Wednesday, May 11, 2005

How do librarians choose the books they want to read?

As a matter of course we are inundated with book titles, so it's more a matter of being very selective (and despairing of ever getting around to reading everything of interest). I collect book reviews from the newspapers, and used to put them in a database which I would print out and bring with me to the library. That became too tedious to update, so I'd just cut out the reviews and put them in a binder. Very messy and un-librarian-like. I still do that but often have to wait ages for books to become available.

No, I am not a librarian who orders books just because I want to read them. But I do go through the library's New Titles Lists which are published every Friday. That's a work-related activity as I send lists to academics who might be interested in particular titles. If I do see something I personally want to read I can reserve it electronically, thereby having a ready-made reading package waiting for me the following Friday.

Another method I use is to read all the books by an author if I've enjoyed one of their books. I'll read them one after another so I can really get into their style.

Sometimes I just resort to a bit of serendipity - shelf browsing. That's how I found Ruth Jhabvala's Booker prize winning "Heat and Dust". I've read most of her books because of that one chance encounter in our 1.5 million volume library. Ok, not so chance, as I knew where the Indian literature in English was, and was in the mood for it that day. And one of the best places for serendipity is in the returns area, especially if you're lucky enough to work in a university library where students will be reading a good selection of titles. That's how I came across Alice Sebold's "The lovely bones".

Up until last year when he retired, my colleague Max was a great source of reading suggestions at short notice. Sometimes I'd be about to leave for home when I'd realise that I needed to replenish my supply of reading matter, but had no list at hand. No problem: I'd just ask Max, who would never be at a loss for titles. The best book he ever recommended was "The surgeon of Crowthorne : a tale of murder, madness and the Oxford English dictionary". Does this sound like something librarians would find a good read? Oh dear. It was also comforting to find out that Max shared my dislike for a book that had won a major award, namely "The life of Pi", which won the Booker Prize. I miss Max, not just for his reading suggestions, but also his love of reading, which is not a given amongst librarians, believe it or not. And Max brought to librarianship a very healthy bullshit detector, always a good antedote to the corporatisation of the library world.

2 comments:

Dad said...

Hi Val
enjoyed your latest additions, the tea house looks great! I'll have to brush up on the proper manners for a really authentic Japanese tea. The bit on librarians choosing their books was "made" with the with the word bullshit, in the last sentence. Brought it down to my level!

Kerri said...

I've added your suggestions to my reading list. I used to enjoy reading the monthly 'book group' selection and going to the group meeting when I had time. Since I've been subbing at school, time is limited. Too bad. I almost always liked the books our head librarian chose. They were a little bit of everything.