One of the nice things about my Christmas break was that I got a good bit of reading done! Last night I finished the books, Free for all: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library. Since I’m hoping to start library school later in 2011, I was excited about starting this book early last month and learning more about public librarianship. The excitement didn’t last, though, and it took me about a month to finish this book! I found Don Borchert’s humor to be negative, and that got tiring after a while.
Some of his negativity wasn’t meant to be humorous; it was what it was. His stereotype of Technical Services work is old school (perhaps), and just plain wrong in today’s work environment. On page 170, he writes: “Suneeta [a librarian mentioned in the book] was in the basement of the library, learning the driest and dullest of library alchemy–technical processing……Technical processing is eight hours a day sitting in an uncomfortable chair, staring at a computer screen that is all lines and fields of information, with almost no human contact.”
I’ve had the privilege of working in two different Technical Services departments, and the work has been varied, the staff members interactive (it’s a must in today’s environment, certainly in the Technical Services departments I’ve worked in!), and the chairs comfortable! (We even have our own Library Ergonomics Committee to help make sure that our workspaces are comfortable!)
When a fellow librarian asked Borchert, further along in the book, if he were considering library school to further his career in the library, he replied on p. 196: “I told her it would be impossible for me to go back to school. Higher education had scarred me for life. I never wanted to take a class again, much less walk into a class prepared for a midterm or final.”
While his honesty to his colleague and readers is commendable, it still surprised me, coming from an assistant librarian. Considering his work with the public at a library, I was surprised at his lack of interest in personal, much less professional development, through education. This might just go hand-in-hand with his narrow-mindedness about “technical processing,” or Technical Services, and what goes on behind the scenes in a library.
I love the public library system, and use it a lot! It’s amazing to me that we have access to all this material “for free,” much more that my tax money alone could pay for. I was even considering adding the Public Library track to my coursework (most interested in Digital Libraries, Academic Libraries, and the Archives tracks, will have to see how scheduling works!). Now, I’m not sure. More thought on this! I shouldn’t base my view of public librarians on this book alone, since the author was so off-base, in my opinion, about Technical Services work.
The main point of this book, of course, was to talk about the misfits, the “oddballs, geeks, and ganstas,” who come into the public library. The book made it sound like that’s the sum of his public library’s patronage, though. I’m sure that a wider cross-section of the population comes into his public library, so I’m letting it go. (Okay, I’m wondering how he would have described me, what category I’d fit it!) Borchert does speak well, all in all, of the library staff where he works, though.
This book made me want to bake cookies for the public library staff at the branch I visit.
Image from Barnes and Noble.