Even serious topics like Banned Books Week (9/24-10/1 this year) lend their share of humor. A fellow librarian at Saturday’s book group reported that some customers responded to her Banned Books display with a horrified, “I didn’t know these were outlawed at our library!”
They hadn’t been. None of the area libraries of my acquaintance forbid access to a targeted list of publications. School libraries may assign titles to an age-appropriate setting (e.g., high school instead of middle school), but the items are definitely accessible. Nowadays Banned Books Week is devoted to the notion that past censorship is a model to be purposefully avoided now and in the future.
We chuckled at the thought that any modern librarian would come between patrons and their reading or would censor their selections. Right about then, the nagging realization dawned that technically I do that–sort of. At least it’s, as Douglas Adams would say, Mostly Harmless.
Take Rebecca Coleman’s highly regarded (and new) The Kingdom of Childhood. Editors and publishers have been talking this up for months: high-quality prose that integrates actions and motivation beautifully, intriguing narrator with compelling psychological issues, unusual insights about education. Kingdom also features inappropriate relations between teacher and a teenaged student. Coleman’s themes are timely and thoughtfully examined; her novel would be an ideal book discussion selection for most groups. I even promoted it on our What I’m Reading Now display.
And yet, on a few occasions when a patron has requested a quick recommendation (“something well-written and new”), that title hasn’t been first on my list. I figure that the customer who’s wearily draped on the Reference counter, having summoned just enough energy to drop by between work and weekend for some reading diversion, may have experienced her quota of edginess and Real Life for the time being. I lead off with two or three other titles, and if she’s up for a few more, Kingdom of Childhood could follow.
More often than not, the initial suggestions are gratefully received, and the reader is out the door. Thus, I could have failed to match a fiction fan with a book that she would love because I misjudged her mood. Other books that I admire, like Nobel winner J.M. Coetzee’s memorable Disgrace (also not a light read) or Lauren Willig’s clever series beginning with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (maybe too little historical detail for historical fiction fans or too much or too little sex for romance readers) could suffer a similar lack of publicity at times.
Librarians are not infallible. Knowing this, we’ve devised creative ways to compensate. If you’d like more Christian Fiction authors than the librarian can reel off spontaneously, never fear. We’ll hand you a nifty list we put together: Looking for Christian Fiction Authors? We have others, like Great Fiction by African-American Authors, Epic Fantasy: 20 Core Titles, and If You Liked the Da Vinci Code…(even a nonfiction list of personal investing resources).
We’ll demonstrate digital sources like our Fiction Connection and Novelist databases and ask whether you know about GoodReads. Electronic sources are marvelous, even if they can produce an overwhelming number of results. That’s OK; there’s still a place where you can interact with humans and get a near-perfect tip from an imperfect source.