In my last discussion post The Backup Book I wondered about the perplexing "One book only!" parents and talked about the necessity of a backup book. A number of responses touched upon the fact that what keeps some of you from enjoying your libraries are the grouchy librarians and high fines. Once I stopped weeping tears of sympathy, I started thinking about what you said.
Annette from The More You Read, The More You Know (and the always mouth-watering The Housework Isn't Getting Done) said something that especially stuck with me. She said, and I paraphrase, that librarians who complain a lot and set all kinds of crabby restrictions should think about the lasting impressions kids will have when they hear the word "library."
How true is that? Everywhere we go we're a walking billboard for something, and when we're at work, our behavior is constantly being judged as a representation of our profession. So what should we think of when we think of librarians?
I'm going to get a little corny here. Ready?
As a kid, (and, ok, nothing has changed now that I'm no longer a kid) I always thought of libraries as these magical places. A library is like a time machine or a portal to exciting realms. You can travel all over the world. You can meet all sorts of interesting people. Before I ever met that kid in fifth grade whose name I can't even remember now, I fell in love with fictional guys (and I'm engaged to one. Well, not really, that just sounds delusional, but I kinda am. But that's another--totally sane--story, and I promise I will share it with you in another post: Because Fictional Guys Are Better).
Apparently my experience is not quite the norm. If you Google "Librarian" you get a variety of different pictures. Depending on whether you have Safe Search enabled, you'll either find a bunch of sad old ladies or a lot of scantily clad ladies. The number one related search term is "Naughty Librarian." So, erm, yeah.
I then tried typing in "Librarian cartoon" to see what kind of jokes I could find. I love jokes--the cornier the better! But what did I find? Aside from a number of technology/library clashing cartoons, apparently the world sees librarians as:
Cruel beings who needlessly strike fear in the hearts of children
Silencers of Fun
(and friendless old hags! Hrumph!)
(and friendless old hags! Hrumph!)
Basically, I'm getting the impression that you'd better return your books on time, shut up, and make darn sure you pay your fines or militant librarians will track you down and maim, torture, and kill you.
Or get sexy with you....But I'm not posting those pictures.
Is this really the image of a librarian we want? Is it deserved? Shouldn't a library be seen as a happy place?
This is the part where I brag.
In my own library, it's just myself an two other ladies. It's a small, one-room library that caters to a small town. We know all our patrons by name and will often drop off their books for them on our way home, set aside books we know they'll like, and order books for them we think they'll enjoy. They come into the library and we have all sorts of books waiting especially for them. It's kind of like getting surprise presents, and who doesn't like getting surprise presents?
And fines? Pfft! We laugh at fines. Return a book really late and owe us $5? Preposterous! We'll cut that fine in half, at the minimum. Going on vacation and really want to take your audiobook with you? We'll give you an extended due date. Having trouble finding a book you checked out? Don't worry. We'll extend your due date another month or two to give you time to look for it. Lost it for good? Don't even think about paying us the full list price for a replacement. No, no, just go on Amazon or Ebay and pick up a used copy for a fraction of the list price. We'll take it!
Return a book a day late because you were just finishing the final chapter? Fines? What fines? That book looks on time to me. What, do you really think I'd punish you for keeping a book you were enjoying an extra day so you could finish it?? No way! In fact, if you're liking the book and you try to return it because of a due date, I will refuse to take it back until you've finished it.
Those mean librarians would hate us. They would look down on our library with derision. They would scold us. They would kick us out of our own library because not only do we happily waive fines, but we flaunt our disregard for the second most dire library offense:
I swoon with the teens over our favorite YA books. It is not uncommon to hear OMG!!! and SQUEEE between fangirly hand waving.
I gush with the adults over the greatest latest and golden classic alike. There are even a few among the elderly who are known for their quick wit with the dirty joke (when there are no children in the library, of course!) One couple in particular come in every Saturday during the summer to swap jokes.
I've even been known to shoot a few Hot Wheels cars back and forth across the library. Board books make awesome ramps. (I've even had a few explosive crashes with some very impressive accompanying sound effects, if I do say so myself). Of course, we read the books too.
It can be a quiet and relaxing place to read, but my library is also a place for community. People come in just to say hello and end up staying for an hour or two chatting with us. We're constantly laughing. Even though our library is tiny, people from two towns over come to our little library instead of their own. I love it here.
I like to think we're doing what libraries should do: Making people feel welcome and happy, and encouraging fun reading experiences. Hopefully we're doing our part to dispel the stereotype of the grouchy librarian (and, dirty jokes aside, no one is getting frisky in my library!)
What about your library? Are your local librarians nice? Are you scolded if you talk loudly or slapped with mercilessly high fines for overdue books? Why do you think the stereotype of the mean librarian is so common? Is it deserved? What can we do to make libraries a happy place? All of you other librarians, what do you think about the stereotype? Does it apply to your library?
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