I work in a public library, which is where I get to hear all kinds of wacky nonsense from people who think they’re being brilliant or worldly or simply well-read. Most of it makes me giggle but occasionally I become so irritated I have to duck into the back office to regain my composure. After all, calling people names and throwing books at them is never the right choice, no matter how much it might feel like it. Not that you, dear readers, would EVER say anything so nutty. Maybe you know how to talk to librarians-who-are-also-writers, but you have a buddy who just hadn’t gotten the hang of it yet. Either way, I’m here to help.
5) “I never start reading a series until all the books have been written.”
This is guaranteed to make the writer-librarian roll her eyes and want to leave for an early three-drink lunch. I realize the general population doesn’t necessarily understand, but skipping Book One until Book Five is available is pretty much the best way to make sure Book Five doesn’t ever get written. Shucks, it could guarantee that Book Two doesn’t happen. Just because this is the library doesn’t mean your avoiding the book doesn’t matter. We keep records of how often books are checked out, and if a series isn’t circulating much, it’s entirely possible future books won’t make it into our collection. So read Book One, and tough it out by reading something else until the next book comes out. Patience is a virtue.
4) “I want the book I saw on television last summer. I don’t remember the author or the title, but it’s about a woman.”
Librarians are really good at figuring out what you want to read. It’s part of the job. We’re going to ask questions and dig until we figure out what you’re looking for, and the writer-librarian has the added benefit of being especially well-informed in her particular genre. But when you come in with zero evidence for us to begin, it is not our fault we can’t help you. When there’s an author on television who’s intriguing you with the story she’s written, please write down her name, or the book’s name, or even the main character’s name (but not just ‘John’ or ‘Ann’. That’s not much more help than telling us the book is blue.) The author is on the show to promote her work, so if the book description grabs your attention, make a note of it. Don’t do the writer the disservice of ignoring what she says. It might be you one day on that show.
3) ” This book has foul language in it, and shouldn’t be on the library shelves.”
Really? This is 2012 and you’re still going to tell me that bad words shouldn’t occur in adult fiction? This always sends a shudder down my back. I shudder because I’m trying my best to refrain from telling you that your opinion of profanity has no more effect on what the library stocks than does my opinion of the squeaky-clean Harlequin romances you like. If the author has written a novel about street thugs, you simply can’t expect the dialogue to be shiny and spotless. And if you’re complaining about the language in young adult books, I have a suggestion – go volunteer at a middle or high school for a day, and listen to how the kids talk to each other. If you can’t handle profanity, that’s your choice, but stop trying to tell anyone else they can’t read it.
2) “I wish I worked here; y’all get to read all day long.”
I don’t know about the librarians in other sections of the library, but in circulation where I work, we’re generally moving just under the speed of light most of the day. Last week it took me three days to check my work email, because I was so very busy I couldn’t do more than glance at it between patrons. Yet I often talk to patrons who tell me they’re working on novels and think the library would be the perfect job. If you mean it’s perfect because the reference books you need are close at hand, well yes, it is perfect. But never assume you’ll get one word written while you’re working.
1) “I want you to put “50 Shades of Gray” on hold for me.”
Okay, don’t jump on me yet. I’m not listing this just because I think that wasting your brain cells on books like this is a bad idea. The point is actually that the people who complain about sex and profanity in books are the same ones asking for this book. If they took a few minutes to research what the book was really about, they’d run screaming in the other direction. When you come to the library, don’t just demand whatever’s being talked about on television because you can’t think of any other way to choose a book. Browse the New Book shelves, read the inside dust jackets and try to decide what you’d really enjoy instead of following the herd. Ask the writer-librarian – she’s going to want to push not just her own work but books by her friends as well. There are lots of books written by lots of writers who hope you’ll give them a chance instead. You may end up leaving the library with an armful of great titles instead of having to wait around for the title everybody’s asking for.
And a PS to all this…when you borrow books from the library, don’t dog-ear the pages or use tape as a bookmark or set your coffee cup on the book to save your table. Especially if you’ve checked out my book. I know I only wrote it and it’s not technically mine, but if you check out a book I wrote and return it with ketchup stains on the edges and the cover bent, I’m going to react as if it was my personal book. Trust me, the librarian-who’s-also-a-writer can be a fearsome adversary!