I love the saying mind your P’s & Q’s. Perhaps because I know what it really means, or because it is just solid advice. Mind your P’s and Q’s means mind your pints and quarts. It comes from the 17th century tavern world. It was a way for bartenders to remind their customers to not engage in drunk and disorderly conduct.
But why do librarians need to heed this advice? Well, I recently attended the Minnesota Book Awards. It is a great event put on by the Friends of the St Paul Public Library. It highlights the best MN books of the year. It is a huge gala with almost 1,000 attendees. There I overheard a couple of librarians, perhaps with a few too many cocktails, launch into a diatribe against a particular book. I also saw, what I will assume is a library patron or member of the general public, get that look of embarrassment and shame while overhearing the same conversation. I can only assume that they were a fan of said book.
Witnessing this broke my heart. So much so that I promptly went into my reference class and publicly apologized to my students for making fun of a well read romance novel. A reader should NEVER feel embarrassed or ashamed for their reading preferences. Even worse, that shame should never be the result of a conversation between two librarians. If we turn off or turn away just one reader we have failed.
Ranganathan’s 5 laws of library science are so incredibly wise. It wasn’t until this event that I think I fully grasped his second and third laws: every reader his or her book, and every book his or her reader. His laws apply to more than just access to books. While we no longer physically chain books to the shelf, we may be emotionally chaining them. If we put a social stigma on a book or genre we are, in essence, restricting access to them.
You are the keeper of the book. Your patrons defer to your judgement on books. They look up to you on all matters book-related. And here is the real sting, you are a librarian whether you are on the clock or not. Even more, your patron base extends far beyond the library you work for. When you are in a bar or on a bus hundreds of miles from your work, you are still a librarian and the reader sitting within earshot is still your patron.
So may you critique books in a way that doesn’t put down or shame their readers. May you applaud, encourage, defend and lift up all reading preferences, and may you remember to mind your P’s & Q’s.
*side note. Why do we mostly poke fun at Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, romance and Christian fiction? Do we not see the misogynistic tone this takes?*