Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Review: My Sister's Keeper by Picoult

Having come across a couple of very excellent books recently, I decided that it wouldn't be too far afield for me to offer some book reviews here. (After all, the Guardienne does believe in making every effort to encourage everyone to read more.)

On Target's Bookmarked list is My Sister's Keeper by New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult. You can read the book jacket here. The book explores a family in which the elder sister Kate is sick with leukemia, and her younger sister Anna was conceived as a perfect genetic match to help with her sister's therapy. The book takes off the rose-colored glasses for a real look into the workings of a family dealing with a child's illness, and the decisions each family members makes - particularly the choices Anna makes as she grows older and questions her role as Kate's constant donor. Specifically, the book explores the difficulties of asserting the standing up for oneself in light of how that decision imapacts loved ones, and makes the reader examine the darker points of their own humanity. A nice piece that reminds us that most people are neither good nor bad, but a gray combination of the two, and highlights how the "miracles" of modern science do not solve problems...they just give us new ones to tackle.

I promise you - you will laugh. You'll cry. You'll see the story from every person's perspective, and find yourself judging the family members. Then you'll judge yourself for having judged them. You'll sympathize, and analyze, and the questions the book brings up will resonate with you long after you've put it down. Think about it as grown-up Judy Blume material, where the author doesn't have to worry about offending anyone's delicate sensibilities by painting life realistically.

On a more personal note, Mom sent me Picoult's book for my birthday, and while I finished it in a few hours (I recommend having chocolate and tissues on hand before diving into this one), I find myself thinking of it at odd hours when my brain wanders, adn I still haven't answered the question of "What would I do?" The sign, I believe, of a truly worthwhile novel.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Freedom and Rules

In my last post, I said “freedom for all” does not mean “rules for none.” Off-hand, I usually mean that with reference to the argument to allow ‘porninators’ full access to public (and publicly viewable) terminals. But in libraries we can apply it in many forms.

In my library, I’m lucky enough to have a policy and chain-of-command to go to in the case that law enforcement officials need information. ALA and the ACLU are notorious for defending the freedom to do anything, anywhere, particularly in publicly funded bastions of democracy like libraries. With all of the hysteria over the Patriot Act, librarians and administrators have gone over to breaking the law in favor of pursuing personal agendas. Simply disregarding government authority on the pretext that the Patriot Act violates someone’s privacy is not just dumb, it makes librarians as a whole look foolish, and I heartily resent that. There are systems in place where you can challenge (legally) the request. There’s no need to tie yourself to the staff terminal and have your librarians march outside the library. Make the public aware, yes, but while maintaining some sort of professional integrity, please! For every ACLU member who sleeps peacefully, dreaming of your protest, fifty regular old moderate Americans sniff and call you a radical. And quit saying librarians are against the Patriot Act, for goodness’ sake. I am a librarian. I approve the Patriot Act. The point? Even freedom-lovers like us need to follow the law. Don’t agree with it? Get it changed. The populace of the US didn’t manage to change it when you demanded? Then maybe you’re not as much of a majority as you thought you were.

That’s right. “I am Spartacus.” For folks who are supposed to believe in diversity and breadth of viewpoints, the ultraliberal librarians at ALA sure do seem to have a tough time acknowledging that they let folks like me into LIS programs. (We’re everywhere….be afraid. Be very afraid.)

Back to freedom and rules. I have had the experience, multiple times at this point, that administrators deciding to promote ‘library as place’ find pesky policies like “No Food and Drink” and “Quiet Study Area” to be a hindrance in their plans to develop new, exciting, and gadget-filled “information commons” areas, complete with vending machines. So much so, in fact, that it was suggested that since folks sneak food and drink into our academic library anyway, we should just do away with said policies. (Our preservation librarians were not at that particular meeting; I am quite sure they would have had simultaneous coronaries.) After working in Circulation for two years and seeing everything under the sun, from dog-chewed books to those that were sticky, snotty, cola-ed, TacoBell-ed, rained on, run over, peed on (no, not kidding) and just about everything in between, I find it hard to exaggerate what a travesty that would be. Certainly we should not restrict patron service unduly in the pursuit of collection maintenance (and salvation), but I would argue that neither should we allow the argument for ‘library as cultural and recreation center’ to dictate policies that will lead, inevitably, to the destruction of the collection we are responsible for preserving.

