Over the weekend, this image found its way into my social media streams:
Because no minor librarian outrage can go unchecked, this image appeared on the ALA Think Tank:
My gut reaction has been mostly focused on the word “stupid” with a variety of adjectives dancing around, but after a few hours of consideration I think it’s worse than that. Just as two wrongs do not make a right, two stupids do not make a smart.
From what I know, the top image is hanging in a high school library, which we all know is a natural destination for adult erotic books. The perceived slam against public libraries in the bottom paragraph raises two questions for me:
First, does the library only collect well written versions of mentally and physically abusive sexual relationships? I suppose it would so that students who are or have experienced either form of abuse would find refuge in literature, so if you could just point me to the eloquent abusive relationship collection, I would love to see what makes the cut.
Second, does the library own the Twilight series? That series gets some of the same charges as Fifty Shades but without the BDSM component (unless you factor in the reader’s experience).
I say it’s a perceived slam because I know how much educators in my area rely on the public library to supplement their class materials, meet with students for tutoring, and otherwise avail themselves of the public library facility since the public education funding has become a political point to make for a contingency that breathes exclusively through their mouths.
Not to put too fine a point on it, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that school libraries need their local public libraries more than the other way around. In my estimation, this is an unfortunate consequence when the majority of library advocacy resources are aimed at supporting public libraries rather than school librarians. Public libraries have more or less held their ground overall while the very presence of school librarians has been curtailed or eliminated in places like Chicago and Philadelphia. A sign like this isn’t so much bridge burning as cutting off one’s nose to spite the face. It’s a cheap shot over a crappy book; how smart is that?
As for the bottom image, it’s a feel good intellectual freedom rah-rah bullshit sentiment. It sets the basic measuring stick of a good collection as the inclusion of Fifty Shades, hardly a standard by any means. It also wholly feeds into the “we-need-to-give-them-what-they-want-or-else-they-will-leave-us” mentality that turns rational people into fearful ones, chasing every trend, fad, and dream in the hopes of satisfying the multitudes of whims and lusts of the service community. At my former place of work, there were signs begging people to donate their copies of Fifty Shades so as to put a dent into the extensive hold lists for both the physical and the hyper expensive $50 a copy eBook. Writing quality or content be damned, the library NEEDED the book to survive.
It’s also a crap sentiment because it conflates judging a person on the basis of their reading material (which ideally we don’t do) with the notion that we don’t judge the materials themselves (which we do every damn day). Everything that graces our shelves and websites has been judged to be worthy of selection on a variety of criteria. Hell, we even have committees who give awards to the “best” books, graphic novels, and other library material. Fifty Shades is not magically above that decision making process and there are good, honest reasons for not buying the book for one’s library and community. We are non-judgmental in many ways, but buying library materials is not remotely one of them. (And from some of the behavior I’ve seen on social media, neither is our interactions with each other on all sorts of sensitive topics.)
This sentiment belies to the basic tensions that exist within collection development: is our role to be tastemakers, the cultural connoisseurs, using our expertise in literature and reading to pick the best and exclude the rest? Is our role that of a public service, providing people with the materials that they want when they want no matter what that is? What of our ideals of intellectual freedom and the freedom to read when it comes up against the limitations of budget, space, and our own human biases? It’s the theories of the profession against the realities of the practice, something that can’t be reduced to a simple sign.
Ultimately, each of these images leaves me with a sense of profound disappointment. It’s thoughtlessness on a very public scale, visceral reactions to a book and movie that will be pop culture trivia game questions in the future before fading into footnotes on collegiate papers for our grandchildren. It’s a distraction as well as a waste of time and energy for a profession that certainly has other more pressing fundamental issues.