February 5, 2015

Community Benefits of Shelf-Awareness

By Bethany Taylor, Library Assistant

(NOT Vernon Dursley! but, the same actor Richard Griffiths, in The History Boys, playing pretty much Dursely's opposite.)

In the movie The History Boys, based on Alan Bennett's play of the same name, a teacher explains poetry to a student by saying that: "the best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought was special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."

Alternately, from the delightfully snarky blog librarianproblems.com, there is this less Romantic gem about what happens when a library patron discovers they love the same books as a librarian:


(Yeah, I know it's originally from Step Brothers)

High or lower brow, there is something undeniably special about discovering that you share a favorite book with another almost stranger. I’m not a big fan of the sorts of hokey ice-breakers and trust exercises that are designed to build community. I far prefer the exposure and sharing of things—books, emotions, time, physical labor, etc.—that are rooted in real life.

Over the last few weeks, I have loved watching students and teachers alike come to the library with their scrap papers and diagrams and theories of which teacher belongs to which list of favorite books. Partly, perhaps, I have enjoyed this because—as I set up the display—I was the only person who knew all of the answers, all of the time, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not actually that petty or in such dire need of ego-boosting that I would orchestrate a school-wide competition in order to bask in my own knowledge for three weeks.

Truly, though, what has been most enjoyable has been learning about people through their bookshelves and overhearing people say “Oh! I loved that book!” I’m not ashamed to say that I take books seriously. All of the books on my own list have had huge emotional impacts on my life, on how I conduct myself in the world, on the course and shape of my aspirations. I have laughed and cried out loud at parts of most of those books, and been made to feel part of something larger than myself through reading.

To know that other people have been similarly—and differently—moved by reading the same words like finding out that someone else shares your inroad to Narnia, map of Middle Earth, ticket to East Egg, dismally sublime cruise aboard the Pequod, Trafalmadorian phrasebook, ability to pass through Platform 9 3/4, or rucksack in the jungle of Vietnam. It makes the every-day world a little less lonesome, somehow, to know we all escape to the same written worlds. And, I’ll be the first to mention that high school, for all the good and exciting times and glowing camaraderie and new experiences, also has some decidedly weird, angsty, self-doubting, and lonesome hours.  

That someone else in this building loves the same book you do, or a book on a topic that is near to your heart, or an author who you revere and rescued you from depths of ordinary human madness can provide the sort of emotional ballast that makes all the difference on the rougher days.

Maybe you just played along for the logic problem, or for the glory of naming a fish, or because it was more fun to guess the inner workings of your teachers’ and co-workers’ brains than study AP anything or write comments. And those are all fine reasons to do anything.

Me, though, I’m in it for the ripple effect of knowing what books other folks filter life through.

And, last but not least, congratulations to Lucas Fried and Jacob Licht for correctly matching every picture to it's correct owner. We, and most especially the fish itself, are delighted with the name they have selected: Al Aptop. (GET IT??!?!)

Here is the Beloved Bibliography:
Titles have been removed for the duration of the 2016 contest, due to the astute observation of Mr. Danny Noenickx.