8/16/2011

The Dirty Little Secret

Librarians have a dirty secret.*
(*Point of Clarification: The ones that work the desks of Public Libraries in South Africa.)

It’s not a spectacularly game changing secret.
As far as I know, no librarian has been to outer space, been impregnated by something otherworldly, partied socially or romantically with the undead or tapped into the dark forces that lurk in ancient tomes.
So far. 
In the grand scheme of things this little secret only means something to the people who use Public Libraries in South Africa.

The secret is quite simply:
Librarians, don't read.
There I said it.
Lightning Bolts, come now....
Ok then.  
Now for the long winded explanation that will hopefully offer some mitigation
(the funny and insightful part is implied):
Librarians in South Africa are strictly delineated between Public and Academic.
(Private Librarians don't count, because they’re called something else:  
Moderately Wealthy)

For an Academic Librarian to stay on the top of his or her pile of Undergraduate skulls, a certain level of familiarity with stock has to be maintained. It’s part of their performance development thingies that ensures they perform their due diligence (so they can spend that bonus on the REALLY expensive bottle of red wine at the end of the year.)
Public Librarians, have no such incentive (money or otherwise). We don’t get paid extra if we list all the books Danielle Steel wrote in alphabetical order. (Based on that feat alone, we should.)

But this is not a bad thing, because what it means is that any Public Librarian that knows his/her stock, and is familiar with the thousands and thousands of new books published on a monthly basis (unlike the 5 or 6 titles your Academic Librarian has to peruse a month, and did I mention they have a department that reads things for them!) you can bet your coffee AND MUFFIN money that what you have is a public librarian worth their weight in encyclopedia’s.
Then you have those Librarians who don't read*.
(*Another point of clarification: When I say don’t read, I mean that they consider an article in a newspaper enough substantive reading material for the week.)

But how does reading lead to being a good (better) Public Librarian?
Well let us assume that one method of information gathering is done by reading (unless there is a radical evolutionary change in our biology in the next couple of minutes it takes to read this post). So when we read, we internalize the information gathering with our eyes and processing with our brains,  and it gets added to our knowledge base from which we draw our opinions and answers to questions like: “Who writes like David Icke?”

A good librarian who gathers information (by reading) will know the answer to this question, and will (because they know who or what David Icke is) will immediately deny his existence and/or give a great and bountiful explanation why David Icke is a great big tool.
If you’re a great librarian, you will perform an intervention (or exorcism) on the patron and steer them towards more wholesome fare like James Patterson, or Nora Roberts.
So until the invention of the scratch and sniff encyclopedia, that is what reading can do for a  Public Librarian.

All good and well you might say (if you're a librarian reading this and not someone who isn't a librarian, in that case: ignore this sentence), we just about understand that whimsical thing called "customer satisfaction",  but we’ve never had to do things like this in our library before, so why make a make a mole hill out of a dung beetle dropping.

Well, Public Librarians in South Africa have had a great impact in shaping the very fabric of  Lives, both past and present.

The Past:
Grassy Park  and Kensington Public Libraries were regularly involved in Apartheid Activities. Ironically, Grassy Park library had a police station next to it.
Kensington Library had discussion groups for youth who were disillusioned with the status quo at the time.
Albie Sachs credits his spiritual and mental survival to lowly librarian that fulfilled his bibliographic needs.

The Present:
Currently there are a number of libraries in Cape Town that operate in gangland areas.
That, in the face of headlines about Cape Towns' rampant drug use and gang violence, is remarkable.
Library staff offer and manage free Internet services to their communities.
Libraries offer reading programs, spaces for people to study, and an information service that is students and school childrens academic salvation.

Not reading because its too hard or tiring or because we think its not necessary is not the best tradition of a Public Librarian in South Africa, considering what librarians have and still accomplish every day in libraries all over Cape Town.

The best tradition of a public librarian in South Africa, is that we inspire without seeking recognition, we build with nothing but dreams and drive and we always, ALWAYS serve the public as best as we can. 
(Whilst not upsetting  the local authority or certain MANAGEMENT types who can vaporize your career with a finger twinge.)

So why is reading a couple of books so hard for a Public Librarian in South Africa?
Well it could come down to time management, kid management, husband or wife management, I have a second job management, the paper work keeps piling up on me management or my favourite: my brain dribbled out of my ear management, i.e LIFE.

Things get in the way but sometimes we can make a way for ourselves with the right incentive.

Which brings us too: 
Management, El Hefe, the Boss,  the Keeper of all the Keys or commonly known as the Librarian in Charge.
Slight Digression about Librarians in Charge of Public Librarians in South Africa:
Librarians In Charge of a library in South African have to manage a  quagmire of opposing forces that include their staff, the public, local authority representatives both institutional or political, library management, the local gangsters, and local eccentrics while juggling all the administrative balls that are a part of these interactions and still manage to open on time with toilets that have toilet paper.
Librarians In charge take on these herculean feats everyday, and manage to not break down.
So then how hard is it then to convince the staff to read books when you have been running programs and story times and keeping your library afloat in a sea of society's not so nice tendencies?
Pretty hard actually, but not impossible, and we’ve established that Librarians in charge  have the drive and passion to do the impossible (except fly - that’s hard).

The right incentive here is to make it part of the job function of being a librarian.
There's is no easy-quick, miracle cure for this malady.
The sick and twisted demented logic here (and this is the logic that is going to get me tied down to a wrack made from the old book shelves) is:
If reading is part of the Job function, then there is no excuse that will work for not doing it.
And considering what we do in libraries every day, this shouldn't be an issue. Those who are reading won't be affected because they've incorporated it into their working life already, and those who aren't reading will now have to feel the effects of the Managerial Finger Twinge (See above.)

The Bottom Line: 
Librarians in a Public Library in South Africa have to heed their public and be aware that their relevance in the community they serve depends on how they interact with that community. So rattling of 5 alternate authors to Danielle Steel is damn impressive to me, just think what it would look like to your public.


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