Last night, as Doctor Who spoilers and Bruins lamentations fought for control of my Twitterfeed, I started noticing a recurring hasthtag: #YAsaves. Someone--specifically, blogger and Youth Services Consultant Elizabeth Burns--was retweeting a vast amount of responses to an article which had appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The article was entitled "Darkness too Visible" and was followed by the following: "Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?"
Silly me--for a moment I thought the article was going to explain why it was, in fact, a good idea. What the author wrote instead was damn near medieval in her disdain for and ignorance of what she considers to not just be a current trend in YA literature, but an agenda championed by librarians and book publishers to introduce teenagers to every grim reality this world has to offer--all in the name of freedom of expression and overriding parental controls. Yeah--that's why I went to library school.
There's a lot wrong with this article, and voices across the blogosphere are already starting to point that out. (And by the way, if you want to find any dissenting commentary about this article, stick to the blogosphere and Twitter, because as of this writing--which is 13.02 on Sunday the 5th of June--you won't see much disagreement in the comments of the original article, which is a stunning fact in itself.) I can't let this article pass unnoticed either, so I am going to comment on the anecdote which opens the article: the story of a woman who "popped into [Barnes and Noble] to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, "nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff." She left the store empty-handed."
My question is this: if she wanted a book recommendation, what was she doing at Barnes and Noble?
No offense to the many fine folks who work at B&N stores all over the world. There's one in the town where I work, and they do a great job of reaching out to the community and promoting literacy and making books and reading as fun as possible. But let's be honest--Barnes and Nobles is a big-box chain store. If this woman wanted to ask a knowledgeable professional for book recommendations, why didn't she go to her public library? At my library we have all the dark lurid stuff--because some people actually want to read those books for whatever reason that isn't mine or yours to judge--but we also provide alternate titles (because that's what libraries do.) And more importantly, any library worth its salt is going to have someone who can talk to the woman, determine what she is looking for, and steer her in that direction. One of the comments at the end of the article is by this particular woman herself, and she indicates that the staffer at B&N who was trying to help her didn't know anything about the books, and really was no help at all. Was she unlucky to have happened in on the one day that there was no one knowledgeable to help her? Again, no offense to Barnes and Noble, but the answer is--no. Because cashiers and book stockers at B&N are not librarians. They may be book enthusiasts, but are they professionals who can talk knowledgeably and reliably about a range of books even if they are not in their particular department? Probably not--because they are not librarians. They have not made it their business--their vocation!--to be able to recommend titles to any person on any given day who wants any type of book. That's what you get from a good librarian, and it is probably the most under recognized and under appreciated facet of my job by anyone who assumes that a library is just a building to store books.
It seems to me that publishers follow trends as much as they dictate them, so if any given Barnes and Noble is full with only a certain type of book, there's a reason for that--it's a popular type of book. Yet another reason to visit the library, where many different types of books are available for many different types of reasons and readers. I wish the author of this article had focused on that. But I think she had her own bone to pick. Evidently, instead of being helpful, librarians--by sheer virtue of their association with the big bad American Library Association which comes in for a lambasting as well--are, like publishers, trying to "use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives." I don't know. Yesterday it looked like The Wall Street Journal, with their strident article, written by their regular children's book reviewer, was the one driving the bulldozer.