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Front line librarianship


Front-Line Librarianship


Chandos
Information Professional Series
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Chandos Information Professional Series


Front-Line Librarianship
Life on the Job for Today’s Librarians

Guy Robertson


Chandos Publishing is an imprint of Elsevier
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The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, OX5 1GB, United Kingdom
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Notices
Knowledge and best practice in this field are constantly changing. As new research and experience
broaden our understanding, changes in research methods, professional practices, or medical treatment may
become necessary.
Practitioners and researchers must always rely on their own experience and knowledge in evaluating and
using any information, methods, compounds, or experiments described herein. In using such information
or methods they should be mindful of their own safety and the safety of others, including parties for whom
they have a professional responsibility.
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material herein.
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ISBN: 978-0-08-102729-5
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Contents

Acknowledgmentsxv
Introductionxvii

Section ABy Popular Demand: Various Genres and Tastes

1

1Reading in season: how the yearly cycle affects your choice of books

1.1Cottage and campground

1.2Dickensian alternatives

1.3On the road

1.4Innocent?

1.5Jack comes back

3
3
4
5
6
6

2Mystery madness: understanding the demand for crime fiction
in libraries

2.1Death by demand

2.2What the professor wants

2.3Selection tools

2.4Death on order

2.5Matters of taste

9
9
10
10
11
12

3Reaching the outer limits: science fiction in the library

3.1Hugo’s achievement

3.2Monsters and young men

3.3Atwood’s handmaid

3.4Fear of Goths

3.5Safeway neuromancer

3.6Rowling power

3.7Join the club

13
13
13
14
14
15
15
16

4Life enjoyed: the appeal of biography collections

4.1Why so popular?

4.2Imagining the life

4.3Paris Hilton and Co.

4.4Living collections

17
17
18
19
20


vi

Contents

5Travel collections: off the shelf, on the road

5.1What guidebooks give

5.2Atlases

5.3Early travel literature

5.4Enter the British

5.5Not so painful

5.6Rick does Europe

21
21
22
22
23
23
24

6Blankets will not protect you! an overview of horror fiction

6.1Older English horror

6.2Victorian shivers

6.3American classic

6.4King of the genre

25
25
26
27
28

7Making the Penguins fly: classics collections in public libraries

7.1Broad interests

7.2Life without Freud

7.3Tapestry of wisdom

7.4Questions and decisions

7.5The politics of shelving

29
29
30
31
32
32

8First love, printed and bound

8.1Going Hobbit

8.2Magic Kingdom

8.3You can be a librarian

8.4Personal passion in the workplace

8.5Reading for eternity

35
35
36
37
38
39

Section BSocial Studies

41

9Alternative librarianship: voices from the field

43

10Life at the cellular level: dealing with wireless communications
in libraries

10.1Kids and parents

10.2A cell-free zone

47
47
48

11Moonlight sonata: librarians discuss their work after work

11.1Debt management and fitness

11.2The rotten nest egg

11.3Food for thought

11.4Beethoven for adult amateurs

11.5Getting sweaty for fun and profit

51
51
52
52
53
53


Contents

vii

12Manual matters: developing successful guidelines and losing
priceless boredom

55

13Keeping up appearances: looking like a librarian in an age
of paranoia

13.1The customs of the country

13.2Helpful dandruff

13.3Librarians, beards, etc.

13.4Star power

59
59
60
61
61

14Surviving hard times: how libraries can deal with recessions
63

14.1Balance required
63

14.2ERM
64

14.3More management and why not
64

14.4If it ain’t broke…65

14.5Boxes of bargains
65

14.6What we fear most
66

14.7Recovery, eventually
66
15What goes down: library experiences of the urban poor

