This month I have mostly been reading Chris Paling‘s ‘Reading Allowed’, subtitled: ‘True Stories & Curious Incidents from a Provincial Library’. (Published by Constable, London 2017)

This book certainly is a compelling read, if at times annoying for those of us who work in the industry and wouldn’t consider standing around reading books at the counter when there’s so much else to be done (shelving, rotations, reservations workflow, packing, unpacking, inter-library loans, picking up chewed crayons from the children’s area to avoid health and safety incidents…). It would be lovely to be able to read all day but reading for leisure is certainly not ‘allowed’ as part of the job. I don’t mean to be harsh on Chris, but some people do have the impression that a job working as a library assistant is a gentle, slow, easy one and his book title encourages this false belief. As if we do sit around in between serving customers, and get to read the lovely books that inhabit our work space, I would say that that would be akin to expecting someone who works at a cake shop to be constantly trying the shop’s goods. Yes, we often come across books during working hours and put them to one side to issue to ourselves after work, but not to spend work hours reading for fun. I have been asked by customers if I actually get PAID to work in a library – “What a lovely job!”or do I “Just do it for fun?”. Okay, well, it is fun sometimes, but I rarely get five minutes to breathe in between serving customers and doing daily tasks.

Then, I thought: ‘Perhaps he just gave this impression so he could bring in all those lovely examples of books about libraries?’ A clever construction, albeit misleading about library assistants. Despite this criticism, I really did enjoy reading about Chris Paling’s time at the library, and often felt like he must be working at one of the libraries I have been employed at, so much did his description of some of the people, resemble customers I have known. I won’t go further into detail there though, I did feel a little like I was having a voyeuristic peek into people’s private worlds and wondered how those he wrote about would feel reading their descriptions and conversations laid out bare in his pages. Perhaps a little respect is in order? However, it is definitely worth reading if you work at a library, and even if you don’t – it does offer a mostly accurate picture of daily library life and the amount of patience and empathy required to serve the general (and not so general) public.

The Appendix contains a handy guide to the Dewey Decimal Classifications (something I’ve carried around in a notebook for the last three years too), and a list of sources from the text. From trawling through Chris Paling’s well-researched text and the source list in the appendix, I made a wish-list of ‘Books about libraries’, some of which I already have, such as ‘The Library Book’ and some which I think are missing from his list (see my last two suggestions). See Chris’s actual book for the more detailed source list – I’ll just precis it:

  • The Library at Night ~ Alberto Manguel
  • Old English Libraries, The Making, Collection and use of books during the Middle Ages ~  Ernest A Savage
  • Library, an Unquiet History ~ Matthew Battles
  • Library Confidential, Oddballs, Geeks and Gangsta’s in the Public Library (Experiences of a Library Assistant in California in the 1990’s) ~ Don Borchert
  • Irrepressible Reformer, A Biography of Melvill Dewey ~ Wayne A. Weigand
  • Hitler’s Private Library: The Books that Shaped his Life ~ Timothy W. Ryback
  • The Library Book ~ Rebecca Gray (a collection of writer’s thoughts on the library service and what it means to them)

plus my suggested two essential titles:

  • Public Library ~ Ali Smith (beautiful, brilliant and tragic all at the same time)
  • Maisy Goes to the Library ~ Lucy Cousins (Published by Walker Books 2005)