Thursday, April 26, 2007

Position Vacant!!!

IF you would like to work in "paradise" here is your chance - due to the wonderful Lucy leaving us (not because she didn't like us, she assures me, but needed to be closer to family. Not to mention landing a very cushy job with her own BIG OFFICE not that I'm jealous or anything but as a Real Public Librarian I have a typical real public librarian office - full of "special materials" and librarian reference, the puppets for storytime, the filing cabinets, the big books - you get the idea), we have a vacancy for a Librarian to join our small but fun loving team. If you're interested here's the link. Don't hesitate to contact me if you would like more information.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sex in Libraries

Carrying on from the previous post about graphic novels, for anyone who may be interested, the graphic novels in question were the "Crying Freeman" series. Now I should point out that these are perfectly legitimate and respected examples of the genre (I actually found them to be quite good reads myself), and on reflection I probably wimped out big time by removing them from the collection. To be perfectly honest, if it had been a written book, or a movie, I would not have had any problem with it, it's just the immediacy of images and the possibility of some sensitive person or child innocently being exposed to it in my library that was the clincher. Perhaps libraries in Japan don't have this dilemma, given how widely accepted explicit manga are there. I guess I could have made them "kept at desk" material, for adults only, but - where would it stop? Then I got to reflecting on the place of public libraries in providing sexually explicit resources in general.

Let's make one thing perfectly clear - I am not here to arbitrate on the morals or sex lives of my customers! Consenting adults and all that ! As an older human being, I am more than aware of the increasing "sexualization" of society, and I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing (compared for instance to the repression and shock horror attitudes that I remember from my not too distant youth). In so far as libraries deal in resources of popular culture (books, movies, music), we can't be expected to hold back the tide. And a lot of sexually explicit/erotic materials are very very popular with library customers!!

Here are a few anecdotal examples:

Some years ago I bought an American book called "Gay Blades", a novel about the gay ice skating scene. While cataloging this book I was a bit surprised to find several very graphic scenes of joyful, rollicking, going for it gay sex, which frankly, at the time, was quite personally educational (as it was for all of the library staff at the time)! I wondered how this would go over with the customers, and whether it would generate any complaints. Well that book has been out many many times to many many of our regular (adult) customers both male and female, young and mature, without one murmur of complaint! The staff tell me that another novel, "It's my f___ing birthday" has also been a big hit.

It's no secret that Mills and Boon novels and the associated genre, historical "bodice rippers" (with titles like "I was kidnapped by a pirate" and "What's that under your kilt, Dougal ?" -sorry I just made them up but you get the idea) are becoming raunchier in response to popular tastes. Even I was surprised, when, flicking through a recent Mills and Boon title to the end where the lovers, all misunderstandings now swept aside, are preparing for a blissful future together, and having a bit of a kiss and a cuddle, when the man pauses momentarily "to roll on a condom'!!!! - I'm glad to see even Mills and Boon are promoting safe sex.

After the success of Linda Jaivin's literary erotica in the 90s, customers (interestingly mainly female) started to ask for "any more books like that." So we tentatively started experimenting with the purchse of novels frankly badged as "erotica". We didn't put them into their own section or anything like that, just in with the rest of the adult fiction, but it became frustrating (pardon the pun!) to both us and customers seeking that kind of material. We use genre stickers for other stuff like historical, humour etc to help customers identify material, so why not a genre sticker for these as well? But what symbol to use (the imagination runs riot). Our most mature staff member came up with the perfect solution - the universally recognized 'X' discreetly affixed with the spine label. Please note, the primary function of the X is a guide, NOT a warning!

Recently a customer did complain about some sexually explicit material - not because he didn't approve of it, but because he was concerned that young adults should not be unknowingly exposed to it. The offending material was the scifi/fantasy novels by John Ringo. I read the passages involved, and, I had to agree. What was involved here was not erotica, it was sadistic violent non-consensual degrading and graphically described sex. But it could be argued that this is perfectly legitimate in the context of the storyline. This is not the first time I had come across personally offensive material in this genre - I read the first book in the wildly popular "Wheel of time" series by Robert Jordan and I dearly wish I had not. There was a scene of such mysogynistic violence in that book that it has haunted me for many years. As a discerning adult, I can put that into perspective and choose not to read any more Robert Jordan, while not denying the enjoyment of clearly millions of adults who love Robert Jordan. As for objections about young people reading this material, I could say: It's catalogued in the adult section. Parents are responsible for the monitoring of their child's reading. However, given the undeniable reality and acceptance that young adults freely access the adult section, and in particular, the SCIFI /Fantasy section, I do feel there is a compromise position - perhaps we can assist parents with that duty. Not by affixing our beloved X - remember we decided it's a guide not a warning. To confuse the two would no doubt be confusing to our customers. So after discussion amongst the staff, we think we might affix a label on the inside of the book along the lines of "This book may contain material not suitable for younger readers. Parental review is recommended" or some such. It's a funny irony isn't it that there's a national classification system for movies, but for books we have to think up something ourselves?

