Today, I am going to talk about books, and the abundance of books I see working at the library.
As many of you know, I am a freelance writer, creative writer and a musician, but I also work at a county library part-time, because ever since 2008, having one job is simply not enough.
At the library, I am usually attempting to research teen books or teen programming ideas, or am helping people research homework, books and information at the reference desk. Or, often, I’m helping people do something like log in to a public computer or open an internet explorer browser, because libraries are a huge resource for people without internet access.
Sometimes, though, we get short staffed, and I help with checking in books that patrons from other libraries have requested.
I love doing the router. When I go out in what we call “the stacks” (or what people used to call the stacks) to pull requested books off the shelves, I stumble across books I never would have found on my own.
Which is why I usually end up with 20 – 30 books checked out at any given time. A habit I am trying hard to curb, because as soon as you forget to return one book, the fines add up. And yes, county library employees do also have to pay fines. Yep.
Sometimes, when I am checking in books, I look at the book jackets, doing “research” for something we called readers advisory. The funnest part of my job is suggesting favorite books to other people. Or used to be the funnest, before I realized how varied people’s tastes are in general. What I like, they may not like. Regardless, I learn a lot from reading book jackets.
First, there are a lot of books out there that I am simply not interested in. Romance, westerns, most mainstream formulaic mystery. I get to see the latest literature, teen books, children’s books, magazines. Often, the books that intrigue me the most are memoirs and non-fiction books.
Looking at the bios of many of these authors, I realize that a wide, wide variety of people write books. And there are a plethora of subjects to write books about.
A plethora you say?
And often, I think about my own writing and what kind of book I want to have published (memoir, certainly, or collection of witty essays a la Anne Lamott, my hero). And then I wonder why I can’t be holding a book of mine someone has requested. Then I remind myself that this is because I haven’t yet finished writing said book. And then I don’t have anything else to say to myself, so I read more book jackets and author blurbs on back covers.
When I worked in a publishing company, I sometimes wrote the blurbs for our books. This was for women’s themed books and travel books. I was never required to read the book before I wrote copy for the book jacket. It was mostly a synopsis my coworkers gave me, or that I garnered from the press release. This is pretty standard. Often, the book jacket is written by someone who didn’t even read the book (argue this if you are the exception, publishing employees!). So if you use the book jacket to ascertain what you will find inside of a book, often, you may be missing out on a good book.
On top of that, it’s hard to choose which books to read these days. Often, because there are so many, it’s trial and error. There are so many books out there. Sometimes, with all the editor pitching I have to do for my freelance work, which also involves reading magazines and assessing the proper markets for my pitch, I am already overwhelmed with daily text and ideas. Then, when all of these books cross my path, I start having more ideas, and sometimes, I simply get overwhelmed, and start to ponder if having this much information always at our hands is helpful for civilization.
I was reading an article on the KQED website, Mindshift, the other day, called Doomed or Lucky: Predicting the Future of the Internet Generation. Many old school professors are discouraged, thinking these kids are going to be ADD monsters because they can’t sit still. Some scientists are positive that they will only be different, perhaps better, that future generations will be able to move seamlessly from work to home life, via streaming technology, that they will adapt well.
And I also stumbled across a manifesto Seth Godin wrote on the entire school system in general, how it was originally created because child labor laws prevented companies from using child labor, and so school was set up to create good factory workers, but since our current society is changing, because production and factory jobs are not so much the future, maybe we need to rethink the school system structure. Kids sitting passively for eight hours while a teacher lectures is not the future of education, if we’re smart. (His book, Stop Stealing Dreams, is free here.)
I think I’m straddling the middle of technology taking over. I grew up without so much of the computer life, but then in my teens, computers started becoming more the norm. And slowly, it has crept in. When I got back from a year of school in Jamaica, after years of being a vagabond on and off, I remember being put off by the sight of my parents and little sister constantly staring at computer screens. My mom wanted to gift me a laptop for my 18th birthday and I freaked out, told her to get me dishes, something more practical. I wanted to be fit, outside, writing by hand, not glued to a screen.
Shows how much I knew. Now I’m glued to a screen most of the time. As are many other people.
But books, let me steer this conversation back. Books–whether ebooks or paper books, I don’t care–are still here. They are still thriving. People are so doomsday right now about books, they come in and tell me that the future of books is horror, empty shelves, etc. I do not agree! Have you read some of the statistics on books lately? (google “books not dead” or “the future of books”) Books are abundant, whether in physical book form or ebook form, and people still buy them. And they certainly check them out from the library.
There are so many ideas out there. So many books. So many people writing books. The good news is, that gives us writers a chance of success, especially in the non-fiction market, depending on what your expertise is.
The bad news is, sometimes you simply wonder, do we really need a new book on this thing? Really? Do teens really need another fantasy book? Do adults really need another meditation book with Buddhist undertones? I’m not saying these things are bad, it’s simply overwhelming the amount of everything we have right now.
There is no hope of me reading them all in this lifetime, as I’ve learned from talking with our elderly patrons. One person was talking to me recently about trying to read Faulkner. She was probably about 80. “It’s so hard to get through it! I need a dictionary for so many of the words. But I want to be able to tell people, yes, I read Faulkner, if only one book.”
Good luck with that, I told her. I’ve got stacks and stacks of books on my own shelves I haven’t read. And here I am checking out more books all of the time, scanning and skimming them daily. It’s enough to make the mind explode!