I read a quote somewhere a few years ago, (I searched but can’t remember where…maybe a Librarian can help me find it someday), that said something along the lines of “We need libraries less than ever before, but we need librarians more than we ever did before.”
As I’m delving into the crazy world of publishing, I’m getting a glimpse of just why that is.
A librarian’s job used to be providing scarce information to those who depended on it. Now, a librarian’s job is to help users navigate an overabundance of information of varying quality. We have so much information at our fingertips that we no longer need to go to a special place to get it. I rarely visit a library anymore. Usually it’s checking out an electronic book from the library on my kindle. And so many of us are trying to be our own librarians. It’s frustrating. How many times have you tried to search for something on google, only to spend an hour sifting through information to find what you need?
Don’t get me wrong, I love being my own librarian. It lets me discover new things I didn’t know I wanted to know. But when it really counts, and I really need to keep my internet distraction time to a minimum, it sure would be handy to have someone to talk to about what I need who could point to it on a shelf and say “this section here, and you don’t know it, but you really should also check out this section because it relates”.
Publishing has had what I consider a sordid past with gatekeeping. I really don’t like the concept of gatekeeping at all, because it implies that someone is censoring what stories I get to read and don’t get to read. But gatekeepers are not the same as librarians. Gatekeeping is censorship. But librarians are guides. They don’t exclude or bar any information from being available. They simply provide a helping hand in me finding what I am looking for.
So how do we find good librarians? Specifically, how do we find the books that we want to read without knowing we want to read them? I tend to gravitate towards book review blogs, whose voices I have come to trust. And of course there’s always word of mouth and recommendations from friends. Every once in awhile I take a chance on a book I’ve heard nothing about just for the fun of discovery. But for the most part, I find my favorite books through a plethora of librarians, even if that ‘librarian’ is a genre category on amazon.
As someone trying to self-publish, this is a little inconvenient. How do I get my book into the hands of readers if I don’t know the librarians who are guiding them towards it, or if there are many librarians? I’m still working on this one. Obviously, I could form friendships with book review sites then ask them to review my book when it comes out. And I probably will. But it seems like there’s more than that.
If Chris Baty, founder of nanowrimo.org, is correct that “the world needs our stories”, and I think he is, then there’s got to be a way to connect that need with those of us who are telling stories. I suspect the key is librarians in many forms.