Interview of a Librarian
Last week I had a slight buzz and randomly phoned 10 public libraries in 10 random states and asked to talk to a librarian. I asked the librarian if they would give me an email interview. Two hung up directly after the question. One woman coughed, and I heard her ask someone a question, and then she hung up. One said, “Quit calling me, Steven.” My name is not Steven. Six graciously said yes, and gave me their email addresses. Then, of the six, only one responded in full to the email interview questions. I have no idea why. These answers are from B. David. He manages a library in Mississippi.
The library seems to be one of the last places in America where no one tries to sell you anything. You can just hang out. Do you have an opinion on the library as a public space?
Absolutely. One of the great things about the library is that it is a place you can go and your privacy is yours. You can read what you want, learn about what you want, talk about what you want and know that your freedoms are not being tampered with. We hold these kind of rights pretty high. One thing that really scared the bejesus out of us library’s was the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was basically trying to compel libraries to give up information about their patrons while at the same time preventing us from telling the patrons that this was going on. The libraries countered by deleting all patrons loan records so that there was nothing there for the government to look at. What does this have to do with public space? A public space is just that: a place where the public can gather and express their mind and their views. Most libraries come equipped with meeting rooms for this exact reason. Unless you are trying to sell something, or hold a closed meeting, we will allow most anyone to come in and use our room to peddle their silly views.
Does your library have a glory hole?
No. Now, in college, there was this bathroom that had a pretty large hole between two stalls. What that hole was used for, I will never know. I read a book once about this guy who would go to the mall bathrooms and bring a large shopping back with him. His “Jerry,” as tricks were called in this book, would stand in the bag as he did whatever he needed to do to him. When a security guard or someone would do the ole’ stall check, he would just see one pair of feet and a shopping bag! That always struck me as clever.
Have you seen a major shift lately in reader tastes and the types of books they read?
This is impossible to answer. I mean, one thing that moves like hotcakes are Harlequin Novels. These are sex books for ladies basically. “The Cabin Boy from Denver,” “Putting Baby On a Ship to Morocco,” and “The Sailor’s Apprentice” are just some examples of the Harlequin novels we push. We don’t even catalog these books. We just give them away. When people finish using them, they bring them back. Every community has its own needs though. I mean, you travel to one library, and paranormal fiction is their thing. You drive to a little town filled with Yuppies, and they got tons of books on how to shop at Whole Foods and buy J.Crew. It really just depends. So, no…No major shift.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
Honestly, and it sounds corny, but I like helping folks. I like helping the patron that is mad as hell because we are being strict about not letting her check out anymore books because she has enormous fines and 20 or so books out. I like helping THAT person because that to me is what the library is all about. Its about serving those that have a need. I look at that person griping and realize they probably have a ton of shit going on in their life and this huge library fine is just another grain in a sack of groceries. But I work with them, I explain why we have fines, I tell them that we are trying to be fair to all users. Treat them equal, etc. You get TONS of crazy folks walking up in a library, and every last one of them has a story if you stop and listen.
A library in Rhode Island actually removed all of the books. You go there to download books. What do you think about electronic books and how they affect the library?
Ok, first of all, Kindle is about allow their devices to be used with Overdrive, which is a giant ebook vendor that tons of libraries are using. So, right there, libaries are anticipating the whole Ebook deal and making strides to lining themselves up directly in front of it. But, I think removing all the books from a library is sorta ridiculous. I guess they are straight up saying, “Sorry folks who are too poor, too poorly educated, or just don’t care about the digital divide. We are going to eliminate you from our service group. YOU are not longer allowed free information. We just dont’ care. We are going to run with Ebooks, period. Sorry kid whose parents can’t afford an Ipad. Sorry older gentleman who just really savors the smell of an old western book. There is certainly a place for electronic books in the library. In my opinion, you could cut 89% of all reference books and just go electronic on that. But I think you got to have books. And not just for some nostalgia trip. And excuse me while I go all conspiracy theory for a moment, but lets pretend that all of our information is electronic. You mean to tell me that there is a 100% chance that that info is protected for life? Zero viruses, really? And lets talk about ownership? You pay for a subscription to a electronic book…how long do you keep it? I forget what publisher off the top of my head, but a MAJOR ONE is now saying that a library only gets a subscription to certain materials for X number of electronic check outs. They are saying that this equals the amount of wear and tear on a book. I dunno. Sounds kinda fishy to me.
I know a lot of bookstore employees end up spending most of their paycheck on books. Has working at a library introduced you to a lot of new authors and their work?
I mean, yea. I read constantly. Having a giant building filled with books does make reading new stuff a little easier. Plust we have access to some great databases like Novelist which gives you great info on authors, books, as well as using subject heads to connect books so if you are completely dry on finding something new to read, you can access this database, and type in say, “Ernest Hemingway,” and it will list some authors that may be similar. Dumb question. Next.
Is it still true you have to be quiet in a library?
Yea, sorta. I allow excited whispers, intimate warbles, scintillating hisses, and the occasional excited yelp. But if a lady is gabbing into her phone, and I got kids studying for an exam, I am going to side with the students.
What are the educational requirements for a librarian?
To really run the place, you will need a Master’s Degree in Library Science.
Anything annoying about being a librarian?
Being asked what I do all day.
What causes you despair?
Man…I mean..WOW. Is this a loaded question? Despair….fuck man. Dying children. I hate the thought of dying little kids. All hungry and not having a warm bed. I dislike sad puppies too, oh man, that eats me up inside. Seeing a little puppy that someone has abandoned on the side of the road? Horrible. Politics can also cause a rumbling in the digestive tract if you really allow yourself to think about it.
How long do you get for lunch?
[Note: Mr. David does not answer this question. Not sure why.]
What is your favorite book?
How about instead of answering this question, I rattle off a few books that I have read lately or that I just “like.” I am reading a collection of Chekov’s short novels. I just finished Travels through Siberia by Ian Frazier, and I realized that I have not really read a lot of Russian authors. I know, I know, condemn me now… So, I am starting with Chekov. I ordered a Pushkin collection for my library (another perk: collection development). I really really like Steinbeck East of Eden. Oh, shit, Suttree! By McCarthy. This book just kills me. So good. Then I read Outter Dark. That may be the last book I read by McCarthy. I don’t want to taint my love for him anymore.
What does your library smell like?
Usually a combination of fake wood and cleaning agents.
Thanks for your time. I know librarians are busy! Any last thoughts?
Support your fucking lib[r]ary. Period. I think people don’t realize how important they are to the community. Just for the information they store alone, AND THEY FUCKING SHARE IT WITH YOU!