My library has a really cool feature. If you have read more than one Trail Talk, you may be surprised to learn that I spend very little time at the physical library, my visits being largely limited to dropping off books at the drive-through or a dash inside to pick up books that I have requested. It’s not that I dislike spending time exploring the magical rows of books in the library; it’s just that with my current lifestyle it is a huge convenience to select books online.
But back to the cool feature. After collecting book recommendations from my many history newsletters (most delivered directly to my inbox), NPR Books, Book TV, and a few print sources, I go on my library’s website and search for them. But because of my esoteric tastes in books, my requests are rarely at my library, or any library in its orbit. However, after I became better acquainted with the site itself, I noticed that after coming up empty with a search, a little notice appears at the bottom of the page: “Didn’t find what you were looking for? Make a purchase suggestion.”
WOW! You can actually make a suggestion? Little ol’ me? Admittedly, I’ve been an avid reader since first grade (Kindergarten was a real bummer for me because they refused to teach us to read for a full year!!) I am nevertheless keenly aware that my taste in books is definitely not mainstream. Why would they go out and actually buy a book that only one patron was likely to read? This would really be a long shot.
Nevertheless, I really wanted to read that book, so I decided it couldn’t hurt to try – and I got a very polite notice the same day thanking me for my suggestion, and that the “Selection Committee” would consider it. Fair enough. But that wasn’t the end of it. Within just a few days I received a follow-up email informing me that my suggestion had been approved! I was ecstatic. What a sense of enablement I felt. Somebody actually thought my suggestion was worthwhile.
After savoring the moment, I went back to my everyday life with the conviction that I should probably quit while I was ahead. They were not likely to approve very many of these off-the-wall requests. But the next time I submitted a purchase suggestion, they bought that one too. And the next! In fact, the library has bought every single book that I have suggested since that first miraculous approval. Apparently my small-town library has an unlimited purchase budget, because the committee meets several times a month. It rarely takes even a month between my placing a suggestion and sitting down to read that very book.
WHAT A COUNTRY!!
In a related topic, I recently read an absolutely fascinating book that for some reason had escaped my book searches, and it had me from the title: The Library Book. Any book with a great title like that had to be worthwhile – and I was not disappointed. But extremely well-researched information about libraries and books through the centuries was only part of what kept me rapt from cover to cover. The author’s starting point was the largest library fire in the history of the world: the Los Angeles Central Library in April of 1986. Never heard of it? Neither had I. And more importantly, neither had Susan Orlean. (If that name rings a bell, it should; she also wrote the best seller, The Orchid Thief, which the Academy-Award winning film, Adaptation, was based on.) The aftermath of the fire and the resulting reforms to library architecture and fire prevention, are another fascinating aspect.
And the reason this devastating conflagration got so little attention? Bad timing. It happened to occur the same week as the Chernobyl catastrophe on the other side of the world, which sucked all the air out of the world’s news cycles. This book should set the record straight.