Saturday, October 4, 2014

Viva Contrarianism?

I’m back after a long gap of preparing for, undergoing, and recovering from a pair of interviews--and I got the job!  I am now (or soon will be) an honest-to-goodness Adult Services Librarian.  Go me!

The main thing I regret is the timing--the fact that I missed out working on those Librarian High Holy Days, Banned Books Week.  I’d better have a great plan for next year.  But I also, fortunately,  missed out on another wave of anti-Banned Books Week sentiment, which seems to be ramping up in the librarian community as time goes on.  For some reason we librarians have to dig into “deep” questions about what it’s all *for*, what it *means*, is it *good* or *bad* and all that.

To me, it just reinforces my feeling that librarians are, culturally, a pack of self-defeating contrarians.

I think it has something to do with our desire to know that we are taken seriously academically and professionally.  There’s a tendency to be overly self-critical when faced with doubt from within or without.

We need to get over this lack of confidence in the way our field is perceived and our overweening fear of being misunderstood, or of not serving every angle of every point of view in everything we do.  We need to let go of this fear of not being “academic” or “rigorous” or “serious” enough.  Just keep being good at research--and writing papers on intersectionality in YA literature or whatever the flavor of the year may be--and we can be sure we’re ticking all the necessary boxes.

As for the problems with Banned Books Week specifically, it’s no great mystery how we should change our contrarian thinking.  No one with two brain cells (which, we have to admit, is the vast majority of people, despite cynical impressions to the contrary) will seriously think that we’re somehow in favor of banning books because of the name of a library event--so we need to scratch that overly cautious concern with “branding” and “messaging” right quick.  

Same thing with the semantic hand-wringing over the difference between “banned” and “challenged.”  One may be more accurate, but one is more visceral.  It’s not dishonest to go for the visceral reaction when we’re trying to grab attention.

And, perhaps most crucially, we can’t concern ourselves with every single nuance of the issue of intellectual freedom during the week in which the goal is, generally, just to raise awareness that such issues exist.  

The rest of the year is for working on your pet issues--and you should.  That one week in September might come off as sounding superficial in comparison to your deep insights into how, say, net neutrality affects some super-specific intersectional demographic.  But that’s the trouble with too much academic thinking in our field, or in any field, really--getting so specific and technical that we ignore the kinds of language and efforts that can actually educate the general public in a meaningful way.

If we can accept the celebration’s role as such, I’ll be a lot happier next year when I take part in my first professional observance of Banned Books Week.  

Meanwhile, November 15 is International Games Day, so I’d better get to work thinking about what my new library will be doing to celebrate!

1 comment:

  1. And let's be mindful of how important confusion and misapprehension can be to the bigger picture: without it and its expression, there can be no clarifying discussion.

    Congratulations on the job; you will be a gift to the library and its community!