Free for All

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.

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About Lesley Looper

I'm a full-time library employee. I enjoy reading, photography, travel, blogging, and geocaching.
This entry was posted in Books, Professional Development, Technology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Free for All

  1. LibGirl09 says:

    Leslie, I’m almost finished reading the book. I think it is hilarious! You’re right that he’s not always trying to be funny, but still….I can identify with so many of his situations.

    As someone who works at the Info Desk of a public library, I can say that not everyone is an “oddball, geek, or gangsta,” but you certainly notice them more at a small branch, especially when the same people come in everyday.

    It’s a good read, but don’t let it scare you away from working in a public library if that’s what really interests you. You just have to have good “people skills.” Of course if you work in the technical services department of a public library, I don’t think you have to worry about any drama (at least not from the public) — but then you won’t have any “war stories.” 🙂

  2. Lesley says:

    Glad to hear a favorable comment about this book from someone “in the trenches” of public services in a public library! 🙂

    I see good “people skills” as important in Technical Services positions too, since we work with each other and with staff across the library on a regular basis. The stereotype of catalogers sitting and staring at a computer screen all day just doesn’t jive with the Tech Services departments I know and love. Oh, there are some “war stories” behind the scenes too, they just have a different flavor to them. 😉

  3. LibGirl09 says:

    Oh yes, I took a course called “Technical Services” last semester. It was a general overview of the tech services duties in a library. One of the homework assignments was to compare some current job ads and write a summary of common requirements and expectations in this field. Most of the ads were asking for good communication, ability to work well with a team, creativity, innovation, and the ability to teach others. Definitely a far cry from that old stereotype of being secluded in front of a the computer screen. 🙂

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