So what's next. If our customers start to ask for (real) X rated materials and porn, should we comply? It would be undeniably popular, and we might reach a new audience of non-users! Of course, the answer (currently) is no. But as a parting irony, take the case of the recently published novel "Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel." A recent reviewer for the Australian made the point that if it was a movie, it would be x rated, but in respectable book format, it passes as literature. Now I have that book beside me as I type, and I've also liberally dipped into it (for professional purposes only - NOT!) and it is very very steamy. Not something I could continue to read at work and expect to get any productive work done afterwards, if you get my drift. It involves erotica of a kind some people would find very offensive. But it's had good reviews as a piece of storytelling, and I'm betting it's going to be very very popular...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I've been cited...

Jaw on the ground. I have just been flicking through the most recent issue of Incite ("The news magazine of the Australian Library and Information Association" ) and there, in a little item about graphic novels, on page 9, I've been cited as if I'm someone!! It says "In the blogosphere, Real Public Librarian had at least one post in 2006 about graphic novels see [May 05 post]." Now this is very flattering, but also very embarrassing as, re-reading my post, it is (as are all my posts) very off the cuff and lacking in any sort of academic or statistical rigour (that's blogging for you). It has also made me feel guilty for not really keeping up with my blog of late - though I now admit I'm feeling more motivated to pick up the ball again!!

The article is entitled "As more graphic novels appear in US libraries, so do challenges", about parents who object to the presence of graphic novels aimed at young adults being attractive to children.

To some extent we have overcome this difficulty by wielding that very powerful library weapon that even bookshops envy us for - Cataloging! We catalog our graphic novels as: Junior - suitable for anyone, but particularly suitable attractive for children up to 12 years old. This would include, for instance, the Disney Witch series or Astro Boy. Then there's Young Adult graphic novels - sort of PG rated (parental guidance recommended for young people under the age of 15) - with mild violence and sexual references, and possibly (probably) strong language - this covers the bulk of our graphic novel collection. Then there are the Adult Only graphic novels - they contain explicit sexual or violent content that one would only expect an adult to be mature enough to handle. We have very few of these - and they're shelved in the adult fiction section, of course. So far we have had ZERO complaints - from anybody. (Although as a matter of interest, after much angst, we did in fact reject a title that our supplier sent us - it left nothing of the sexual act to the imagination including genital closeups and just for good measure threw in liberal amounts of sexual sadism - while there are many NOVELS with just as vivid descriptions of sex and sadomasochism in our collection (particularly in the science fiction/fantasy genre) the visuals of a graphic novel are infinitely more confronting - more unavoidable perhaps? Whereas you can STOP reading something that offends you. )

Graphic novels have been a great success at both our mainstream library and at our youth library. Despite the slight chance of objections, I think, if shelved in the appropriate place, and with public education about the genre, they are legitimate cultural resources in our public libraries.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Libraries and Community Development

Like many public libraries, particularly in smaller local authorities, our library services are bundled up in a Community Services department. During a meeting with my counterparts from the Community Development section, I expounded that public libraries are increasingly seeing themselves as playing an important role in community development. I said this with some trepidation, as I'm aware that it could sound like libraries are "trespassing" on the traditional territory of community development specialists. I gave as a recent example of community development the library's facilitation of a small group interested in Bonsai to increase thier knowledge and meet monthly. It happened like this:

Female local resident has just started a small business from her hobby, bonsai plants for sale. Is selling them door to door - and one of the doors in the neighbourhood is the library! Library staff buy some bonsai, then invite seller to give a talk about bonsai "because lots of people are probably interested in this topic" (nb librarians' intuition - a very valuable resource). Low key advertising, flyers, leads to a very successful session of people who are either already into bonsai or who want to get started. They enjoy themselves so much they decide to meet informally monthly, bringing along their bonsai plants, so the more experienced bonsai-ists can help the noobs, and also exhibit bonsais they are particularly proud of. Could they continue to meet at the library? No problem!! Grassroots community development in action.

Our ongoing "Armchair Traveller" sessions are a bit like that too. A regular group is coming to these info nights, are now on nodding acquaintance with each other, and travel tips are often swapped over supper after the formal presentations.

I believe there is a measure of community capacity that says that the number of "links" individuals have to one another in a local community correlates to feelings of satisfaction and happiness (or something like that). So obviously when libraries undertake these sorts of activities we are contributing to community wellbeing.

I got to thinking, is it a special sort of community development that libraries do? Does it have a particular context? For instance, will librarians be helping groups lobby for handicapped facilities at the beach? Will librarians be starting support groups for recent migrants? I think not!! It's pretty obvious when you think about it, what we are doing (intuitively) is facilitating opportunities for information exchange based not on print, or electronic information, but on that other fabulous source of knowledge - community knowledge. Sometimes an outcome of this strategy is the formation of groups or looser connections around a community of interest. Maybe if we could define/articulate this better (has anyone?) we would be more comfortable with our role in community development, and the community development specialists would be less concerned or defensive when we seem to be making incursions into their area.