In her second and latest humor collection about working in a public library, Roz Warren has taken the maxim “Write what you know” and turned it into an anthem. Just Another Day at Your Local Library, a sequel to Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor, invites readers to judge its contents by its cover. There, you’ll find a Public Library Bingo card with squares marked “Don’t tell me I can’t floss here,” and “Banana in the book drop.” Winner take all!
Gatekeepers of civility
While showing us patrons how we appear to librarians with our lame excuses about lost books, our late fees, and our irritating quirks, Warren’s essays draw back the curtain on the behind-the-scenes world of public libraries. Gone are the days when libraries were sanctuaries of quiet and calm. Warren introduces us to a noisy, chaotic environment where toddlers run wild while mom chats on her cellphone, where men surreptitiously sneak the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated into the restroom, where teenagers do everything but their homework.
Librarians, on the other hand, act as gatekeepers of civility. As Warren writes, “Librarians are never rude.” They cannot yell at patrons who insult them, refuse to pay fines, or use the library as free daycare for their tantrum-throwing children while they get their nails done. This dichotomy puts librarians in an ideal position to observe the ironies and flaws of humanity. In this regard, Warren is at the top of her game.
“If you think that life is fair, just take a job at your local public library,” she writes. Warren describes patrons sneaking an overdue book back on the shelves without paying the fine, then claiming they paid it weeks ago. On the other hand, she tells about “giving a break” to a woman who couldn’t afford to pay her fine. This doesn’t make librarians saints, but it certainly raises them above the level of Philadelphia Parking Authority attendants.
Crowdsourcing gone wild
Warren draws much of her material from crowdsourced comments by librarians across the nation. While these quotes are entertaining at times, they remind me of Hamburger Helper: a filler in place of real meat.
For instance, in one story, Warren describes how she found a banana in the book drop and shared the news on Facebook. She then presents comments she received from fellow librarians regarding what they found in book drops: A dead fish. A live chicken! A small tub of cottage cheese. A few, I could accept. But five pages? No thanks. How many of the 26 stories are crowdsourced? Too many.
I have little interest in what dozens of anonymous librarians have to say about their dreams, library fines, outrageous requests, or unruly, sex-crazed patrons. Well, maybe the last. But you see my point?
The irony is that Warren, a former lawyer, has a brilliant sense of humor, is a gifted writer, and has been published in the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and Christian Science Monitor. [Ed. note: She is also a regular BSR contributor.] While I appreciate the temptation to use social media as a resource (Lord knows I do), it’s a slippery slope when a writer blurs the line between Facebook comments and her own writing -- which, in Warren’s case, is like Dorothy Parker without the booze: hilarious but sobering.
In her introduction, Warren writes, “I’m lucky that the job I have is also a never-ending source of good material.” As a fan of her dry humor and wit, I’m hoping she sticks doggedly to using her job at the Bala Cynwyd Library as the source of her material and gives the Facebook comments a rest.