The Ironic Library

This post was going to be a rant about ironic libraries but I just can’t do it. See what five minutes reflection will do for you? Instead I’ll try and embarrass myself, then rant a teensy bit and then try and engage you in conversation. So get ready to comment.

When I was a teenager I liked buying stupid books. Now a lot of teenagers buy stupid books when they’re buying books at all. They just have terrible taste. But the terrible books I bought as a teenager weren’t—for the most part—bought because I was tasteless. Nope, they were purchased, if I’m going to be embarrassingly honest, to make me feel superior. Yep, that’s buying books for irony’s sake. When people saw a Harlequin romance on my shelf or a management book on personal power and had a good laugh the comedic turn lay here, I was too good for those books. That’s the thing. I didn’t buy the books to make myself feel superior, I mean, consciously. In effect, however, that’s what I was doing. We can appreciate dumb books ironically because it makes us feel we’re not dumb.

Which brings me to my rant that won’t be a rant. If it doesn’t come across here, this makes me more sad than angry. I guess that’s a lament. Anyway, I recently had the misfortune of coming across a personal library that seemed to be almost given up to irony. Once, someone had collected these books with a definite purpose, mostly to entertain, to instruct somewhat, but through neglect irony, like a disease, had spread over it. Worse yet it was for children. I’ll tell you this, children don’t appreciate irony. They’re looking for a good story.  Now, I may just be a sad old grump (or a twenty-nine year old grump) but it really drove me nuts to hear selections read from the library out loud to a group of college students as we all (me too) had a good laugh over the sorry state of the library. I confess my sins. But fix the stupid library already.

What do you think? In the case above the library was, as I noted, for children. I won’t say where the library was but I’m sure you’ve seen one like it before at a camp, or your church, or worse, a school. Shouldn’t they have something decent to read? Am I just an old grump? Did I mention I still have the Harlequin and copy of Power!?

6 responses to “The Ironic Library”

  1. Here’s how I would fix the library, by the way. I would tell the kids for whom the library is for, “I’ve fixed the Library”. When they went to check it out all the books would be gone. All of them. Except one. I’d put one book up there, one perfect book that they could all fight over until all the cool kids had read that one book.

    …I mean that’s what I would do if there was a perfect book.

  2. hmmmmm I am wondering what all these horrible books were. Besides the fact that they were in the library and not being read by kids, how can you be sure they were horrible – to kids I mean? Were any kids around for you to ask?

  3. Simple really, I judged them by their covers. No, wait, of course I didn’t actually do that. Sorta.

    Actually, I went through the titles and authors. Looked at a few. Sniffed at a few. Plus it was sort of implied by the custodians of the library that the books were mostly crap. My cursory glance was a gem hunt, really.

    …and there weren’t any.

  4. hmmm Ian I don’t mean to make you sad but is it possible your observation might just be right? of getting old? 😉

    seriously though, the true irony is when the custodians themselves start giving the truth out, its time to go, for the library i mean, not just the books 🙂

  5. Some books remain ‘classics’, others remain worth reading. Some books are good for the story telling, for the story told, or for insights into people, or storytelling, or story objects or characters. Few books are *excellent* for all reasons, many of the ‘classics’ are utterly unworthy as recreation – for most people.

    If pressed, I imagine I could put together a library with no worth, to almost anyone. And still, it would be worth noting, for it’s singular lack of worth.

    There are very few libraries or bookstores that I don’t pass by shelves and rows of books that have no worth to me (that I know of at the time). Which isn’t to say that at some point I might appreciate one of the overlooked multitude.

    Assuming the library was as disastrous as you found, there will still be some gems, for those stuck with what is there. And the ‘best’ (in what sense?) library will still fail to serve some of the patrons. Who will say some library is ‘crap’ because it doesn’t have the latest Spiderman or Fantastic Four or Mystery Men comic.

    Librarians have very seldom been cherished by their communities – though often by patrons. The people that fund libraries and librarians seldom see more than a cash drain. The wonder isn’t finding a ‘crap’ library, but finding libraries serving their communities well. And I would expect to find that while the library is enriching their community, that community has already demonstrated that it values what libraries have to offer. You are just looking at one link in a ‘chicken and egg’ riddle.

  6. You’re killing me, Pearl. Just yesterday someone asked me how long it took to do my hair (an artificially messy creation of gel) and followed that up with, “But how long did it take to put all that gray in it?” 😉

    Brad, I don’t know how you manage to get your comments into that tiny textarea in the comment form, but thank you, keep doing it. I’ll argue however that a neglected library, mocked for it’s contents isn’t really serving anyone.

    And it really could have done with some Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.

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