I was fairly late to the twitter game. I didn’t really see much value in it, until I discovered that I could spend most of my time following people and not worry about creating my own content. Now I spend my twitter time enjoying the jarosity of Maureen Johnson and the pictures of food from around the world that Roger Ebert twitpics.
I also find value in the twitter chats such as kidlitchat and yalitchat. The majority of chatters (I believe) are writers of kid and ya lit, along with a smattering of readers and bloggers. I am not sure how many of the chatters are librarians. Sometimes I feel like the only one, but I know I am not.
Occasionally, in the midst of the chatting, a comment will be made about librarians. The comments I notice the most, and try to respond to without getting angry, are the ones that imply librarians have a mission to keep books away from readers instead of giving books to them.*
Librarians love authors and the books they write. If a librarian loves your book, s/he will do everything s/he can to put it in the hands of readers. If those readers love your book, chances are good they will want to buy their own copy. This, I understand, is good for authors. You want people to buy your books, right? So do librarians. We buy as many copies as we can justify. Sometimes the demand is there because of pop culture forces beyond our control or ken; other times, we create that demand by being passionate about books and telling everyone we know to READ THIS BOOK.
This is why I get especially sad and upset when I see authors making comments such as:
Kids may not mind swears, but it’s their parents and librarians who will prob. buy most of the books.
This is a brief comment, tossed out casually, but its implications are vast. It implies that librarians will choose not to buy a book because of its content, regardless of quality (so, most librarians wouldn’t stock Ulysses, I suppose). It implies that librarians are censors. It implies that we are arbiters of taste who only buy books we like. It implies that we cower in fear every time we come across a swear or a nonheteronormative character, because we fear the wrath of a mob of angry parents. This is not true. I will repeat: this is NOT TRUE. Let me present to you one of the articles of the Freedom to Read Statement:
There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.
Okay, so that second clause, “to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents”, is a little weird, but what it essentially means is: it’s not our job to tell fourteen year old Johnny he can’t read Stephen King. That last clause, though! Look at that! It’s not our job “to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.” What does that mean? It means, don’t worry about that sex scene or that swear word or that depiction of violence in your book. If it serves the story, if it serves your art, DO IT. A good, honest, ethical librarian will never not buy a book because of those elements. Will we give the book with the graphic sex scene to every reader? No. Hell no. You give books to readers based on their tastes. You ask, What books have you read recently that you liked? That you didn’t like? What did you like about that book–the characters? The plot? The writing? We suss out what they enjoyed, and we try to match them with something similar.
So if a girl tells me she’s recently read and enjoyed It by Stephen King and Boy-Toy by Barry Lyga, I’d probably suggest she read Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan and Deerskin by Robin McKinley. If she’d told me she loved Nancy Drew and the Princess Diaries, would I still suggest Tender Morsels and Deerskin? Uh, no. I’d have to work a little harder to find books for her, since I don’t read much in that area, but there are tools I can use–Novelist gives out lists of read-alikes, and one can also use goodreads and librarything to find similiar books. I can ask coworkers. I can figure it out. I want to give her books she will enjoy reading just as much as I want the other girl to have books she will enjoy.
Librarians serve the public, and the public is diverse and varied with different tastes, needs and wants. I need to have books (and DVDs and CDs…) that will appeal to goths, to Christians, to Muslims, to struggling readers, to geeks, to skateboarders and knitters…and on and on and on. So I’ll need some books with sex, with swears, with violence and abuse; I’ll need some books with kittens and puppies and unicorns who poop marshmallows; I’ll need some books with romance but no sex.
Where will I get those books? Why, from authors! So, authors, follow your guts and write what they tell you to write, whether that is cozy mysteries full of tea-times and gentle jokes, historical war fiction full of blood and guts, or sex comedies full of scatalogical humor. Because out here in the world, there is a reader for every book, and unless you write that book, that reader will be very sad indeed.
Instead of thinking, “Golly, I’d better not write about gerbil rodeos because some gerbil rodeo hating LIBRARIAN will get her bun in a twist and censor my book,” think, “I AM SO HAPPY that there are librarians out there who will find the person for me who wants to read my great American novel about gerbil rodeos.”
I will say it one more time, just to be clear: Authors should NEVER censor themselves because they think librarians, and to a lesser extent, teachers, will censor their books. Good librarians do not do that. Some, sadly, do, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Librarians are your friends, and if we are passionate about what you write, no matter the content or genre, we will do our damnedest to get it into the hands of someone who will love it. We buy for our public, not for ourselves (okay, occasionally for ourselves, but we make sure to have a balance).
*Many authors know the value of librarians and love them accordingly. One bit of evidence:
You know, I love librarians. I really love librarians. I love librarians when they crusade not to be stereotyped as librarians. I love librarians when they’re just doing those magic things that librarians do. I love librarians when they’re the only person in a ghost town looking after thousands of books. I love the ALA and am proud to be on one of their posters. —Neil Gaiman
(You should go read the whole post, because he goes on to criticize the ALA president, which is kind of neat).