Staff Picks

It was my turn to put together a staff picks display for my library. I have to say that it was much harder than I anticipated. It was hard in a good way–it made me think.

When you put a group of books on display with your name and face in front of them, it really reinforces your connection with those books…and by books I mean books and DVDs and music. An astute children’s librarian told me I was overthinking it, and she was absolutely right. But it also reinforced for me the new reality which is that as a library director, people will pay more attention to my opinions.

I was appointed director in May, and already I have begun to realize that I no longer have the ability to make a suggestion. When you are the director and you make a suggestion, it happens. Maybe it was a great idea, or maybe a good suggestion that you have been sitting on awhile, or maybe a completely half-baked dumb idea. But whatever category it falls into, it will probably happen. That is taking some getting used to.

So, when I went around the library looking for the materials for my display, I was a little intimidated. I am perfectly comfortable recommending children’s and YA books, because that is my field. I’ve been a children’s book reviewer and a children’s librarian for many (frighteningly many) years now. But although I have continued to read adult, or as I think of them, “grown-up” books whenever I get the chance, I lack the same confidence in my recommendations for those. I am aware that most of the time I will choose a female writer, for starters, which I don’t even consider when reading children’s and YA books, so right there that seems like a thing to  worry about.

It was kind of agonizing. An author like Anne Tyler is easy. I love her books, and they are well-written and insightful. I love Anne Lamott, with her easy mix of life experience and religion. I have no problem throwing in the Martha Grimes, which is literary mystery, and ditto P.D. James. But at a certain point, especially after hitting the Young Adult section, it became clear that my taste in literature is much darker than I ever realized before. It was Laura Ruby’s mysterious Bone Gap, and Christine Hepperman’s feminist poetry retellings of fairy tales in Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty. It was Maggie Stiefvater’s compelling Raven Boys cycle, and the still excellent Hunger Games, which by the way if you read it as a romance, you are reading it all wrong. They’re all great. They’re all very dark.

It was the same with the television series and movies. I have no appetite for gore, so I’m sure I am missing many wonderful DVDs, but my favorite shows are The Sopranos, and The Wire, and The Good Wife, and others that mix tough reality with humor and thoughtful contemplation of what a strange thing the human condition is.

Then it was onto the nonfiction…and that was impossible. When you are the director, you have to worry that if you put out a Suze Orman book that one person will think it is too pop culture and another will think the particular book is dated and another will find it inappropriate to mention money at all. When browsing the political books looking for material, I found myself beginning to think how entertaining it might be to put out books that express the complete opposite of what I actually believe. It’s very revealing to choose nonfiction. I ended up going with dog books and knitting books, conveniently overlooking that my dog is not well-trained and my knitting is…well…soothing but not artistic.

It was a much more personal experience than I anticipated. By the time it was done, my feet hurt and so did my brain. But in the end I think the fact that it was very uncomfortable made it well worth the time. I learned a lot about myself, and my new role, and that’s not even talking about all of the stuff I learned about how the collections are arranged and their ease of use. So I recommend it. The patrons seem to really like staff picks displays, and what a person chooses is pretty interesting. Just don’t judge me for the odd juxtaposition of Anne of Green Gables and Game of Thrones. We are all a mix, aren’t we?

photo taken in my library by Ed Spicer

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