15.1Sleeping in the streets

15.2A couple of users

15.3A former colleague

15.4What’s in the bag

67
67
68
69
70

16Keynoting: an honest overview

16.1The gang’s all here

16.2The winning smile

16.3For the camera

16.4Fly for cover

16.5Please drop in

16.6Moment of truth

71
71
72
72
73
74
74

17Quote us freely: British librarians speak out about recent cutbacks

17.1Cooking with new technology

17.2Grime

17.3The rebellious spirit

17.4Caveat: maggie

17.5Angry students

17.6Perseverance

17.7Damn the pigeons

75
75
76
77
77
78
79
79

18For your eyes only: love and disorder in our domestic libraries

18.1The lure of the sofa

18.2Serendipity

81
81
82


viii






Contents

18.3Swedish equipment
18.4He came in through the bedroom window
18.5Neurosis

82
83
84

19Who’s next door? Living with your library’s neighbors

19.1Something in the air

19.2Good woman

19.3Unhappy hour

19.4Banking on cooperation

19.5The pain of divorce, the pleasures of chai

87
87
88
89
90
91

20Worldwide weeding: when books no longer furnish a room

20.1Manner of disposal

20.2More fiction than ever

20.3Dinosaurs choose Proust

20.4New uses for space

20.5Back to 007

93
93
94
95
96
96

21What care ye for raiment? Dress codes and styles in our libraries
99

21.1Slob alert
99

21.2First the shirts, and then …100

21.3Hair off the spectrum
100

21.4High-altitude footwear
101

21.5Footwear, cont
102

21.6Watch for icicles
102
22Circulation counter service in public and academic libraries:
dealing face-to-face with patrons

22.1Bronzino

22.2Put on hold

22.3In the wet

22.4A matter of qualifications

22.5Security

22.6The case of the missing molars, cont.

105
105
106
107
107
108
109

Section CVisiting the Library: People and Programs

111

23Gold, Frankincense, and Murder: the wise bookseller’s guide
to corporate gifts

113

24“It’s not just the books!” Wheelchair patrons speak out

24.1Safe spots

24.2Library attitudes

24.3Independence on wheels

117
117
118
119


Contents





24.4When to ignore the rules
24.5Individual respect

ix

119
120

25What’s cooking at your library: a special event

25.1Getting started

25.2Cook it and they will come

25.3Finding a presenter

25.4Setting a date

25.5Getting the word out

25.6Signing up

25.7Final preparations

25.8Signage

25.9Day of reckoning

25.10Troubleshooting

25.11A savory conclusion

121
121
121
122
122
122
123
123
123
124
124
125

26Abroad in your library: what tourists want, what they get

127

27Here’s looking at you, kid: what special visitors want when
they tour your library

27.1The vision

27.2Location, location

27.3On the outside

27.4Staff workspace

27.5For the public

27.6Shelving

27.7Your influence

131
131
132
132
132
133
133
134

28Discover your inner elf: Christmas programs for public libraries

28.1Deck the hall

28.2Scrooge, etc.

28.3Annually, or else

28.4Facilities management

135
135
136
137
137

29Boo! Halloween in our libraries

29.1Plastic bats

29.2Storytime

29.3Adult fiction

29.4Costumes will be worn

29.5Ghoulish Donald

29.6Off the wall

139
139
140
141
142
142
143

30Confessions of a library Santa

145


x

Contents

31November memories: librarians and patrons observe
Remembrance Day

31.1Blazers and berets

31.2Photos and their contexts

31.3Not on display

31.4Year-round circulation

31.5Accommodating veterans

31.6Snipers

149
149
150
151
151
152
152

32Gone astray: an exploration of library lost-and-founds

32.1Contents of the drawer

32.2The wandering wallet

32.3Lottery winner

32.4Emotional response

32.5For the love of a plastic duck

32.6Police matters

153
153
154
154
155
155
156

33Cat care programs in public libraries: providing essential
information to owners

33.1One reason why

33.2Nutrition

33.3The unhappy question

33.4On the prowl

33.5Q & Q & Q & A

33.6Fame

157
157
158
159
160
160
161

34Serving the solitary: librarians demonstrate “in-reach”

34.1Various reasons

34.2Excruciating

34.3In-reach defined

34.4A common need

34.5A common service experience

34.6Shiny brogues

163
163
164
164
165
166
166

Section DSenior Moments

169

35Seniors: what they want and what they get in Canada’s
public libraries

171

36Leisure reading for seniors: sorting out tastes and topics

36.1Solve for X

36.2TV tie-ins

36.3Club talk

36.4Romance and children’s treasures

36.5Other formats

175
175
176
176
177
177


Contents

xi

37Finance, felines, and figuring It all out: utilitarian reading
for seniors

37.1Seniors need books and more

37.2A matter of health

37.3Ending up without fear

37.4Life is a garden

37.5Pet care

37.6Financial concerns

37.7Life goes on

179
179
180
180
180
181
181
182

38Tis the season: christmas programs for seniors

38.1Aptly nicknamed

38.2Storytime

38.3By oneself

38.4Perfect for table or tree

38.5Limited seating

183
183
184
185
185
186

39It’s never too late to Tolstoy: adventures of a seniors’ reading club

39.1Blithe spirits

39.2What it takes

39.3Convoy formation

39.4Bathtub risk

39.5Biblical visuals

187
188
188
189
190
190

Section ELibrary Technicians

193

40Training techs: preparing library technicians for an evolving
job market

195

41File under tango: lifelong learning for library technicians

41.1Love and technology

41.2Cerebral workout

41.3Do you copy?

