I’m making an assumption: we are all book people here. If you’re not a self-identified book person, you can stumble on to some other corner of the internet.
Most librarians I know are book people. Sure, some people get into libraries because they are into technology or organization of information in non-book forms. These people mostly recognize that libraries are still very much in the book business, even as they diversify and offer coding classes and financial literacy programs and all the other amazing stuff libraries do.
So when an author says librarians should read diversely and broadly and even goes so far as to suggest they read outside their own taste and interest, and some librarians are in fact NOT nodding their heads in agreement but in fact tearing this author down and basically yelling “YOU CAN’T MAKE ME READ” my first reaction is:
Wait, rewind. Remember, I’m operating under the assumption that the majority of librarians are book people and even if they aren’t, they recognize they work in an industry still (despite technological advances) dominated by books —
Yet they don’t think that the people who work with books should be an expert on books? And not just “books they personally like” but ALL books, especially those that might be harder to find or not get as much attention from the mainstream media and word of mouth discussion?
Here are the very dubious arguments that people, including people who somehow hold the title of Librarian, made against the idea that librarians should actively seek out diverse voices, and my responses.
Argument 1: “But I just don’t notice race.”
Then you have the privilege to not notice race. Do you live in the world? Race exists, and affects people’s lives (like, whether they get to continue living, even), and certainly impacts the stories they tell.
Also, if you work with the public, there is a 100% chance that you will interact with non-white people. They might be interested in books you like, and will probably read books by white authors, but hey, chances are they might really appreciate not only access to diverse titles but an informed person to help find them.
Which is basically the job description of a librarian.
Oh, you work in a community that is all white? Trust me. I grew up in a community very much like that, and those people are the most in need guidance finding diverse voices.
Argument 2: “I can’t even read all the books I want to read. There is not enough time.”
You’re right. I will also not get to pet all the kittens or eat at every pizzeria. This does not mean that I give up trying, or that I say “I will only pet long-haired kittens” and “only eat thin crust pizza.”
I am an equal opportunity kitten lover and I have enjoyed pan pizza and deep dish pizza too often to restrict myself to just thin crust, even if it is my favorite. I like to think I am a well-rounded cat person and a connoisseur of pizza in all of its delightful iterations.
Same goes for books.
Why are you limiting yourself on principle?
And for librarians, books are your job. You have positioned yourself as an expert. Not in “white lady mysteries” or “dead white guy classics” or “angsty white YA” or “pictures books published before 1982” but in BOOKS.
Sure, you can specialize and have a deeper knowledge of some types of books. But librarians should strive for breadth as well as, and in my opinion, even over, depth.
Argument 3: “Readers’ advisory and collection development are not part of my job even though I’m a librarian.”
Congratulations, you have missed the entire point. I don’t care if you’re the systems administrator or the janitor or a page; If someone sees you in the stacks of a public library, they assume you’re a librarian.
You many not have as much training or expertise as someone who works in readers’ services or collection development, but I don’t know why you’re working in a public library if you’re not interested in expanding your own horizons and reading widely. You’ll probably make more money working in a corporation or a fast food restaurant. Go on. Get out. There are plenty of passionate people waiting for your job.
Argument 4: “I just want to read ‘good’ books.”
Do you hear yourself? Are you saying that people of color can’t write good books? Are you closing yourself off from excellent books on principle because they are written by people of color and therefore not for you?
Like I said, I can’t even.
Argument 5: “You don’t have to read to be a good librarian.”
I can’t even make this up; someone (many someones) literally said this on Twitter.
My only response: even Archer disagrees.
I’m not saying that librarians can’t play softball or watch Netflix or take banjo lessons. But they should be reading, and they should be doing it on their personal time.
You can’t read everything (remember argument #2, we’ve already dealt with it). And you’re right, reading reviews and seeking out the opinions of other well-informed readers can fill the gaps in your own reading.
But actually reading and engaging with a text is a completely different experience from reading reviews or familiarizing yourself with material through booklists and articles and secondhand perspectives. It helps, but it’s not the same as diving into a book yourself.
If you’re going to be a librarian (at least a good one?), you’re going to be reading on your own time, and you’re going to be reading widely and outside your own interests and actively seeking out books that are beyond your comfort zone.
Whether you read 100 books a year or 10 books a year, a dedicated percentage of those (25% is a good place to start) should be written by diverse voices and consist of books outside your comfort zone.
The main prerequisite to be a librarian, in my opinion, is to be relentlessly curious. And if you’re not curious about experiences outside of your own and interested in literature that is written by people who don’t look like you, then you have no business being a librarian in a public library.