Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian
Last summer, the New York Times ran a Style piece declaring librarians as the next cool thing: microbrew-drinking, tattoo-sporting hipsters who hold court at Brooklyn's trendier watering holes. Titled "A Hipper Crowd of Shushers," it purported that ordering a drink by its Dewey Decimal call number as being akin to sipping an absinthe cocktail in a Parisian bar. It's no wonder, then, that Scott Douglas, a public librarian and blogger for Dave Eggers' McSweeney's portal into the known hipster universe, got a book deal. Quiet, Please: Dispatches From a Public Librarian, details Douglas' career, from his mid-'90s slacker job as a book shelver to his tribulations through library school, and his trials in public service at an Anaheim, Calif., branch library. His vignettes are entertaining, scenes of crazy patrons and even crazier co-workers. But while everyone can relate to stories about neighborhood characters and Office Space-esque bureaucracy, Douglas' humor can take them only so far.
Douglas certainly fancies himself a raconteur. And while his dispatches may make for good happy-hour banter, the average leisure reader may find his overly detailed ramblings told in the footnoted style of David Foster Wallace to be a bit forced. Attempting to follow every single notation about Douglas' co-workers--names changed to protect--doesn't evoke any sympathy for the guy. The sitcom-esque team of Faren (library manager/straight man), Brenda (paraprofessional/alter ego), and Michael (staff worker/jester) are hard to keep track of, since there seem to be so many of them. His cast most definitely lends itself better to a half-hour time slot on a basic cable channel than to something that may sit on the shelves of Douglas' own domain.
But like bad press, a mundane memoir can be a good thing. Douglas' book is a love story to public librarians everywhere, the stalwarts who befriend the elderly, hold story hour for the kids, and provide a space for teenagers who might otherwise find themselves in compromising predicaments. He extols the necessity for libraries to provide electronic resources in order to maintain their status as the social and information center of the community. And he chastises an overmanaged system that functions best when its employees are left alone.
Librarians will find Quiet, Please to be an appropriate companion to Nancy Pearl's Book Lust or even to the Parker Posey movie Party Girl. Those of the hipster variety may even seek out Douglas at the American Library Association's Annual Conference (this year in Douglas' own hometown of Anaheim in June), and perhaps some of the baby-boomer set may find his stories charming in a the-more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same way. But civilians not working in the information-providing sector might just do better by paying their local library a visit and seeing what Douglas writes about for themselves.