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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Call to Action: Set a Better Example of the First Rule of RA

As most of you know, the consensus first rule of RA is one coined by Betty Rosenberg: "Never apologize for your reading tastes."

RA Service is supposed to be completely nonjudgemental. We need to believe that reading anything, for any reason, has intrinsic value. This is about not judging our patrons obviously, but we also need to remember this about ourselves and our colleagues.

While I do believe most of us give our best effort to be nonjudgemental, I also think we aren't taking this rule as seriously as we should. Today I want to talk about being more conscious about this foundational rule of our service to leisure readers. I am going to begin with examples that range from obvious infringements on this rule to the more subtle.

With this post I am not trying to make any of you feel bad. We all do it. I have been guilty of some of these things myself. What I am asking is that we are more self aware about checking ourselves. Words matter. Let's think about how we promote titles to readers, what we value, and how we talk to each other.

In fact, let's start there, with each other. I am going to address how we as librarians judge genres a bit later in this post, but there is a more basic issue of judgment that I see getting out of control-- the number of books you can read in a year. We are all obsessed with counting the number of books we finish and telling the world about it. Goodreads doesn't help. They are constantly asking me to set a goal. I won't do it.

It doesn't matter how many books you finish in a year. You don't get to be a better librarian the more you finish. Also obsessing about how many books you're reading takes away any enjoyment from the task AND interferes with what you get out of each book in terms of take aways for helping a reader.

As I say all of the time, you don't have to have a personal experience with a book to share it; RA service requires that you use resources. You can and should use the words of others. In fact, the number of books you read is irrelevant. It is the number that you share that matters.

Stop keeping track of the number of book you personally read because you will never reach your goal-- which is to read all the books. You never will. This is a goal you can never reach, so stop trying. Also stop making yourself feel bad about falling short. And more importantly, stop judging your colleagues. I have library friends who are embarrassed to admit how few books they have time to read each year. They come to me for advice on how to read more and on how to deal with their shame. WHY ARE WE MAKING OUR COLLEAGUES FEEL SHAME? My answer to them is always the same. Read as many books as you want, but never stop reading ABOUT books and passing titles and information on to as many possible readers as possible.

Oh, and tell those haters to shut up. While they are busy reading another book to mark off of their [useless] tally sheet, you could have put a bunch of actual books in other readers hands.

I tell myself this all of the time-- if I don't have time to read it, I am glad someone will get to enjoy it. And honestly, that is just as good.

If you think it is valuable to track how many books you have read in a year, great. I disagree and think it is a waste of time, but it is a free country and you may have a very good reason that works for you. But I implore you to stop posting this information on social media. It is very judgmental and helps no one.

Now here are a few more obvious things that many library workers all over the country do on a daily basis:
  • Saying to patrons or on social media that audio books and/or graphic novels are not "real books" or don't count as reading. As I say at my in person talks, if you feel this way, you are wrong. 100% wrong and there is no argument that wins here. I do not think you should work in a library and help readers of any age if you feel this way. And supervisors, if you have staff who feel this way, they will slip and say it to a patron at some point. That is a fireable offense. [I have been a manager, you can write an employee up for this-- disparaging patrons for their choices].
  • Making fun of James Patterson. I begin my signature talk doing this for a laugh, but then I stop and very seriously tell people that while James Patterson takes a lot of our money and fills way too much shelf space, he also brings a lot of people into the library. Patterson purposely writes his books to an eighth grade reading level which also happens to be the average adult reading level in America. He writes his books so as many adults as possible, can find a good, entertaining read. They are not complicated on purpose. And, many rediscover a love of reading as adults through Patterson, driving them to the library to find more good reads, and that gives us job security.
  • Make displays of "guilty pleasures"or "clean books." These display titles are judgmental at their core. If we call something "clean" that implies that there are dirty books. This display judges people who want the not clean books as dirty. Same for guilty pleasure. I often see a racy romance or gory horror title in a "guilty reads" display but never in our more general "great reads you might have missed" type displays, even if they got starred reviews from multiple sources. This is horribly judgmental at its core and we do it ALL THE TIME.
This post offers just a few of themes obvious examples of they ways in which we are not living up to our goal of being "nonjudgmental." I know there are many more examples I am leaving out [some intentionally because this post has been in draft mode for weeks, and others because I haven't thought of them]. And this does not even take into account the point I brought up here in this longer post where I discuss how genre titles by authors of color automatically get categorized as "literary" meaning a whole group of genre readers won't ever find these books. And, how we think this is elevating those titles, but that thought is wrong, racist, and not helpful to anyone, especially our patrons. [Click here for the more nuanced discussion of this problem.]

Look, just face it, all of us [again I am including myself] are too judgmental. Let's start being more aware of it. And finally, let's not judge people who make these judgmental mistakes. Rather let's find a way to help each other be more thoughtful and encourage change. Again, non of it is a competition. We are in this together. And our goal-- connecting readers with their next good read.

1 comment:

Melanie said...

This is a fantastic post and perfect for me to share in my own system. Thanks for always being so passionate about making RA the best it can be.