It’s been almost 5 years since I worked in a library. I left to go and have a baby, thinking I would return to it when my little one started school. We are 8 days away from her first day in Prep but I think I’m still a way off from returning to library work. Actually, going on maternity leave was not the last time I was involved in libraries. I did do some library-related work in the years that followed. I was a sessional marker. I read, marked, critiqued the assignments of post-graduate library students seeking to specialise in medical librarianship. I have also had the odd ad hoc library question from friends (former clients) who preferred to ask me than the person who had stepped into my job.
In addition to that, almost all of my friends are librarians, library technicians or library assistants. I’m even married to one…and many of his friends are also library folk!
So, while I haven’t worked for almost 5 years in a library, I’m by no means out of the loop. I’m still very interested in the industry and I still have thoughts to be thunk about library stuff.
One of my friends, a colleague of my husband, shared an article on Facebook entitled “7 statements library professionals should rethink in 2019” which was written by a couple of moving/shaking types (one of whom I’ve crossed paths with many times). I really enjoyed the article. It’s always great to get my brain into library-mode again but there was something that didn’t really sit well with me and I just had to reply to the post. Before I knew it, I was knee-deep into an essay! So I decided to spare my friend the diatribe and share it all here as a blog post instead!! (Aren’t you lucky?!)
As a (former) special and academic librarian, this article is really targeted at public libraries. I guess that was implied by the two public librarian authors. I can see value in almost all of it. However, Jane Cowell’s point about revising Dewey is a little off, IMHO. (Not the bit about the racism. She’s absolutely right about that.) She says non-fiction is a best seller at bookstores but under-performs in [public] libraries. This isn’t a level playing field. When a person buys a non-fiction book it’s often because they want a reference book in their house (think dictionary, atlas, thesaurus). These are usually big, one-off purchases. You don’t want to go to a library to borrow one of these types of books. The other reason non-fiction sells off the shelves is because students need textbooks…primary, secondary, tertiary. You need the book for a semester, a year or a career! You don’t want to have to return it in a few weeks.
I’d buy non-fic to keep but borrow fiction. Once I’ve read a novel I move on to the next one. I know how it ends. Why waste money on buying a book I’ll read once. Public libraries provide a seemingly endless supply of zero-cost (to the user), high turnover fodder for avid readers.
In these days of Marie Kondo, minimalism, sustainability and a trend towards conscious and conscientious purchasing, the public library is perfectly placed. Public libraries are the Airbnb of books, the Uber of information. They have mastered the art of reduce, reuse, recycle centuries before it was fashionable!
Let the bookshops sell the books you want for a lifetime. Those non-fiction books whose passages we want to highlight or underline and go back to again and again. Libraries don’t need to compete with that.