleasure, a book that you get lost in is a worthwhile book.

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