Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"It's a puzzlement"

Yes, a quote from The King and I. It is one of my mother’s favorite musicals, a statement I always found intriguing, and an oddly appropriate title for this particular blog post conundrum. I did little professional reading, or writing for that matter, over the holiday break. However, I did find time to peruse (read scan and put aside for later reading) my December issue of American Libraries and found an opinion column by David Isaacson, “Don’t Just Read – Read Good Books,” that I agree with on one level and am oddly insulted by on another.

I agree with his argument that as librarians we should be promoting “good books” and have an obligation to provide books for our patrons that are not only award winning, but also critically acclaimed. Point of fact, this morning I selected several titles from Choice Reviews utilizing allocated librarian choice book funds and ordered several recommendations and/or requests from education professors. Both of these support collection development policy, purchasing quality publications supporting the education curriculum at AU. I have the latest edition of Booklist and School Library Journal precariously perched atop my “to do” pile waiting for juvenile collection development, a cart full of previously selected Teacher’s Choice and Children’s Choice award books requested by a children’s literature professor, and am awaiting selections on the Young Adult’s Choice titles from another children’s literature professor. All of these actions loosely ascribe to Isaacson’s opinion:

“We should want our patrons to read good books, and then better ones, and then, once curiosity is aroused, the best ones they can find. And although this sounds not only old-fashioned but “judgmental,” I think librarians ought to have the courage to say that some books aren’t worth reading at all and don’t belong even in the most “balanced” collections.” (AL, 12/06, p.43)

Yes! I want students to have and use a balanced juvenile and LC “L” collection. They need to see good books, great books, and banned books. They need to understand that just because the book is part of our collection; it does not mean an automatic stamp of approval for classroom use. It is the student, the preservice teacher, who makes a final decision when using books for lessons or recreational read-aloud in their classroom. Isaacson goes on to discuss what he terms “intellectual discrimination.” As an academic librarian, I agree in principle with his comments. AU library has a small recreational reading collection funded by our Friends of the Library organization and director has moved away from purchasing the typical recreational genre when adding to this collection. However, as a former public librarian and avid reader of the “other literature” discussed, I beg to disagree when this is applied to public libraries. Judge for yourself:

“But I question the argument that libraries should go out of their way to acquire romance novels, thrillers, and other literature whose primary purpose is escape and titillation. Why should we compete with bookstores for this market?” (AL, 12/06, p. 43)

Public library collections are for the public and funded by public tax dollars. If a patron wants the newest Nora Roberts or John Grisham title, he or she has the right to expect that their library has a copy. Yes, the librarian has an obligation to select critically acclaimed titles and readers have the right to expect good literature. I simply do not believe we have the right to look down upon those readers who want romance, thrillers, mysteries, graphic novels, and science fiction. Sure the local book store carries those titles in hard back and soft. But not every patron has the funds to purchase them for their personal library. That is why we have public libraries, to facilitate reading and readers of all books. Not just the books librarians think they should read.

Yes, my opinion on this matter could be termed biased. I am an avid recreational reader and very much enjoy the genres of romance (Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Jennifer Crusie, and Linda Howard), mystery and suspense (Jonathan Kellerman, Robert Parker, Janet Evanovich, and Lisa Scottoline), fantasy (J.K. Rowling), and historical fiction (John Jakes). As a reader I do not particularly appreciate being told these titles are not library worthy because they are beneath me in an intellectual literature sense. I also consider myself a discriminating reader who enjoys both literature and recreational reading. Now? Picture me stepping down from my soap box, but satisfied with the opinion expressed.

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Addendum, What's with the labels? I switched over my AU blogs to the "new blogger" this afternoon and did not realize this one would go as well (apologies to Rebecca). As a result, there are now label options for each post that appear to work similarly to the Technorati tags Rebecca and I have already been using. I have been satisfied with the Technorati tags, but am willing to try the Blogger tags. I'm not sure how they work or where they will appear until I look at some of the "new" opportunites this version presents.

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