Monday, September 6, 2010

Librarians and Books

One thing that professors like to tell new library science students is that "loving books" isn't a good reason to be a librarian. I can see their point: so much of what so many librarians do on a day-to-day basis has nothing to do with the content of the books themselves, at least not in the way that most people mean when they profess their love of books. Librarians might be leading technology instruction; they might be cataloguing materials; they might be answering obscure reference questions. Basically, library school professors would have it seem like loving books and reading is about as vital to the library profession as it is to working in a machine shop. That is, it's not that necessary, and it's not that helpful.

I'm taking a readers' advisory class this semester, though, and our first lecture of the semester opened with a rather prescient statement: library schools don't provide their students with sufficient background in books. I guess this statement refers more to librarians who end up in public libraries, where a good amount of time on the reference desk--usually a shared responsibility--is spent in a readers' advisory interview. You know, when a person comes up to the desk and asks for a suggestion of what to read next? True, you don't need to love reading to know how to adeptly answer such questions; all you really need is a firm grasp of the readers' advisory resources. But I would venture to guess that a librarian who loves and thus knows about books will be able to negotiate this service so much better. It would seem to be very relevant for a librarian to love books.

So I've been thinking about this discrepancy, about the tension between "loving books isn't enough" and "you don't know enough about books." I do love books; I don't think that will come as a surprise to anyone. But that's not the only reason I want to be a librarian. In fact, it's not even the main reason. My loving books does seem like it'll lend me a slight advantage as a librarian, though.

Maybe what library schools need to do is encourage love of books along with the whole host of other necessary librarian skills they promote. It wouldn't be so difficult to shift that tone from "loving books won't help you" to "loving books, plus these other skills, will help you help patrons." That's what it's all about in the end, right?


  1. I like this post. I agree that very little about working in a library involves "loving books," but it's certainly a useful skill. Besides being able to help with recommendations (which is definitely part of working a reference desk), loving and knowing books means I can often help people find something they have in mind. Since I read so many book reviews and keep up on author news and whatnot, it's easier to help someone when they come in and say something like, "Well, it's a new book about so and so, but I don't remember what it is or who wrote it." It definitely helps to know a little something extra about books for questions like these.

    Also, as a side not, I find my guilty pleasure love of romance novels has come in extremely handy for helping people who like the genre find books to read. I think at least half our book circ is paperback romances. And romances readers are the kind who are particularly apt to ask for recommendations. In fact, since genres like romance and fantasy get so little mainstream press, recommendations are often one of the only ways to find new authors.

    On that same note, I do wish I knew a lot more about children's books. I have a 10 year old who constantly asks me for recs. Since I'm the youngest employee at my library, I'm usually the one kids come to for recs. So Amy, since this is your area, maybe you can help me: This girl, whose in fifth grade and is very smart, likes books that "hook" her. She likes mystery and riddle plots. She seems to like realistic and fantasy fiction equally. What should I recommend?

  2. I wonder too if part of this tension comes from the differences between academic and public libraries and our library school training. Regardless of eventual employment, it seems that many library school courses (at least at our institution) are geared toward academic libraries, where "love of books" won't get you as far as "love of learning/research." While readers advisory skills are certainly helpful, they aren't as valued within the academic structure. Maybe? Just a thought :)

    As always, very interesting ideas and well-articulated!