It’s Banned Books Week and I’ve been discussing issues of access. Today the Boston Globe has this alternatingly irritating and sweet article this week Bookmobiles’ final chapter?. Forgetting for a moment that they broke the cardinal rule of using dippy headlines to downplay whatever seriousness the article might have had, this story talks about the demise of the bookmobile at the same time as it reports on the Beverly Public Library’s fundraising attempts to buy a new one. It seems, again, like a reporter has decided on the article they wish to write before actually learning about the topic and if I were the Beverly Public Library I’d be pretty annoyed that this article frames the bookmobile idea as something from a bygone era. The article doesn’t even have the wherewithall to cite any actual data preferring to allude to experts saying “Some blame skyrocketing gas prices. Others say bookmobiles became irrelevant in communities where residents can get easy access to other resources, such as the Internet.” The caption of the photo even puts the word “Bookmobile” in quotes as if it’s some weird made-up library word.
Do people really think that the Internet is replacing the bookmobile? I’d be much more inclined to think that increasingly mobile patrons and the increase of decent school libraries has done more for making the bookmobile less needed. We still have bookmobiles, part of the year, in rural communities here. Heck we have a mobile DMV vehicle that comes to remote towns to help people register their cars. Not everyone can drive the 45 minutes from here to the DMV, particularly if their car isn’t registered. The ALA is the voice of reason in this article, with Satia Orange quoted as saying “There are communities where bookmobiles are the primary place to get information, in rural areas where getting to a library is difficult or a low-income area where computers are not in every home, where people cannot afford to buy books.” Let’s keep in mind that if you’re rural enough to not have a nearby library you probably also don’t have nearby broadband.
The local library is hiring for a three hour per week job because they got some money and decided to expand the library hours. This is great news. Unfortunately, they need to hire a person to help out during some of those hours and it’s hard to find someone who wants to make a commitment for a job that pays less than $25 a week. The library — which I have been working for helping them with their website and their OPAC — asked if I would train to be an on-call librarian there and that’s what I’ve been doing.
The funny joke about all my weird techie/bloggy/travelling stuff is that I started down this path because I wanted to live in the country and I didn’t want to be a teacher, work in the post office or be a police officer. I mean I like books, love to read and love to help people, but first and foremost I wanted to be a small-town librarian. This is the first “job” I’ve had where I actually did that. All my other jobs have been at larger libraries, school libraries or the weird circuit rider library job that I mostly do now. So I got to train on things I’ve never really learned before like how to use the circulation system and the barcode reader, how to operate the lift, how to transfer a call, how to keep teenagers happy but civil, how to call people and leave a message that their books on hold are are in without saying what the book is, you know the drill.
And, it should come as no surprise that this work was hard, and interesting, and engrossing and kept me so busy I didn’t check my email for three hours which is unusual for me during a work day. Michael Stephens and Michael Casey discussed the need for many of us with specialized jobs to switch off with other people, walk a mile in their shoes, or work a shift at their desk, to get an idea of what their real challenges were. Its good advice.
One of the librarians and I had a good laugh over thinking about the idea of IM reference for the YA librarian who has to monitor the teen computer area and is rarely near her own desk. There may be ways of making it work, sure, but in the abstract it was a totally ridiculous idea given how she works. It’s good for techie people like me to know that before we start offering our oh-so-helpful advice. Anyhow, I had a good but tiring day. Apropos of Banned Books Week I also like their title “Going to the Field” which reminds me of this part of one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry.
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
So, it’s banned books week. I have a few links I’ve been sitting on for a while trying to find a way to look at them together but I think this week has given me the nudge. Banning books is bad. Challenging books is an exercise in free speech and a totally appropriate way of giving community feedback on library selection policies. Lumping challenged and banned books together confuses two different issues, to my mind. For some reason thinking about free speech and libraries makes me think about union issues. There have been a few in the news lately and not so lately and I apologize for not getting to them sooner.
You can read more about this sort of thing over at Union Librarian.