Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Telling it like it is

We have a new book that was written by someone who works here at this library. Well, no, that's a lie. He actually works at a library in Southern California. But his book of library life is so spot-on, so accurate, that it feels like I work with him. Free For All: oddballs, geeks, and gangstas in the public library is my new favorite book. The author - Don Borchert - has spent years working behind the desk of his public library, dealing with an assortment of common library problems: people who argue about paying for a book they lost, drunks loitering outside the entrance, the one unmotivated employee, the shoving matches in the book stacks. He also talks about cheery people who come in and use everything the library has to offer, who enjoy spending time in the library, and who are happy to accept responsibility for their overdue fines. Every chapter, I found myself nodding and thinking "Oh yeah, I've seen that" (except the two guys using the men's room as a distribution center for methamphetamines. But it ain't beyond the realm of possibility....).
There is one problem with the book, and it's a problem I am guilty of also. Happy, smiling, pleasant patrons are not as memorable as angry, disruptive, irresponsible patrons. Nice people don't make as a good a story as bad people. So although the book is full of tales of conflict, frustration and marginally criminal activity, and although there aren't a lot of perky stories here, I think deep down Borchert (like all librarians) has a deep love for his job and a real affection for the people that come into his building. And that's the way it really is.


Daniel said...

A good source for positive library stories is the Feel Good Librarian. He/She doesn't post often, but when the FGL does, it's a heartwarming story that reminds me why I'm in librarianship.

Sadly, we humans seem to be hardwired to retain bad memories more than happy ones. You can find a discussion of this phenomenon in this article about happiness:

The Nonobvious Social Psychology of Happiness

Ed Diener
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and The Gallup Organization

& Shigehiro Oishi
University of Virginia

Lake Mills Library said...

If I ever write a novel I'm going to set it in a library and have Liberrian protagonists. The only stumble will be making sure I get reviewed in LJ or Booklist. Once that happens I'm guaranteed a bunch of buyers.