Wednesday, June 4, 2014

In Which I Rant AT LENGTH About Anti-Weeders

Generally, going on Tumblr makes me happy.  Well, maybe not "happy,: per se, as in the "I'm-dancing-to-Pharrell-Williams-because-life-is-just-so-gosh-durned-great-and-the-sun-is-shining" type of happy.  Perhaps "less cranky" would be a more apt description.  "Prone to giggling."  "More likely to smile."  Any of those, really.

Yet, it was a cranky, rant-spewing Pamelibrarian who logged off of Tumblr today.  See, one of the accounts I follow reblogged this article:

https://medium.com/book-excerpts/secrets-of-the-stacks-4ca8405f1e11

It's an excerpt from a book wherein a lady named Phyllis Rose decided to read all of the books on one fiction shelf in her library.  She then wrote a book about the experience.  I call this the "Eat Pray Love Effect," to wit: write a book about something ordinary, make it seem extraordinary, and shill it to Vanity Fair.  Book clubs, look no further.  Note: I have not read Eat, Pray, Love, nor do I intend to, but I do not appreciate the slight of hand that the editors played with the story.  The majority of people on this Earth do not have the funds (i.e. publisher's advance) to travel to various countries to have "life-altering experiences."  Many people don't have enough money to eat.

ANYWAY.  Bibliophiles on Goodreads have been giving this high marks so far, but from the excerpt above, I am not inclined to read this book either.

I didn't think it was a particular secret that libraries weeded materials.  Here, I'm talking about public libraries, because that's what I know and that's what I do.  Rose discusses the CREW method and blows it way out of proportion.  It's like in Pirates of the Caribbean (which I have now referenced twice on this blog) where Elizabeth explains that the Pirate's Code isn't really rules, "it's more like guidelines."  CREW is not canon law, although some people may take it to that extreme.  For the non-librarians reading this, CREW is just a way of figuring out which books need to leave the collection due to various factors.  Rose acknowledges this, and then comes back with this gem of a statement:
It is not clear to me that the author of the CREW manual has any idea of how hard it is to determine “high literary merit” as opposed to “durable demand.” 
Okay.  First of all, I doubt that one librarian sat down and wrote the manual.  Secondly, you, a non-professional, are questioning the skills of people who are trained to select books.  Obviously, this Rose person has an exceptionally high opinion of her own taste in books.  Clearly "literary merit," or author ego-stroking, is much more important than "durable demand," or what people actually read.

She claims that "all books are worth preserving."  Really?  You want to think about that statement a little bit?  "Worth" is a strong word.  Is Mein Kampf "worth" saving?  Or is it culturally important to save so that people don't make the same mistakes?  Is something that's blatantly and disgustingly racist "worth" saving so that we can point to it and say, "Hey, that's racist!"?


Then, Rose starts talking about an author named Nicholson Baker.  I have never heard of this person. Evidently he is a writer of literary fiction (see definition of "literary merit" above).  Many (not all!) writers of literary fiction are older white men who feel that their experience of the world is the most important thing to have ever existed and that their viewpoint must be committed to paper so that the plebes can become more cultured.  Or something.  The last "literary fiction" book I read and enjoyed was Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which is more literary science fiction, but hey.

This Nicholson Baker chap, aside from having a last name as a first name, got severely miffed a few decades (!) ago when the San Francisco Public Library a) got rid of the card catalog and b) weeded the collection.  He decided this was worth of c) a lawsuit and d) an "exposé."  Some nitwit book reviewer compared this "exposé" to Zola's J'accuse.  Has that reviewer even read Zola's letter?  Somehow, I just don't think that the wrongful punishment of someone because of being Jewish equates to libraries weeding books.  I have already decided I will also not waste my time reading anything by Nicholson Baker.  HOWEVER.  That does not mean that were I in a collection development position, that I would not purchase his books.  I would.  Especially if they had good reviews and were in demand by the public.

Rose then rambles on some more about how we need to SAVE THE BOOKS from being WEEDED (OMG), especially because some nice old books might get the boot.  She then trots out the old, beaten-to-death argument: "Well, Author X was rejected Y amount of times for book Z."  Her example is Proust and À la recherche du temps perdu and how André Gide (another Big French Author) at first rejected it, and then felt bad.  First of all, we're talking Proust here.  I had to read the first third of Swann's Way in college and I wanted to die.  The famous madeleine scene is really the only thing worth reading.  No wonder he ended up writing in a cork-lined room (true story!).  Anybody who wants to be taken Seriously as a Serious Literary Person name-drops Proust.  Actually, Phyllis Rose wrote an entire book about reading Proust.  I quote from the blurb: "an exhilarating memoir."  "Exhilarating" would be the last word I would use to describe Proust's oeuvre.

The *best* part of the excerpt, however, comes at the end, when Rose exhorts her readers to check out books from the library that they (readers) must be "saved."  She also says it's fine not to read the books you are "saving."  They can serve as "accent pieces" in your décor.

Ms. Rose, you've missed the point.  A book has not been checked out for years.  This means that the public whom that library serves does not want to read it.  It is taking up valuable shelf space. Libraries are finite spaces.  We are not wormholes.  We can only house so many books.  We cannot keep random detritus just because you think it might be important even if you don't read it.  Just like everyone else in the community.  That is a ridiculously selfish thing to do.  It means you don't trust librarians to keep books that we know are important.  So don't go to the library, then.

I'm not here to serve the one percent.  I'm here to serve the community.

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