Readers Exchange

That ship has sailed. Hope there were books aboard…

Did you celebrate New Year’s last week?

Beginning October 1, City of Round Rock is operating in fiscal year 2014-15.  Friends of the Round Rock Public Library hosted a clever “End of Fiscal Year” event on September 30 for staffers with homemade goodies, non-alcoholic fruit “champagne” in glamorous bottles, and a cake.   Now, that’s how an annual wrap-up of acquisitions, deliveries, and accounting was meant to be observed!

As the sugar rush subsided, I realized that Banned Books Week had passed without much hoopla this year (see aforementioned FY deadline)–though Ron Pitchman’s photo with a copy of Captain Underpants on the library’s Facebook page was decidedly a highlight.

But we believe in honoring BBW’s principle—“freedom to read”—all year, every year.   Libraries ensure access to resources so that everyone can select (or not!) according to his/her own taste and needs while allowing others the same privilege.

Controversial literature has been with us always.  We’ve heard those back-in-the-day anecdotes about books kept behind the library counters or simply not acquired in some locales due to prevailing standards and tastes.   Now, many of those once-maligned titles occupy slots on recommended reading lists for college bound students.

Those lists come in handy (suggestions, not mandates) when customers ask to be shown “the classics section”– a shelving area that doesn’t exist physically but certainly occupies mental real estate.  We believe that classics represent enduring works–the best of the best.  But “best” in what regard—admirable prose, relevant theme, beloved characters?  For some, the “classic” designation is reserved solely for titles proven to be genteel or “safe”.

Of course, there are ways to avoid tricky literary judgments.  Some recent fiction offerings suggest that we can simply wait for circumstances to whittle down our options.

Citizens in Ally Condie’s young adult-level Matched trilogy are never overwhelmed when selecting works of art, poems, or books.  With only one hundred Society-approved choices for each, little deliberation is required.  All other options have been eliminated; the cultural landscape is devoid of “clutter”.

(As a librarian, I should regard this scenario with horror.  I do, after first pragmatically reflecting how simple it would be, with only 100 titles on offer, to stay within budget while supplying oodles of copies –print, large print, audio CD, MP3 player, downloadable audio, ebook…)

Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling imagines a society with medieval trappings existing after, not in advance of, a high-tech age.   Following a world-shattering event, this society’s ancestors set sail for a new land where books now exist, but only those salvaged from the earlier life.  The printing press has not yet been re-invented.

As the newly crowned young queen (a major fiction fan) encourages castle workers and their children to borrow her volumes freely, a royal guardsman unable to comprehend the readers’ enthusiasm comments “I don’t understand your fascination with the damned things.  They don’t feed or protect you.  They don’t keep you alive. But I see that they’re important to you”.

That’s a nice take on “freedom to read”; even better is Johansen’s observation that, while books by Tuchman, Rowling, and Tolkien are especially treasured in the royal library, “there seemed to be something for everyone.” 

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