Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Guerilla Librarianship

I love books so much that sometimes this love feels dangerous. I get a rush whenever I enter a library, especially an academic library. I often have twenty or thirty books checked out at a time, which is where it threatens to become a sickness.  If I run across a reference somewhere to a book that seems like something I'd want -- I'd need -- to read, I immediately request it at the library; there's a sense of urgency, of immediacy, there, the fear that, if I let time pass -- the amount of time, for instance, that it would take to read the books I've already checked out -- I will forget that very important book, that new reference, and never request it, and, hence, never read it. And then there are the six full bookcases I own, pared down by a couple of bookcases over the course of several moves, and the books piled high on my desk, research materials for my book project (on a topic in academic musicology).  And an overflowing basket of finds I've gleaned from BookMooch, and my finds from thrift stores, yard sales, and the library discard table.  I spend way too much money on books, often rationalizing it to myself that eighty percent or so of what I buy is second-hand. Nonetheless, as Betty Duffy has noted elsewhere, this doesn't make it a virtue.

I often feel as if I've missed my calling, and should have done my degree in library science instead of in voice performance. And, had I become a librarian, I have the suspicion that I would have become a guerrilla librarian.

Jeremiah's Vanishing New York has a great post up detailing the short history of guerrilla librarianship at the People's Library at Zuccotti Park. An excerpt:

Librarians gassed and jailed. Heroes strapping books of poetry to their bodies. Here's something: Nobody's doing that for a Kindle.

And the acclaimed young adult novel The Book Thief (a moving, luminous read, though it has some problems, among them the facts that it's just too long and too relentless) is essentially about guerrilla librarianship as redemptive act.

Jeremiah posits:

[W]hat if bibliophiles became, again, radical revolutionaries in the collective imagination? What if the borrowing, lending, buying, selling, and reading of real books became a renegade act?

. . . . It's time to start burning the Kindles and get back to the real thing.


Rodak said...

You and me, with books, the same thing. And here I am, actually working in an academic library now. I have tried to allow this rather wonderful circumstance to allow me not to have so many volumes "follow me home," so to speak. And I have been partially successful.
That the OWSers established a library in the park is just awesome. It belies everything that Fox News and its ilk has said to slander them. God bless them all!

Pentimento said...

Books are beautiful, precious, important. Anyone who slanders real, essential beauty has shown himself to be an enemy of the good.

Emily J. said...

Love this. Now that our local library relies on date stamps and initialing the library books' pocket cards, I feel a little more guilty about checking out 20-30 books at a time. "We have a lot of readers in our family," I offer as an excuse. Happily, only one of the librarians cringes when we come in. The other is a fan of YA fiction and has even set aside a couple books I asked about - since there is no computerized hold system.
Is it practicing guerilla librarianship to take home books destined for the rubbish heap because of their physical condition? Although maybe there may be some books better left to die. My favorite rescue was the Trumpeter of Krakow in an old edition with a woodblock print cover. The pages are falling out, but it's still a great read.

Pentimento said...

That is definitely guerrilla librarianship, Emily! A great find, too.

BettyDuffy said...

Just for the record, I almost never get rid of books, unless they have a pink cover.

Pentimento said...

Do you ever read this blog? Lots of books with pink covers here.

BettyDuffy said...

Wow--hilarious. I'm worried I might have had a couple of those books though--the chess one, and the one on getting your period. I'm also worried that I might enjoy checking out "Everything you need to know about Disco Dancing."

Enbrethiliel said...


Did I ever tell you about the time my uni library decided to reevaluate all books that hadn't been checked out in ten years or more, and to weed out those that a small group of librarians decided weren't necessary to the collection? I knew all about it because a friend got me a part-time job in the library that year--and I was reporting directly to the small group in charge of that project! =P

It was a bit of a conflict of interest, yes, but I'm shady like that . . . especially when I need the money. Besides, it was so much fun to go through the stacks one by one and find great books I hadn't even known existed. In my unofficial way, I also became part of a brigade of English majors whom one professor encouraged to ferret out the old books that were in danger and to check them out of the library. In six months, we were able to save every book.

Sadly, there are no public libraries where I live now and no uni libraries open to the public; so I have to make do with snapping up the treasures I find in used bookstores. There are about thirty books in my personal library that I haven't read yet, and I'm feeling awful about that.

I know another big reader who scoffs, "Why is it that people always ask, 'Have you read all of those?' when they see hundreds of books but never 'Have you listened to all of those?' when they see thousands of CDs?" Well, in my case, I haven't read all the books I have on my shelves, so the question is less annoying than embarrassing. =/

Pentimento said...

That's a great story, Enbrethiliel.

I feel guilty too about all my unread books, which number far more than thirty. And all the books I wanted to really read for my dissertation research, instead of just cherry-picking them for evidence that supported my thesis. My dissertation advisor once remarked that doing research was very dishonest.