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Mere Entertainment: One of those Librarian Moments

In a Web4Lib thread responding to a rather acerbic article about libraries from the Philadelphia Weekly, there was a great post from Suellen Stringer-Hye, reminding us with a few words and a link of Ted Hughe’s wonderful poem about libraries.

Even the most misfitting child
Who’s chanced upon the library’s worth,
Sits with the genius of the Earth
And turns the key to the whole world.

This somewhat makes up for the painful moment at last night’s Neighborhood Council meeting, where a community member demanded to know what percentage of the library’s circulation is fiction, and then accused the library of providing “mere entertainment.”

Fortunately, everyone else in the room rolled eyes and shuffled feet, clearly not in concert with this shaggy fool. (Perhaps someone could show him that inside the books, there are words in addition to pictures.)

I have heard many variations of “mere entertainment.” Perhaps what it really means for all but the most stubbornly cretinous is “I don’t understand what you offer.” I cannot believe we don’t really have something these people are looking for; we just haven’t discovered what it is, and how to let them know we have it.

As with any life experience, everyone sees libraries through their own lenses, filtered through their needs and shortcomings and memories and unfulfilled desires. As a director of a very small rural library, I heard that the library carried too much fiction, not enough fiction, far too many childrens’ books, not enough for the kids, and never the right magazines. I finally decided this fairly consistent feedback was praise, our own patrons’ version of Oliver Twist leaning forward with his bowl, begging, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

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