Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Oh you silly librarian!

Poor Jennifer Hentzen. She says she can't understand why people wouldn't want a free book. She's baffled - why don't people come to exciting library programs about censorship?

She must be one of those young librarians, fresh out of library school, still perky and unjaded by the relentless apathy of her patrons. In her wide-eyed bibliophilic optimism she really believes that people come to the library to read.

Jen, my sister librarian, let me help you. I've worked in a public library for almost 8 years now and during that time, I've learned some things about people. First, to get people to attend library programs you must offer (at the bare minimum) free snacks. Trust me on this. And as a rule, people don't want to read classics, not even if they're free. If somehow you were able pry them away from their televisions long enough to read the book aloud to them, I'm convinced that before long they would stick their fingers in their ears and start writhing as if they were in agony, screaming, "The thinking! It hurts! My brain...all 'splodey! Oh nooo!"

Wrote Bradbury himself:
"Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy."
- Fahrenheit 451


Mike W. said...

I'll admit, I don't like libraries and I actively avoid them. I don't know, there's just something about them I don't like. Maybe it's that they're too quiet, or that all librarians I've met have been rude, cranky, and ugly.

I don't think I've ever even seen a young librarian. If the ones around here looked like you I'd have visited the library more often.

Plus, I remember when you had to look through the dewey decimal card catalogs to find a book. I hated doing that. I imagine kids now would think I'm old and say "why didn't you just search for it on the library computers."

Yuri Orlov said...

Personally, I like free books, but I guess I'm weird. The Baen Free Library is a great boon to me. I've downloaded a ton onto my Palm and read them all the time.

I'm not biased toward the dead tree versions either, it's just easier to take them with me since they all fit (easily) with room to spare on a SD card.

Hey, did someone mention free snacks?

Laura said...


i'm weird...i was a library rat as a kid/teen/young adult. now, the nearest library is 5 miles away and it's become a chore to go. i think, once i finish the move, i'd be more inclined to go.

that said, i find it appalling at the sheer lack of interest in reading. no wonder the general intelligence of the American population is going downhill...people aren't exercising their brains enough.

Mike W. said...

"i find it appalling at the sheer lack of interest in reading. no wonder the general intelligence of the American population is going downhill...people aren't exercising their brains enough."

Yup, they don't exercize their brains or bodies. Of course I'm one of those people who will start a book and never finish it, or finish it months later. I got busy with school and never did finish "We the Living"

Anonymous said...

I actually always do really enjoy libraries, unless they're the sort of library that has decided fewer books and more shinies and permissible noise is the way to the public's heart. (And who knows, maybe it is, but it's sure as hell not the route to mine.) I like libraries that are HUGE and tomb-silent and several stories high and have books that only interested about five people even back in 1936 when they were first published.

But I wouldn't want a free book, because I didn't get to pick the book. The entire point of libraries, or even bookstores, is the search: I'm there to hunt until I find something I didn't know I couldn't live without reading until that moment. If I just want some specific book, I'll get it off Amazon, kthx.

Christina RN LMT said...

I love libraries, I always have.

HOWEVER...our local library rents a room to a church congregation, who gather to worship every Sunday.
Now that I work on Sundays, I guess it doesn't (or shouldn't) matter, but I was really bothered by it. They often leave the door open, and you get the singing and the sermon, and the pulpit pounding, etc. Not to mention the man who tried to get me to come to the service.
I asked one of the librarians about it, and she said they'll rent to whomever pays. Nice.

Anonymous said...

If it wasn't such an evil book.

Banned in Texas and everything.

Now thats irony right there.

phlegmfatale said...

splodey is right.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

"Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy."

Sociology is slippery, alright. As slippery as nasal discharge, but not nearly as useful.

Yuri Orlov said...

"They that start by burning books will end by burning men." --Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

His own works were burned while Germany was under Nazi rule.

Anonymous said...

Okay, phlegmfatale beat me to it but the new word of the day is...'splodey!

Earl said...

A library, one must have too much time on one's hands, homework and no home computer, or lack of funds for new and old favorite genre... or one works at one to keep the circulation numbers up. There is a death of reading and writing out there - between television and video feeds no one needs to read to find out what is hot and what is not... I am so old, still reading.

Ken said...

I wander the stacks at the main library in downtown Cleveland when I have time, which ain't often. It's great, but melancholy too--"Look at all these books, and I'll never live long enough to know what most of them had to say to me."

The same thing with the Cleveland State library (but at CSU I can take out books for Six. That's. Right. SIX. Frakking. Months., Man.). I get my classics from CSU--in the last two years I finally read The Brothers Karamazov and Wuthering Heights, and I'm working on A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man right now, between Journal of Consumer Research articles.

I don't vote for school levies reflexively any more, but I still vote for library levies. The public lending library system is one of the very few things government does unreservedly well, and we've got a good one here.

BobG said...

