Librarians are often held up as modern day saints in our society. They are doing “the Lord’s work” in communities and with literacy. Their work getting books and resources in the hands of their communities is extremely important and deserves our support. I don’t disagree. Please send all your compliments my way. I will gladly bask in them and agree that they are hard earned. But, here’s the thing. Sometimes — not always, but sometimes — we aren’t telling y’all the whole truth.
Last week in my high school library, a student came in and started asking me detailed questions about each book he pulled off the shelf. “Does this one have magic in it?” “Is this the book with the twist at the end?” “What’s a book with big family problems?”
At first, I could easily answer most of his questions. “No, The Hunger Games doesn’t have magic in it.” “Yes, Monday’s Not Coming has a twist at the end.” “The Henna Wars has a lot of complicated family stuff.”
Next he started pulling books from our new book display. He held up Off the Record by Camryn Garrett. “Tell me about this one.”
Taking the book from him, I opened the cover to read the inside of the dust jacket. “I haven’t read it,” I told him. His eyebrows climbed high on his forehead.
“I thought you had to read all the books in here as part of your job.”
This silly, but common, story illustrates an important point. Librarians and book sellers being well read can mistranslate to us having read all the books in our catalog. Once you take a step back, of course readers realize this isn’t true, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for guidance or nudges for their book choices. This is where the truth can get a little fuzzy.
Lies of Omission
These are lies where I conveniently leave something out. Usually the untrue bit. I have, in fact, heard good things about so-and-so book. Do I disagree with those things? Absolutely yes. Am I going to tell a student who is showing genuine excitement for this book when we haven’t found anything they’ve liked in weeks of looking? Nope, not at all.
Lies of omission are most of the untruths I tell. Usually, these have to do with recommendations. A few weeks ago, it felt like every other person coming in here wanted a recommendation for a horror book. I don’t read horror and don’t plan on starting. I’m more of a romance and fantasy kind of reader. While I’ll do a lot of things for my students, reading horror isn’t one of them. Yet here I am recommending titles and saying, “Oh, this one is great.”
I feel confident lying about this for two reasons: 1. I’ve heard other people I respect recommend it and 2. I can’t keep it on the shelf because it’s checked out so much. So, is it really a lie when so many true facts are adjacent to the statement? Probably, yes.
Half truths are when part of the thing I’m saying or interest I’m showing is genuine. The other part, often the main part, not so much.
My most common half truth is faking excitement. I fake excitement about all kinds of things in the library. Listening to a student outline a way too detailed summary of a book I’ll never read, for example.
There I am. Listening to an extremely detailed summary of an obscure science fiction novel with over a dozen characters whose names all sound the same in this made up language from the book. Throughout the conversation I am continually reminding myself to fix my face. (Masks really help with this.) Reminding myself that getting teens to read is my purpose. Reminding myself that I am in fact excited that this kid is excited, but sweet sugar snaps, will this pedantic summary never end? If a quick, “This sounds great. I can’t wait” ends this conversation, I do not regret saying it even a little bit. The excitement I’m showing, I say to myself, is for literacy in all its boring-to-me forms.
Another half truth I’ve told is, “I can’t wait!” after a student has told me about a book being made into a series or movie. Young adult novels are always being picked up for film adaptation. When the novel being converted isn’t one I loved or even cared to pick up, I can wait to see the movie. What I can’t wait for is the new people it will bring to the library to check that book out.
Lies Librarians Tell Themselves
A hard part for me is coming to terms with the lies that I need to tell myself. Unfortunately, sometimes people check out books explicitly to make fun of them or to tear them apart. Some boys checked out This Book is Gay then immediately, while still in the library even, started mocking it. Everyone is entitled to check out whatever book they want for their own reasons, but it still breaks my heart. A lie I tell myself here is that maybe one of them is struggling with their sexuality and wants to learn more, but is too afraid to check it out earnestly.
I’ve written before about books that got stolen from my classroom library when I was an English teacher. Of course, books go missing from the library as well, and it’s never Bloom’s How to Write about James Joyce. It’s The Hate U Give and Throne of Glass and Two Boys Kissing. Titles that I reorder every fall. The lies I tell myself about these books is that they are somewhere under someone’s pillow with broken, well-loved spines and dog eared pages. Hopefully, they are full of underlined passages and annotated margins. So beloved that the reader can’t bear to part with it.
In all seriousness, getting people, teens especially, in the library is my goal. If I have to smudge the truth here and there to form a relationship at first, it’s totally worth it. Connecting people with stories where they see themselves or with stories that make them feel something is the joy of my life. Lying a little to make it happen doesn’t have me losing any sleep at night.
Looking to learn more about librarians and libraries? Here are 9 books that celebrate librarians and some tips on how to make an interlibrary loan really work for you.