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It Isn’t Heroic To Use a Fake Library Card To Save Unread Books

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Rachel Smalter Hall

Staff Writer

Rachel Smalter Hall may be a professional Book Rioter, but she still hangs out in the public librarian clubhouse. Two of her top three loves include audiobooks and knitting, and her favorite song is Cold Hearted Snake as performed by Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese on season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She co-runs a boozy book club in Lawrence, Kansas, in her spare time. Twitter: @rach_smalls Website: Rachel Smalter Hall

Two library staff in Florida have been accused of making up fake library accounts and checking books out to them in order to save them from being removed from the collection. As reported by The Guardian, books that haven’t been checked out for a long time are automatically flagged for review and might be weeded, i.e. removed.

On the surface, it might look like these library staff are Saving Books! Rescuing Culture! Fighting The Man! But I find the whole thing kind of annoying at best, harmful at worst.

While I’m not familiar with the particulars of this situation, I do want to speak to the general attitude of “saving” library books from being weeded. Someone who tries to “save” a library book has the best intentions — they think they’re saying, “I know what my community needs better than a computer.” But what they’re actually saying is, “I know what my community needs better than they do.” They care about what the books symbolize more than they care about the people who are checking them out. They think they know what’s best for everyone else, and are likely oblivious to their community’s real wants and needs.

The books that they’re “saving” are usually classics, literary fiction, books that have won awards and gotten great reviews in publications like The New York Times. I can all but guarantee they’re not “saving” romance books, young adult fiction, celebrity memoirs, post-apocalyptic vampire novels. What about the STEM romance with a trans Latina heroine and a Thai bisexual hero with scientists and jokes about mansplaining that someone just told me about (and sounds amazing, by the way)*? Is that getting “saved,” too?

Sometimes culture needs to be disrupted. Sometimes the American literary canon doesn’t meet the needs of a library community. Sometimes a person is better served by a book that reflects or entertains them than by a book that erases or diminishes them, no matter how cleverly the book is structured or how beloved it is by literary scholars.

No one in your community is reading that Very Important Book? Then don’t let it keep taking up space on the library shelf that could be used for books that the community actually wants and needs. You’re not saving culture when you cheat the system to “save” a book, you’re just saving your own idea of culture.

Editor’s Note: This book is Hold Me by Courtney Milan