Stephen Kahn

The Library Cult

In Hard to tell, Humor on February 23, 2012 at 7:15 pm

When I was about 6 years old, I wandered down the hill to the Echo Park Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.  (Apparently the library I used as a child has been replaced.) Even then, I thought in all those books in “stacks” (as library shelves of books are called”) contained some essential answer to the puzzling questions and frustrations of life (#1 Belief in something you cannot see or prove exists).

As a moderately unhappy child in a moderately unhappy family, I used books as my drug of choice by which to escape reality. I am sardonically amused as a long-time user of many libraries and eventually an employee of one to see how enthusiastically this particular cult preaches READ READ READ READ READ READ to its acolytes. Indeed, reading provides many virtues and benefits, but as with any substance, overuse and misuse can be harmful. I don’t recall attending any library “story-times” as a child, but most libraries today do introduce children to the reading cult by telling them and reading them stories in groups.

There are many interesting contradictions and paradoxes in the library cult. As the song “Marian the Librarian”  coyly captures, a librarian (at least in earlier incarnations) was a demure woman, something like a nun, who eschewed the dress and mannerisms we normally associate with female sexuality, thus turning her into a very desirable woman.

On top of this, at some point in their evolution, libraries became ardent defenders of “freedom of speech” and ardent opponents of censorship. In plain terms, this means that libraries defend their right to include dirty books and books telling you how to overthrow the government and commit terrorist acts. For example, I just checked the catalogs some of the libraries I use for books once controversial and often banned because of explicit sexual content, finding in their catalogs books such as Fanny Hill by John Cleland, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence, Lolita, by Vladimir Nabakov, My Life and Loves by Frank Harris, and The Happy Hooker, by Xaviera Hollander. One of the most notorious books for people who wanted to learn how to construct bombs, perform assassinations, and engage in similar types of terrorist activities was titled The Anarchist’s Cookbook. In case you harbor similar inclinations, the library for whom I used to work includes this manual in its catalog.

On the whole, the people who work for libraries are very modest and well-behaved members of society. I worked for a library for over 10 years, and most of the time, I was not particularly excited, aroused, or frightened by my colleagues. There were exceptions, as far as the demure image. One librarian I knew, engaged in a week-long “job swap” with a Las Vegas dancer. After a little “crash training,” the librarian danced and displayed her body on a stage in Las Vegas for a week. After a little crash training, the dancer checked out books and answered reference questions in a library for a week.

Libraries do attract some interesting “patrons,” [library-speak for customers]. During my time working for a library, I encountered on a regular basis at least half-a-dozen people who struck me as seriously mentally ill, although I did not feel threatened by any of them. As repositories of information, libraries attract many people pursuing their obsessions, trying to research questionable ideas. I encountered one gentleman who asked for assistance with an extensive document he was writing about his experience with being abducted by space aliens. A woman earnestly explained to me that the library computers were spying on her, and asked me to alert the library system’s data processing department to investigate these sinister activities. However, only one person struck me as dangerous; a colleague of mine (in teaching computer classes), who behaved so erratically and disturbingly that he was eventually fired. One day after his discharge, he came to work, walked into the system headquarters, and started fixing himself lunch in the microwave. [I wasn’t present the day of his bizarre return.] It sounded like a prelude to a violent workplace rampage episode (such as you read about in the news). However, a supervisor, encountering him; politely asked the ex-employee to leave; and without causing any difficulty, he peacefully left the premises.

So even though I started my membership in the library cult over sixty years ago, I am still a member. I went to a cult meeting a couple of days ago (to talk about promoting a book about crows), and I am going to another meeting today, to learn how to collect arcane information (how to download books for my wife).

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  1. Downloading books! Fancy that!!

  2. Hifay, Thank you for dropping in. I guess I am getting a little demented. By looking at your blog, I see that we talked a while back, but I don’t even remember. I also see that you have been having some health issues. I hope things are going well for you.

    • I am afraid my posts are easy forgotten. I remember your posts because they are interesting. Yes the Afib really knocked me for a loop. I do feel some better now, but will still have to go through 2 or more heart procedures. Hope you and your family are well.

      • I hope the procedures go well for you. One of my brothers is mentally and ill and had a heart attack years ago, but he is hanging in there. The other brother, closer in age to me, (but still younger than I am) had some heart stents a year or so ago. Over the last year, a cardiologist checked me over fairly closely. Aside from my heart beat being a little slow, he found nothing amiss. Today I worked out vigorously at the gym, got my heart rate up, and didn’t fall over. It’s a day to day deal for all of us.

  3. Hey Steve! My wilfe just got a Samsung Nook. SHe reads all the time (Similar illness as yours!) and she likes the nook with downloadable books. SHe prefers the old fashiones sory of book with real pages and all, but when she traveled to Thailand last year she was able to bring 7 books with out adding any weight to speak of.
    Speaking of books of questionable value when I was in Jr High, Abbie Hoffman came out with a book called “Steal This Book.” It was similar in nature to Terrorist cookbook. Being the fast thinking fine young man I was I promptly DID steal the book. (Sorry Mr Hoffman, serves you right. Try a better title next time). In it were, among other things, instructions for making a sterno bomb, which is basically a napalm bomb, out of a can of sterno, an m80 firecracker and some epoxy. I will spare the details of what came of that project but it is a darn thing it didn’t go off. Freedom of speech can be a VERY dangerous thing!

    • Hi Pete,

      My wife loves “books on tape” much more than she does books on pages. Tape has been replaced by compact disks. Now compact disks and DVDs are going away. Grumbling as usual, she is about to try to listen to one of the downloaded audible books on an mp3 player. Well,years ago she complained when the library replaced the card catalog with the computerized catalog. She grumbles and then she adapts.

      I remember when “Steal This Book” came out. As the saying goes, “Be careful what you ask for.” So far no more chicken hawks have penetrated the chicken run and Big Mama’s feathers have grown back so well you would not know she had been attacked. Sturdy chicken!

  4. Stephen, I am a library nerd. It was my sanctuary in high school. The guys I consider friends from high school was the library crowd. Book stores have taken thier place for me. Too bad Broders went out of business. It’s good to know I still gravitate towards us readers.

    • GT, Good to hear from you. I am assuming (and hoping) you are safe and well. Ironically, I was harassed a bit by a couple of female supervisors in my last job, working for a library. As I was reaching retirement, I decided to let the matter go. It still bother me a bit; so I’ve decided to file a complaint. In the big scheme of things, it is a small matter, so my request for compensation is very small: a simple apology. Of course, for a man to be harassed by women goes against stereotype, and libraries are one of the few professions where women predominate, so I am not holding my breath on the matter. I will deal with it.

      On another matter, no more raccoon or hawk attacks have occurred on our hens. Upstairs in our house, my wife is raising two little baby chicks to eventually join the adults hens. Our flock will finally become integrated. The current hens are grey (as in all cats at night); the two new ones are black. We will see if they have to stage sit down marches to get to be served at the feeder.

  5. Now there is a cult of which I am a proud, card carrying member. 🙂

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