41.4First and last tango in tech services

41.5Reference greens and browns

199
199
200
200
201
201

Section FFor the Record
42Paper crazy no more: records management for library
chaos junkies

42.1Step one: getting past denial

42.2Step two: assigning records management responsibilities

42.3Step three: compiling the records inventory

42.4Step four: retention scheduling

203
205
205
206
206
207


xii







Contents

42.5Step five: establishing confidentiality levels and organizing
document destruction
42.6Step six: preventing data loss
42.7Step seven: developing the library archives
42.8Step eight: sustaining the records management process
42.9Sources: the author’s choice

208
208
209
209
210

43CIA for beginners: records management training for
library technicians

211

44Records management for office managers: a special librarian’s
clip ‘N share

44.1A list of what you have

44.2What you keep, what you shred

44.3Archival treasures

44.4Storage here, storage there

44.5Available expertise

215
216
216
217
217
217

Section GRare Books and Other Rubbish

219

45Gold in the garbage: making the most from the treasure in
your trash

45.1Nobody bought it

45.2An expert eye

45.3A win–win scenario

221
221
222
223

46One for the books: lectures on collecting from coast to coast

46.1The bard’s Rotarians

46.2Tribes

46.3High spots, high prices

46.4Mississauga romantic

46.5Restoration costs

46.6Biblio-survival

225
225
226
226
227
227
228

Section HEnglish Hours

229

47Librarian’s London: visiting the city of readers

231

48Under the bridge with Margaret and Charles: browsing in
London’s South Bank Book Market

235

49Spirited business: styles of bookselling in Piccadilly

49.1Park your steed outside

49.2Grave matters of privacy

239
239
240


Contents





49.3Aboveground marketing and sales
49.4Parenting
49.5The sound of popping corks

xiii

240
241
241

50Here be dragons: continuing education in library history

50.1On the road

50.2Age is relative

50.3Calfskin cartography

50.4Medieval zoology

50.5Textual meditation

50.6Special patrons

243
243
244
244
245
245
246

51Finding Mr. Perfect: WH Smith in Paddington Station

51.1Impulse

51.2Oxford men

51.3Diverting material

51.4One-stop shopping

51.5Profit from reading

247
247
248
248
249
249

52Visiting Oxford: lifelong memories from one day on the move

251

53Perfect for your wall or shelf: shopping at London’s popular
tourist attractions

53.1Office decoration made easy

53.2The real thing

53.3A matter of taste

53.4Ophelia

53.5Making the connection

53.6Rosetta Stone

53.7The Abbey

53.8The grave matter of lunch

257
257
258
258
259
259
260
260
261

Section ICorporate concerns

263

54Confidentiality at risk: how the info-thief threatens your
corporate information

