There sure are fun things going on in libraries these days. The New York Times has been reporting lately on some of those things. Doesn’t this sound like fun: "And then there’s Angel, a Versace-clad seductress who shoots her boyfriend in the head during sex, stuffs money from his safe into her Louis Vuitton bags and, as she fondles the cash, experiences a sexual frisson narrated in terms too graphic to reproduce here." Sounds like a date I had once.
Not that this is going on in the library, but instead within a book that’s part of genre called "urban fiction," and some librarians are eagerly snapping this up, despite, as the Times notes, that "it’s not the kind of literary fare usually associated with the prim image of librarians." Then again, neither is this blog. At this point, you’re thinking, oh, not again, the AL is going to criticize librarians buying crappy books for the library. Well, you’d be wrong. I don’t care what libraries buy. What I found interesting was the claim that libraries "are embracing urban fiction as an exciting, if sometimes controversial, way to draw new people into reading rooms, spread literacy and reflect and explore the interests and concerns of the public they serve." Let’s take a look at these motivations for buying crappy books.
There’s no denying that it might be a way to draw new people into reading rooms, and more new people in reading rooms means…well, I’m not sure what it means. Fewer empty chairs? A warmer room because of the increased body heat, so libraries can save on heating bills during the tough winter months? There’s something to that last one. My library is always very chilly during the winter, and sometimes I want to import ten or twelve people into my office just so I can luxuriate in their natural heat. Or at least I wanted to do that until I actually did it once and was so overwhelmed that my neurasthenia started acting up. But let’s just say in theory this is a good thing.
What about spreading literacy, though? Does more people reading trashy fiction equal the spread of literacy? I suppose if we consider literacy merely the ability to read anything, but does that definition help us much these days? I realize there are some people who can’t read at all, but it’s an open question of whether reading garbage is any better than reading nothing. We don’t have to consider just this so-called "urban fiction." We can add some of the lesser genres such as romance novels, westerns, and manga. Are people who read only romances, westerns, or urban fiction particularly literate? After all, why do we value literacy? Is it so people can enjoy their leisure time reading about drug dealers killing each other during sex or studly studs fondling ripped bodices? Or is it so that people can read and understand the information necessary to act as intelligent citizens? But if people never read anything beyond their trashy novels – and probably that’s the case – then what’s the point of their literacy and why should the public support it? Is it our duty to pay taxes so people can cultivate the taste for trashy fiction (or videogames)?
Then we’ve got the last motivation, to "reflect and explore the interests and concerns of the public they serve." That certainly important sounding, isn’t it. This is a good thing, right? Or is it instead just encouraging ignorance and provincialism. As one of the persons interviewed said, "I read what I can relate to." Is this anything libraries should be encouraging? Whatever happened to diversity and the encouragement of the understanding of others’ points of view? We certainly don’t get any of that by only reading things we relate to. Should libraries start purchasing Ignorant Rube Fiction, so that the ignorant rubes can read stuff they can relate to? Why, we wonder, aren’t libraries eager to explore the interests and concerns of the no doubt significant numbers of ignorant rubes within their jurisdiction? (Admittedly, there aren’t many rubes in Queens, but just apply this generally to the libraries scattered throughout these United States.)
So there we have it. Libraries doing absolutely anything possible to get people through their doors (which is the essence of Library Five-O ), promoting the popular cause of amusing ourselves to death while avoiding any actual knowledge or education, and encouraging cultural isolation and provincialism. Time and money well spent!