Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This Shit Used to be True.

I want to talk about Awful Library Books. Not so much the web site because I don't really know what they do there, but I want to call out all the librarians who feel superior for identifying some pathetic old outdated book and marching it out for its public shame.

And this is the entry that sparked my ire:

Let’s Be Indians
Parish 1962

This book is still in reasonable shape given its age, although it probably hasn't been touched since I snagged it for this website. Maybe it slipped through the cracks on weeding since the call number on the spine was wrong. (Weak excuse, but I will put it out there as a possibility.) Yes, I did find it in an active public library youth collection. World Cat shows an embarrassingly large group of public libraries and school libraries holding this title. This book is so light on concrete information, they don’t even list distinctions among the native people. They are all just Indians. Time to retire this title, and for the love of God, how about some updated materials on native cultures rather than a marginal craft book?
Hey, this was us. I bet that before this book, most kids didn't want to be the Indian. Back in the 1950's, the weakest kid that no one liked had to be the Indian whenever you played Cowboys and Indians. The Indian was reviled as a sneaky thief and murderer who came in the night and captured our women. So I'm betting that in 1962, this was considered a progressive view of Indians as creative and brave and worthy of being the lead choice in a young boy's or girl's role playing.

We can all laugh and say, "Oh, I would never have bought that for my library." And I would jump into my time machine to locate which books are "awful" fifty years from now and come back and say, "Yes, you would. Here are the ones you're buying now that EVERYONE in the future is laughing at."

Ok, you're right, I'm kidding. I wouldn't do that because there are no libraries fifty years from now. That's just silly. Also, I only use my time machine to:

a. Kill Hitler over and over.
b. invest in something that I can sell for much more money now.
c. fuck hot cave chicks in One Million B. C.

Oh, yeah, we're offended now by the ignorance expressed between those sad covers of all those old books, but we used to believe what is in these books that we now toss out from our libraries.

Suddenly, we're all so enlightened. But the point is that we bought that book because it represented ideas that our society valued, ONCE UPON A TIME. At some point in our past, some person took the time to write a book that made its way to a publisher who thought it might sell a few copies so it was printed and put out for sale and listed in some catalog or even given a favorable review in a professional library publication and some librarian read about it and ordered it and catalogued it and put it on the shelf for all of us to read and take home. And we read it and agreed with it BECAUSE IT WAS THE TRUTH.

Maybe it was some long ago librarian who bought that book that seems so wrong now. Or maybe it was you. If it was you, are you admitting now that you bought a shitty book? No. At the time, it was probably a good idea to get it. It filled a need.

Or did you succumb to peer pressure when you made that decision to add that book to the collection? If so, you suck. Suck. Suck. Suck. You sucky librarian. Or maybe your boss made you do it.

Or maybe your patrons requested it. They don't really know any better; they only do what TV and now the Internet tells them to do. "Buy this money, health, relationship book and all your problems will go away." And because they're too cheap to buy it for themselves, they get the librarian to buy it. Even though you knew it was a shitty book, you bought it anyway. Because these idiots pay your salary.

But that's the problem with serving the public: they are stupid. If enough people ask for something that might present extremely dangerous health advice or risky investments or even idiotic ideals, books that are a complete waste of paper, you'd probably have to buy it. Because it's what your patrons want. And even though the book is wrong, that doesn't make it any less TRUE. It's true that your patrons were gullible enough to force you to waste tax money on shit. I bet I could publish Barefoot and Pregnant: why women should quit the workforce in these troubled times and give the jobs back to MEN right now and promote it on TV and the radio and the Internet and make it so popular that your library would buy it.

And it would circulate 500 times.

Does that make it a good book? Apparently, by library circulation standards, since we really only care about what gets checked out. But it's a shitty book that no one should be reading, but yet everyone did.

But how much crap are you collecting now that will embarrass or enrage future generations? What if some future water shortage has us drinking our urine? And all those books on mixing frozen daiquiris or swimming pool maintenance or lawn care are viewed with the same derision we now foist upon our own obsolete cultural and ecological views.

The point is, we can't know about all the stuff that we think is awesome now that might get shoved back in our faces later.

So my point is, we shouldn't weed these books.

I think librarians should keep these books and place them in a display called, Past Facts, or Local Time Machine, or Mirror Mirrors. There should be a whole Dewey number to represent these awful books.

No one says we need to be proud of them. But I think it's helpful for society to look back at where we've been and decide whether we're making progress.

But to answer your thought balloon: YES. Weed old medical books. There's no reason to kill people just so we can collectively mock useless therapies. It would be funny to do it, but still wrong.


  1. just shared this on FB. LOVE ur posts!!

  2. While I agree with this, at the same time one can't keep EVERY book that shows a past perspective on things. We need to be able to fill the shelves with more wonderful new materials that we can laugh at in another 20 to 30 years!