265

55E-pest alert

269

56Data on the road: keeping portable IT safe while you travel

273

Index277


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Acknowledgments

Memory is imperfect. Undoubtedly here I neglect to mention colleagues, former students, friends, and acquaintances who have assisted me in the past 20 years to produce
the material in this book. Among these people are many who provided me with valuable information during interviews, in correspondence, and through informal discussions. Let me begin with an apology to whose names I do not include in what follows.
They can rest assured that I value their contributions nonetheless.
Happily I can remember—and in many cases, I shall never forget—the efforts on
my behalf by those who have edited my magazine writing and saved my reputation,
at least temporarily: Liz Morton, Mary J. Moore, Peter Wilson, the indefatigable Judy
Green, Rachel Hertz Cobb, Michael Steeler, Sally Praskey, Craig Harris, Barbara
Aarsteinsen, Kim Laudrum, Doug Little, and Jim Duggleby. Graphic designer Beverly
Bard made valiant efforts to sort out the tangle of my drafts and manuscripts, often at
the last minute before deadline.
At Langara College, I received support and encouragement from Ann Calla,
Jacqueline Bradshaw, Susan Burdak, Carol Elder, Diane Thompson, Ryan Vernon,
Serenia Tam, Moira Gookstetter, Linda Holmes, Martin Gerson, Gaylene Wren, and
Jim Bowers. At the Justice Institute of British Columbia, Sarah Wareing and Darren
Blackburn provided opportunities for me to conduct research and collect valuable data.
At TMC IT and Telecom Consulting Inc., Ellen Koskinen-Dodgson and Peter
Aggus provided essential advice and answered my questions regarding different technological developments and risks.
The Elsevier Chandos team deserves credit for many things, but, above all, their
patience. In Oxford, George Knott, Harriet Clayton, and Glyn Jones offered much
helpful advice. Thomas Van Der Ploeg, my current editor in Cambridge, deserves an
OBE for adjusting deadlines, tolerating numerous revisions, and obtaining the final
manuscript despite my unceasing requests for more time, information, and reassurance.
I cannot have written, revised, and compiled the contents of this book without the assistance that I have received from friends and colleagues, including but
not limited to the following: Ted Baker, Peter Broomhall, Virginia Carpio, Neal
Chan, Sarah O. Chan, John Livingstone Clark, Arthur Cohen, Heather Forbes, Bob
Gignac, David Goldie, Drew Lane and Diane Guinn, Hilary Hannigan, Amanda
and Peter Hazelwood, Allen Higbee, Richard Hopkins, Rhonda Johnson, Shirley
Kano, Steve Koerner, Jeanny Louie, Melany Lund, Rob Makinson, Lee and Teri
Nicholas, Kelsey Ockert, Maureen Phillips, Stephen Porsche, the late Bud Mills,
the late Mahmoud Manzalaoui, David Mitchell, Teresa Murphy, Mike Rinneard,


xvi

Acknowledgments

Judith Saltman, the late Dave Smith, Marguerite Stevenson, David Regher, the late
Roy Stokes, Judy Thompson, Cassandra Wang, Michael and Barbara Weston, and
the late Anne Yandle.
As ever, I am grateful to Deborah Johnson, the late Mary P. Robertson, Christopher
and Christine Robertson, Amanda Robertson, and Geoff Sloan for their hospitality,
proofreading, and encouragement.
I thank all who have contributed to my book. Any errors are my own.


Introduction

This book includes a selection of my articles that first appeared in Feliciter, a publication of the Canadian Library Association, between 1998 and 2014. To enrich the
mix, I have added a small number of my contributions to Canadian Bookseller and
Canadian Insurance. While I have revised several of the articles, most remain in their
original form. One appears in print for the first time.
Modern library and information science periodicals often contain a mix of material
that covers topics in administration, IT and technical services, publishing, the politics
of the information professions, biography, and miscellaneous issues arising from current events. For the past two decades, my role as a feature writer for these periodicals
has been to contribute articles that address matters of interest to a wide readership
while relying on an informal and occasionally light-hearted approach. I do not claim
to have analyzed matters exhaustively. Periodical editors have often been forced to
remind me of space limitations and reduced word counts and warned me that they
have no room for another sidebar of recommended titles, or a paragraph on the travel
writing of Colin Thubron, or a list of the best bookshops in Manchester and York.
Hence, the contents of this book remain necessarily incomplete. Had I been given
more time and opportunity, I might have added a lot more to the original version of
every article. Some of my topics deserve book-length treatments.
Space limitations apply to books as well as periodicals. I considered freeing up
space by removing the English travel material, but colleagues in American academic libraries urged me not to do so, because research in England remains a kind of
front-line work for many academic librarians and related information professionals.
(Besides, as one anglophile college librarian assured me, if research in the United
Kingdom is not front-line work for people like her, it should be.)
The definition of front line will vary from job to job in different libraries. I say
little about the essential work done in departments that occupy back rooms or areas
removed from interaction with patrons. My bias here is obvious. While I recognize
the essential need for back-room activities including those that take place in technical
services areas, I have spent much of my career working face-to-face with patrons.
I have served them as a reference librarian and the deliverer of various adult programs. As a disaster planner, I have designed library emergency management plans
that anticipate the behavior of people in threatening circumstances and trained librarians to ensure patron safety. I have organized evacuation drills and, on a couple of
occasions, led actual building evacuations. (I have discussed aspects of my role as a
planner and trainer in two previous books—Disaster Planning for Libraries: Process
and Guidelines and Robertson on Library Security and Disaster Planning.) My front
line has been in the public areas of libraries, but I hope that the contents of this book
will appeal to people who work in other departments as well.


