Quiet Please, Dispatches of a Public librarian by Scott Douglas is one man’s observation on the library world, set in the Anaheim Public Library System. Prior to this book, Douglas wrote essays for the website McSweeney’s. He was then encouraged to compile his essays into a book. The product is Quiet Please. As a librarian, I found myself laughing at, agreeing with, and sympathizing with Douglas’s tales of library patrons in a small-town library. Douglas narrows his stories to four types of library users: homeless people, crazy people, angry teenagers and the elderly. From my experience, this is the general make-up of most public libraries. His observations are keen, and despite his depictions of co-workers or library patrons negatively in the chapter, he finds some way to sum up the values of librarianship at the end of each chapter. I’ve only been a librarian for a few months, but in those 2 months, I’ve learned that, despite popular belief, being a librarian is not just about reading books. It is about knowing your library community and how to best serve them. It is about designing computer classes for those who have never used a computer. It is about providing bilingual storytime so that the parents can improve their English-speaking skills along with their children. I work in a rather progressive library system. Most metropolitan libraries are leaning towards keeping books as backdrop items, but keeping the main focus on the library patrons and creating programming and events to best fit their needs. Most small-town libraries still place books over other activities.
In Douglas’ book, he talks about the changes that took place in the library when computers and the internet were first introduced. The reception was lukewarm. The teens took to the computers right away, while staff and the elderly steered away from the new technology. Douglas brought up the good point that while serving one section of the community, another section was being neglected and soon becoming obsolete.
This is a book that everyone can read and enjoy. Throughout each chapter, Douglas breaks up his stories with “commercial breaks” to discuss library history and trivia. His writing is sharp and somewhat cynical. His observations are keen and his descriptions of library patrons and events are hilarious. Library employees will appreciate having their story told, while general readers will enjoy getting a sneak peak at the real nitty-gritty world of the public library.
You can also keep track of Scott’s observations and witty rapport on his blog, Speak Quietly.
Other reviews of this book:
Letters on Pages wrote a great review of this book, along with an author interview.
FINAL GRADE: A+
Quiet Please, Dispatches of a Public Librarian
by Scott Douglas
Da Capo Press, 2008
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