Some quick math – a library of 2.5 million volumes. A University of 27,000 students and nearly 10,000 staff. A few Coke spills that ruin a few books, surreptitiously slipped back into the stacks. It’s not just those’s the ones affected by the mold, insects and chemistry resulting from the spills and crumbs. Talk about librarian nightmares.

My argument is that, in general, we restrict behavior for the greater good. This does not necessarily mean that we are fascist, Nazi, communist, or any other term that usually gets thrown at the rulemakers. Yes, as librarians, we stand at the forefront of intellectual freedom issues, censorship issues, privacy rights, and various other political and moral flashpoints. We are tasked with both making the library more inviting, AND ensuring the survivability of the collection. However, it is important to remember that we’re not supposed to be anarchists, refusing to follow any laws or guidelines at all. We are supposed to be trustees of the public. Yes, we support your right to read whatever you want, whenever you want. However, I hardly see that translating into supporting the right to masturbate in my library, get drunk in my library, hold political rallies in my quiet area, or use library books as dinnerplates or snowshoes.

The Guardienne Arrives

Okay, I'll admit it up front. I am old-fashioned. I like my libraries quiet. I like my monographs to have pages instead of scroll bars, but I do love the ease of electronic databases adn e-journals. I believe that patrons should all be treated equally...except for the ones acting like asses. I believe that it is the librarian's duty, calling, job to help anyone and everyone get access however possible. I believe that porninators do not belong in the library, and that if caught should be asked to move to another machine and cease and desist...and upon another offense be asked politely to leave. I believe that food and coffee belong in Starbucks and not in my stacks, that children should be encouraged to read as often as possible, and that folks seeking to ban books need new hobbies.

I believe that it is the job of librarians to salvage the record of human history. I also believe that we can be myopic to the point of stupidity. Upon the discovery of digitization preservation, we e-preserve at whim, because digitization rakes in the grant money...while our paper stacks deteriorate to the point of no salvation.

I believe that someone, somewhere (all of us, everywhere?) need to shake ALA out of its socialist stupor and remind it focus on libraries and librarians before making resolutions on genocide. According to Shush, The resolution boils down to the following (quoted, of course):
"Therefore be it resolved that the Social Responsibility Round Table of the American Library Association Council urges all relevant ALA units and the profession-at-large to highlight and explain the Darfur Genocide through collections, programs, displays, resource guides, and other suitable means."

Now, I'm sad I couldn't be at that meeting; this year I missed ALA due to recuperating from surgery. It's just as well, I suppose; I probably shouldn't rock many boats until I have my MLS in hand and tenure somewhere. But did no one else see that this ridiculosity opens a non-library-related can of worms? We'll focus on the Darfur genocide because it's sexy, and celebrities have been jetting in and out of Africa. But we'll ignore China. And Gaza. Iraq, Iran, Somalia (where folks are killed for watching the World Cup, no less). And the half-hundred other atrocities ocurring around the world. Not to mention that collections, programs, displays, resource guides, and other suitable means all require moola. That's cash money that isn't going into regular collection development during a time of library budget crisis. The SRRT seems to have a penchant for tangents, and eyes too big for its belly.

How about the social responsiblity to pay the stewards of knowledge a living wage? Or the social responsibility to make sure the MLS isn't a laughingstock of a graduate degree, characterized by busywork? The social responsiblity to ensure that libraries are indeed safe havens for all, but making sure that those same libraries do not become havens for predators? The SSRT may want to go back and remember that its own responsiblity comes back to libraries (it being the American Library Association, and all), and that "freedom for all" does not "equal rules for none."