xviii

Introduction

Some readers might have misgivings about the relevance of my Canadian focus.
Working in Western Canada, I have been inclined to consider topics that interest (or
as a former editor used to say, grab) Canadian librarians. But Canada respects and
upholds the traditions and main practices of Anglo-American librarianship, and librarians in the United States and throughout the Commonwealth should not find my observations and advice to be inappropriate with regard to their own operations. Outside the
English-speaking world, librarians in China have taken an interest in the articles on
seniors, on records management, and on different genres. In South America, librarians
and archivists have used articles that appear under the heading Social Studies for training purposes. African librarians with whom I correspond have used the articles that
describe adult programs to develop programs for their own libraries. What applies to
libraries in Vancouver and Toronto can also apply mutatis mutandis to libraries across
the globe.
Many of the articles have been used for teaching purposes in courses that introduce
students in library schools, iSchools, and library and archival technician programs
to their professions and have been cited in textbooks, theses, government reports,
and online bibliographies. I am delighted to learn that my work has attracted readers
beyond its original readership. It is unlikely that every student has taken pleasure in
what I have written; I daresay that, like me when I was a student in the 1980s, some
have found certain assigned reading dull and unrewarding. I can only hope that the
majority of students have enjoyed any of my articles that have appeared on their reading lists.
Eventually—I trust not too soon—this book will seem dated. That is the fate of
most works of librarianship and information science. However, a colleague in New
England has suggested that many of the articles have historical and “ethnographic”
value, and that readers, a century from now, might consider the comments of librarians
whom I have quoted to be revealing: verbal artifacts from the late 20th and early 21st
centuries. As well, there might be an interest in the professional library culture of this
era. At present, students often wonder what it felt like to work in libraries where the
rule of silence prevailed, and reference and readers advisory services often involved
the use of a card catalogue rather than online resources. Students in 2100 might be
curious about infocentres—once called libraries—that did not rely on robotic attendants who can communicate in 200 languages and info-drones that provide comprehensive infocentre services to shut-in patrons and remote communities. Those students
might enjoy this book as a voice from the past. Sadly, I shall not be around to answer
their questions.
Guy Robertson
Vancouver, Canada


Section A
By Popular Demand: Various
Genres and Tastes


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Reading in season: how the yearly
cycle affects your choice of books 

1

While people have different reading tastes, their choice of books is influenced by seasonal changes. Originally this essay was addressed to a general audience, but librarians and other informational professionals will recognize their patrons’ seasonally
shifting reading preferences.
Here’s cash. Go to any bookshop and buy whatever you like. Here are borrower
cards from every library in your region. Visit any branch and browse until you find an
assortment of books that you truly want to read. Choose nothing useful or related to
your profession. Choose only those books that you will read for pure pleasure, on the
beach or by the fire or in the most comfortable of beds. Don’t concern yourself with
the opinions of critics, experts, or family members who claim to know what’s best for
you. Be clear about your heart’s desire. Be firm. Be selfish.
What books will you take from the shelves? Enter the publishers’ statisticians,
who provide an inventory of “factors influencing personal choice”: your age, level
of education, income, entertainment preferences, childhood influences, and hat size.
Behold an array of formulae, charts, graphs, PowerPoint presentations, and heavily
footnoted guesstimates. Conclusion: there is a strong likelihood that the first book
that you will select is…an Ambler thriller. Or a biography of Zeppo Marx. Or perhaps
The Collected Sonnets of Donald Rumsfeld. The possibilities are infinite. The statisticians, however, are probably incorrect. Their analytical model is flawed, owing to a
serious omission. They failed to look out the window.
Despite their calculations, they didn’t consider a factor that farmers, sailors, and
lovers have depended on for millennia: what the natty person on the Weather Channel
calls the Seasonal Effect.

