Friday, January 30, 2009
Scott Douglas, Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2008) is alternately funny and scathing about the life of a public librarian (he is a librarian at the Anaheim Public Library in California). He provides an insider's view of the hectic activities and often weird adventures of someone working in a city library, on the front lines. And, although I could not bring myself to check, I am sure many librarians have been rattled by the book. I have a sense that the publisher worked with him to juice up the more ridiculous aspects at the expense of his obvious commitment to the public good of such institutions. His education as a librarian gets a pretty tough raking over the coals, although there is nothing particularly new in his comments on that score; we tend to be easy targets, especially since it is easy to play on the public perceptions of what a librarian needs to or should know. There are two reasons to read the book. First, perspective and new students will read it (I have this awful feeling it is sitting in the careers section at the bookstores). Second, there are many stories about work in public libraries that ring true about this sector of our field; if I had the equivalent for archives, I would use it in one of my courses (the closest I have is Nicholson Baker's Double Fold and he really didn't understand archives clearly enough -- although I have used it more than once). We should embrace such stuff as a way of adding a little spice and controversy in our courses, and, if nothing else, to get some humor into our classes.
Posted by Richard J. Cox at 12:49 AM