Thursday, March 16, 2006

Gossip in the Stacks

Neatly tying the last two blog entries together, I see there has been some discussion, prompted by Naomi Wolf's Times article, on the PUBYAC listserv about the inclusion of the Gossip Girls books in public library YA collections. (PUBYAC is "an Internet discussion list concerned with the practical aspects of Children and Young Adult Services in Public Libraries, focusing on programming ideas, outreach and literacy programs for children and caregivers, censorship and policy issues, collection development, administrative considerations, puppetry, job openings, professional development and other pertinent services and issues.") One defence made of NOT purchasing such titles was, secondhand, from a book review editor: "most libraries do not have an abundance of money to spend on questionable purchases."

Questionable was left undefined, as it usually is (like offensive). Questionable meaning, "I don't have an audience in my library for these books," fine. But questionable as "in questionable taste," or as in "I'm gonna get in trouble," not so fine. As well, the "we only have a limited amount of money" argument is no defense, either: if you only have a limited amount of money, don't you want to spend a large chunk of it on books that kids already want to read? When I was in library school, Zena Sutherland took the line that libraries needn't buy Nancy Drew, etc. (I see I'm dating both Zena and myself!) because kids could buy them for themselves, and indeed such books were published with both eyes on the mass market, not on institutional sales. But then I went out and worked with kids who could not (or would not) buy books for themselves. In my opinion, the stocking of mass-market paperbacks in a public library is a signal to kids that their interests are represented and respected. Why should a kid respect my recommendation of, say, Francesca Lia Block, if I don't respect the kid's enjoyment of Gossip Girls? (Note: I don't think you have to have respect for what somebody is reading in order to respect her right to her own taste.)


Andy Laties said...

My relevant footnote from REBEL BOOKSELLER:

“The great Zen Master Yang-shan said, ‘In my shop I handle all kinds of merchandise. If someone comes looking for rat shit, I’ll sell him rat shit. If someone comes looking for gold, I’ll sell him pure gold.’”—quoted in “Notes,” Bhagavad Gita, Translated by Stephen Mitchell (New York: Harmony, 2000): 191. This I gather is a gloss on Mahayana Buddhism’s key doctrine of Expedient Means: “Numberless thousands of myriads of millions of kinds of living beings come before the Buddha and hear the Dharma [law]. The Thus Come One [Buddha] at this time observes these beings, their keenness or dullness, their exertion or laxity, and in accord with what they can bear, preaches the Dharma to them in an incalculable variety of modes, each causing them to rejoice and enabling them speedily to gain good advantage.”—Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma (The Lotus Sutra), Translated from the Chinese of Kumarajiva by Leon Hurwitz ([circa 350-410 A.D.] New York: Columbia University Press, 1976): 102.

Of course this neatly casts we critics, librarians, booksellers, and other authority figures as Buddhas. And, why not?

Andy Laties said...

I apologize for so blatantly plugging my own book. Yuck. I'm still not used to modulating my identity as an "author".

rindambyers said...

Nothng wrong with initiating spaces and places and times for respectful dialogue in a bookstore as well as a library. Might sell more books of all kinds.