1.1  Cottage and campground
Each season inspires us to dress in particular styles, eat different foods, travel or stay home,
seek love or remain chaste, exercise vigorously in the sunshine, or hibernate in front of
televised hockey. As many booksellers and librarians have observed, seasonal change leads
to a shift in our leisure reading patterns. We may study technical texts and computer manuals year-round: such are the demands of our jobs. But what we read for entertainment
varies as the leaves clog our drains or the buds sprout in our gardens. When summer gives
us long days and more free time—or a greater determination to avoid work—we carry
certain kinds of novels and biographies to the cottage and campground and leave behind
others more appropriate to the fall or winter. Each reader’s seasonal selection pattern is
unique. It’s unlikely that two readers will exhibit exactly the same pattern, although they
might read a number of the same books at the same time of year.
Front-Line Librarianship. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-102729-5.00001-3
Copyright © 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


4

Front-Line Librarianship

For example, last fall you read the latest horror—or horror novel—by Stephen
King. So did everybody else. Perhaps you read the latest surprise bestseller as well:
a history of time, or a treatise on better punctuation, or the adventures of a veterinary orthodontist. You might have dipped into the latest fashionable cookbook and
devoured the memoirs of various starlets, politicos, and hacks. You might have opened
a daunting antique such as Richardson’s Clarissa, and closed it quickly. So far everyone’s with you.
But then you allow the season to dominate your reading selection. As you have
done every October for decades, you read the ghost stories of M.R. James, Hogg’s
Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and the most gruesome true crime title you can
find, something with a pathology report in every chapter and lots of black-and-white
mortuary photos.
Finally, for reasons that only you can describe or confess to, you reread all of
Beatrix Potter. When the fall colors start to attract tourists, you can’t resist Peter
Rabbit and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. This is, in fact, your deepest secret, something that
you as one of North America’s most powerful bankers or software developers or
plasma physicists are loath to admit to your colleagues and friends. As your children start designing their Halloween costumes, you can’t deny yourself another long
session with the well-dressed and well-fed animals whose adventures Mrs. Potter
described a century ago. It might be nothing more than that hint of fall in the air, that
mixture of mustiness and burning leaves, that drives you to open that secret shelf in
your study, and there they sit, all 23 slender Potter volumes. For you, fall wouldn’t
be complete without them.

1.2  Dickensian alternatives
Your winter reading consists of books that you receive for Christmas, or that people
pass on to you for holiday consumption. The pile on your bedside table contains
a mixture of blessings and embarrassments. Here’s the latest effort by Britain’s
brightest novelist, another cookbook by a TV chef, and a coffee table folio on
gardening in Nunavut. But what you really want is Victorian fiction. Snowbound
and stuffed with rich food, you look for that dog-eared Penguin edition of The Old
Curiosity Shop or Little Dorrit. You’re no longer keen on Dickens’s Christmas
Books, having read them during numerous Decembers past; but his fatter novels
beckon at this time of year. Possibly the darkness of Dickensian settings matches
that which prevails during winter nights. Perhaps your family celebrations attract
a plethora of odd persons—mostly in-laws—who remind you of Dickens’s more
extraordinary characters.
You might pick up other 19th-century titles. Hawthorne’s tales, Poe’s short stories,
and the works of the young Henry James are obvious choices; anything by the unjustly
neglected William Dean Howells might be suitable to the season as well. Such classics
deserve your full attention, but school’s out, and no one will chastise you for dozing
off while you struggle with a particularly convoluted patch of Jamesian syntax. Books
from this era are like heavy blankets, in that they keep out the cold and allow you to


Reading in season: how the yearly cycle affects your choice of books

5

relax. Under these circumstances, it’s no surprise that you drift off every now and
then. As long as your dreams are free from Quilp and the Red Death, you can rest easy.
Inevitably the weight of those fictional blankets begins to oppress you, and you
need something light. In spring, publishers produce books that inspire us to shake
off our winter lethargy and become active. Booksellers offer volumes on household
improvement, exercise manuals that show you how to shrink all or part of yourself, and
overpriced softcovers concerning the best ways to deal with teenagers, pets, elderly
parents, and ill-natured colleagues. As soon as you’ve had your fill of such things, you
return to what you really want at this time of year: travel literature.

