Columns > Published on September 8th, 2022

Use Your Library to Save Your Library

Once your library closes, once it loses a big vote, once a book comes off the shelf due to public pressure, it’s done. It’s over. The dream is dead.

There is one way and only one way to keep your library from getting fucked up: use it.

You Hate These Assholes Removing Books From Libraries?

Me too, bro. And you know what’s the best way to make sure that doesn’t happen?

Use your library.

Check out those controversial books BEFORE someone decides they’re evil.

It’s a hell of a lot easier to keep a book on the shelf when the library can say, “I understand you’re upset, however this book has checked out 25 times in the last year, which is a strong indicator that the community is using it.”

Read the same books a bunch of times. Check them out in print, audio, electronically. Check out all three copies, dump two right back in the checkin on your way out.

If you buy a book and read it, check it out from your library anyway. 

By the way, I know a couple people right now are like: Um, excuse me, that messes up library statistics.

Calm down, dipshit. If this was about statistics, you could look up the number of kids who have been “turned gay” by a book, see it’s hovering around zero, and we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with.

Make Requests

When someone is like, “What the hell are you doing, buying this awful stuff?!” the best thing the library can pull out of their files is a request, from someone in the community, for the exact materials in question.

When someone wants a book removed, the library often has to defend the abstract idea of the community, hypothetically, wanting this material.

When someone wants a book removed, and that book was specifically requested by a community member, the library gets to defend that reader/requestor/community member’s right to read, which supersedes the imaginary right to walk through life unoffended.

Request your library buy stuff. Gay stuff, transgressive stuff, political stuff, furry stuff, all kinds of good stuff. Send those requests in!

Just limit yourself to things you actually want to read, okay? Let’s not start trolling the library by seeing what they’ll buy.

Use Services

Caveat: This only works if you’re not a total asshole.

Damn near every library I’ve checked has a version of a service where you tell them about books you’ve liked, and they give you a list of books they think you might like.

This service is always free.

And the people who run it are just about the best people for the job.

The thing that makes these folks so good is that when they read, they read for themselves, and they also read for people like you. They read stuff they don’t personally like for the sake of saying, “You know, someone who reads James Patterson would fucking love this.”

Have a librarian make you a booklist for your book club. The hidden bonus: If a book on the list sucks, nobody in the book club has to feel bad about recommending it. You can collectively blame that stupid librarian.

Have a librarian make a booklist that helps you buy a book for someone’s birthday or a holiday.

When services are in demand, it helps libraries keep things rolling.

Make It Personal

Tell your friends and family how happy you are to take your kid to storytime, or that the library has your books on the shelf, or that your library provides something that you would hate to lose.

Use the library, and tell everyone about how you use it.

That way, when the community votes on the library’s continued existence, all those folks in your life, who might not use the library, will flash back to, “Oh, yeah, Steve told me all about how he took his kids there…geez, I don’t want to vote to close that. I like Steve.”

For some people, their buddy Steve is a more powerful incentive than the generalized idea of “the community."

Caveat: This only works if you’re not a total asshole. 

How Libraries Die

You know how cats die.

One day, they're fine. The next, they won't move. You go to pick them up, and for the first time you can remember, the cat takes a swipe at you.

You manage to get the cat loaded up and into the vet's office. And once you're there, you find out the cat's already too far gone. Probably suffering for days, maybe even weeks. 

Libraries die like that, too. Slowly, for a long time, in silence. 

By the time that big, public blow happens, the library is so weakened that it can’t put up a fight.

That’s why you need to use your library now.

If something happens to your library, you can tweet about it, you can write to the Board, you can do all these things, but none of it is as effective (or as easy) as using your library every couple of weeks, now, BEFORE there's a problem.

Simplicity

Look, this is very simple. It’s like you’re asking how you can make sure your favorite pizza place stays open, and I’m telling you: Eat there every couple weeks.

Except it's like I'm telling you, "Eat there every couple weeks, the pizza's free, and believe me, there is someone, somewhere in your community who will shut it down if you don't."


Get The Madman's Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History by Edward Brooke-Hitching at Bookshop or Amazon 

Get The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures compiled by The Library of Congress at Bookshop or Amazon 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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