By October 6, 2006 10 Comments Read More →

Sucking Up to Librarians

I finished reading Ian Sansom’s The Case of the Missing Books yesterday. It’s (ahem) bloody hilarious. And–sorry, Nancy Pearl–librarians have a new superhero. Well, not exactly a superhero. But a hero. After a fashion. Not so much a hero as a figurehead. But not that he’s representative of librarians. More of a mascot, really. But not a mascot that would look good on a gym wall or a uniform…well, you’ll all just have to read the book and find out for yourselves.

Israel Armstrong is chubby, clumsy, lazy, and easily frightened–and his deductive powers consist mostly of making obvious guesses–but he loves books with a passion equal only to his disdain for B.S. and bureaucracy.

(Actually, maybe it’s Sansom who is librarians’ new hero.)

Anyway. After a harrowing trip from London, Armstrong arrives in Tumdrum, Northern Ireland, ready to assume his new job as librarian, only to find there’s been a wee bit of a snag:

“Yes. Erm. The library. Well, first of all I want to assure you that we at Tumdrum and District Council are absolutely committed to continuing the public’s free access to ideas and resources.”

“To libraries.”

“Yes. If you want to put it like that.”

“Fine. But you’ve closed the actual library?”

In fact, they want Armstrong to drive a decrepit bookmobile, or mobile library:

It would probably be safe to say that the mobile library is not considered by many people in the know to be at the pinnacle of the library profession. At the pinnacle of the library profession you might have, say, the British Library, or the New York Public Library, or the Library of Congress, or of Alexandria. Then coming down from those Parnassian heights you have university libraries, and private research libraries, and then maybe the big public libraries, and then district and branch libraries, and school libraries, hospital libraries, libraries in prisons and long-term mental institutions. And then somewhere off the bottom of that scale, around the level of fake red-leather-bound sets of the Reader’s Digest in damp provincial hotels and dentists’ waiting rooms is the mobile library.

They’ve even yanked the title librarian out from under him:

“We don’t call them mobile librarians any more. You’d be an Outreach Support Officer.”

I loved this book, and I’m delighted to see that it appears to be the start of a series. It will be enjoyed by librarians, library patrons, and even people who have never been fortunate enough to have a library card. It’s got a wonderful blend of wry, dry humor and outrageous slapstick. But there were a couple of moments when I thought, I haven’t seen this much sucking up to librarians since John Green accepted the Printz Award.

Not that there’s anything wrong with sucking up to librarians.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

10 Comments on "Sucking Up to Librarians"

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  1. Likely Stories » Blog Archive » Spoilers | October 20, 2006
  1. soundnfury@yahoo.com' John says:

    Hey-o!

    Since you were blogging a lot about Richard Powers a couple months ago: Ever read his “Gold Bug Variations”? Hottest. Librarian. Ever.

    Hope all’s well,
    John

  2. Gold Bug Variations is a great book. Hey John! I finally got to read your Printz speech, and it is lovely.
    Keir, may I say again that you say things that need to be said?

  3. Keir says:

    Grace: You may. And thank you very much!

    John: I haven’t read The Gold Bug Variations. And while professionalism prohibits me from weighing in on the subject of hot librarians, you may be sure that I will investigate–for purely professional reasons.

    (John, I fear that you may have found yourself the alpha tester of my new scheme to increase readership; I’m going to start name-dropping and then allow people’s Google searches to lead them to Likely Stories. The beta test will just be posts with long lists of names.)

  4. ahartman@ksu.edu' Amy Hartman says:

    Vernor Vinge’s “Rainbows End” shows a library itself as an active character that faces a crisis: its books are being destructively digitized by a machine that combines a high-speed scanner with a wood chipper.

  5. mwalsh@mail.colgate.edu' Mary Jane says:

    Ah, the Gold Bug Variations. Probably the closest to the perfect book ever written, it combines librarianship (my current profession), music (my former profession), and science (my husband’s profession). Doesn’t get any better than that. An besides, it’s well-written.

  6. hbsweet@yahoo.com' Helen Sweet says:

    My money for hottest librarian goes to Patricia MacLachlan’s Miss Eunice Minifred in “Baby”: her secret boyfriend is a motorcyclist and poet, aptly named “Rebel,” who sports a tattoo saying “Wild Eunice” on his arm. Any librarian who can inspire a man to get a tattoo…

  7. ccoulter@ppld.org' Carolyn Coulter says:

    Anyone familiar with Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” novels? The librarian is a running character in this series, and is one of the most level-headed, intelligent creatures to populate his universe. The librarian is also an orangutan (brachiation comes in handy in the stacks, apparently). I don’t know if it’s “hot”, but it’s certainly humorous. I have my role model!

  8. I work at Harper and have just read the Case of the Missing Books and loved it. My other library heroes are: Nancy Perl and Marilyn Paroo (too obscure a reference?).

  9. Keir says:

    Carl, it took me a couple of whacks at Google before I found Marian Paroo, even though American Libraries–just down the hall from me–reported on the origins of her name in March 2005. Good one!

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