1.3  On the road
You’ve spent too much time at home lately, or on the road to places that you
know too well. The red-eye flight to Toronto for a conference or to Des Moines
for a meeting with your company’s regional vice president hardly qualifies as
true travel, or travel as a form of adventure. What you want are the classics of the
genre, which you can reread regularly without their going stale: Eric Newby’s
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Gavin Young’s Slow Boats to China, and Robert
Byron’s The Road to Oxiana.
And where is your copy of Fitzroy Maclean’s Eastern Approaches? You’ve
intended to reread it for years, but you cannot find it. That’s because you’ve loaned it
to a friend. Actually you’ve lost several copies this way. Maclean’s book is one of the
most exciting ever written, and, generous soul that you are, you are willing to share
that excitement. Unfortunately your friends are not as scrupulous as you about returning books, and because they agree with you about Maclean, they pass on your copies
of Eastern Approaches to other friends. Come to think of it, didn’t you borrow the
first copy of Eastern Approaches that you read from your brother-in-law? You didn’t
return it to him, did you? Perhaps that’s why he’s so odd and out-of-sorts when you
see him at Christmas.
Of course you can rely on the public library for a copy, or can you? Maclean’s work
seems to go missing more often than other travel books; either that or it circulates so
often that it falls to bits, and the librarians can’t replace it quickly enough. In spring,
the travel section of most libraries takes a beating through heavy use. If you can’t find
Eastern Approaches, you might still be able to borrow something by Paul William
Roberts, whose adventures in Egypt, Iraq, and India are as entertaining as they are
polemical and informative. Shelved in either the fiction or travel section, they are sure
to take you on the road to enchanting places.
Of course there are numerous other travel books to brighten your springtime
reading, and many are by British authors. Why? Because among other things the
British Empire gave rise to social anthropology, of which travel literature is an
offspring. (Snobbish anthropologists regard it as a bastard child, possibly owing to
jealousy. Newby, Byron, and their kind write good prose, whereas most academic
anthropologists…don’t.)


6

Front-Line Librarianship

1.4  Innocent?
Spring gives way to summer, and your reading pattern makes another adjustment.
Now the publishers provide you with the light, bright, and trite—beach reading at
its best, or worst. Here are the latest thrillers and mysteries, books about conspiracies, magical codes, and the Holy Grail, which is buried under the Starbucks near
King’s Cross Station in London. Here are scandalous paperback biographies of financiers, crooners, and American presidents, all of whom deny everything and swear that
they’re innocent. Who cares? There’s no presumption of innocence at the beach or on
the front deck at the cottage. You want to believe that that man or woman was a crook,
liar, or fool, and now you can enjoy the dirt in print. Summer is a time for exposés,
whether they’re accurate or not.
But a balanced reading diet demands more than junk journalism. By mid-July you
start to feel guilty about the superficiality of your current tastes, and you look around
for something deeper and more demanding. That’s when you delve into a history
of opera, or a study of Early Christian art, or the architecture of ancient Memphis.
Many people read Plato and Aristotle seriously for the first time during their summer
holidays; others try to come to grips with modern thinkers. But hot weather does
not conduce to mental clarity, and often readers find themselves daydreaming over
Wittgenstein or snoring over Rorty. Still, you’re proud of your attempts to understand
them, even though you’ll forget everything they wrote by the time the leaves start
changing color and the schools reopen for another academic year.

1.5  Jack comes back
And then it’s fall again, and you finish another Stephen King title so that you can
return to M.R. James, or Hogg, or the new biography of Jack the Ripper. The cycle
repeats itself, whether you realize it or not. You might have divided your books into
warm and cold weather reading, or books that you read on the plane versus those that
you carry in your briefcase to consume over lunch in the office cafeteria. You might
have certain titles that you reserve for bedtime, although you’ll have to admit that
you never seem to finish most of them. They can sit by your bed for years. Eventually
they disappear beneath layers of half-read magazines and newspapers, a photo of your
daughter’s softball team, a digital clock that stopped working in 1987, and an empty
Kleenex box left over from your last cold. You might dig out those books in a decade
or so and feel delighted to see them again, but unless they’re appropriate to your seasonal cycle, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever finish them.
Why do the seasons affect our reading? In part, because we need them to do so.
We couldn’t survive without regular patterns in our lives. The signal characteristic
of these patterns is repetition. The most basic form is repetition is your heartbeat,
which you take for granted until it becomes irregular or threatens to stop altogether.
Examples of other essential repetitions include paychecks, meals, certain holidays, and
family traditions. Lose these, and your life can be seriously disrupted. A major part


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