I loved going to the libraries (yes, I went to several) when growing up. I liked it better back when they were quiet, however.
It's sad they couldn't get more people to read Fahrenheit 451; I first read it when I was about 8 or 9, and it made quite an impression on me. I still have a copy somewhere, from back in the days when paperbacks were 35¢, and some of them were double novels. Of course, back then library cards were metal and had to be punched on a card and filed. Anybody else remember those?

Anonymous said...

I first read Fahrenheit 451 sometime between 11 and 14, I don't recall exactly.
I also find it ironic that people want to ban that book, being as Bradbury himself put it, a love story to books.

What is especially ironic is that in Fahrenheit 451, Montag has a discussion with his boss who tells him that they didn't start out by banning books, but that people stopped reading. The irony is that this should happen so noticeably to a book that warned against it.

Jared McLaughlin said...

Me, I enjoy reading classics. Generally they are less expensive, I'm assuming because the copyright has run out and just anyone can print them without paying the author. I generally read things from ancient greek and roman periods.

I also live in Pittsburgh, home of the Carnegie Library System, established for the betterment of those working individuals who had contributed to Mr. Carnegie's vast wealth.

I'm going to be getting a library card soon, because the sheer mass of books I've collected, combined with the cost of acquiring the has become nearly debilitating.

I find it mildly comical, if not horrific, that free public libraries offer access to centuries worth of knowledge, yet people commonly do not avail themselves of the resource. We admonish ourselves on the educational standards of our nation, and claim we need more money, yet all of this information is available to even the poorest of youthful inner city dwellers. Where have we gone wrong?

Anonymous said...

My local library is standing room only, most afternoons. LOTS of school kids use it. Very busy. Long lines for computers, also. Very helpful staff.

We moved a lot when I was a kid. Attended 13 schools in three states. Only good thing was a fresh school, and maybe town, library. At some point, I began a systematic approach, starting at A, in whatever category I was searching thru. At two books a day, minimum, you start to run low on new books in those small libraries.

Yeah, I remember those metal imprinting cards.
Used to buy those double novel books from a used book store as a teen, think they went for 4/25 cents? maybe less.
Used to get a local library card when on long vacations. Read a dozen of the Travis McGee series while recovering from a minor head injury in Ft Lauderdale (couldn't put my helmet on),(but never thought to look for slip F18 later, even though I spent an evening in the marina on a 100ft yacht). I don't advise such a concentrated dose, it was seriously depressing, although they are good novels.

Anonymous said...

area eccentric reads entire book

Anonymous said...

It's not just that people don't read anymore, though that's a part of it. But you have an agent of the State (sorry dear, that's who writes the check) handing out books. Whenever anyone hands out free books (be they the Gideons or the Scientologists), it's because they're trying to propagandize you, and people are tired of being propagandized. That has nothing to do with the content of the book, except that there's an obvious message there. She might have better luck peddling free bodice-rippers.

Weetabix said...

My local libraries offer a shining array of computers, young adult fiction (junior Harlequin), Harlequin itself, and a vast number of biographies and history written since 2003. They've purged the classics and anything not politically correct.

I'm building my own library.

But I still like some librarians.

jen @ the library said...

first... spell my name right--jenniffer; second i'm not a silly idealist new librarian. i've ran several suceessful programs, and true i am baffled that people are grabbing this book when in years past they snagged willa cather like it was ice in hell.

agreed--snacks bring people in... so you're making a broad accusation that i didn't offer snacks. i had food available, it was more of an issue that i gave the people of this backass-ward town too much credit. i have learned a very important lesson, people will read what they want to read, when they choose to read.

i'll keep coming up with programs. i hope that i can keep the act of reading alive, and keep books from dying. {with a shoulder shrug} it's my job, and i like it.

breda said...

Well, JennifFer (and you might want to address the author of the original news article about the spelling of your name - because that's where I copied it from) I can hardly blame the people of the "backass-ward town" for not wanting to attend to your programs - they can probably sense that latent hostility and superiority complex you carry around with you.

GUNNY said...

Fortunately for me I live across the street from our local library. They're great and will get me about any book I care to order. They have gotten books from obscure New York libraries, etc. for my research projects and what not. I like novels and am always looking for something unusual and interesting. Right now I'm reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin" of all things. My wife bought it for me. I've always wanted to read it but this is the first chance I've gotten. I'm sated with the classics, but have not read them all. Any suggestions? I read a lot by author when I find a good one. As for a living, working author, I like Wilbur Smith a lot, among others. I like your blog. I'll put your tag on my list.

mondaynighter857 said...

She eventually moved the books by getting mentioned on the local television news. Rumor has it that we are the most educated city in the state. Her directional-donkey metaphor would seem twisted if reversed. Latent feelings are usually hard to sense, especially by people who are not present. I very much enjoyed the book, the speakers, and the movie.