Wednesday , November 25 2020
Douglas' wry humor and evocative storytelling makes this memoir an entertaining page-turner.

Book Review: Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas

Scott Douglas didn't set out to be a librarian, it just sort of happened to him over time. That's the way many of my colleagues and I began our careers — by falling into them — so I wasn't surprised to read that his path was similar to ours.

Librarians with functional senses of humor will recognize Douglas as the contributor to McSweeney's Internet Tendencies who began providing the Dispatches from a Public Librarian in late 2003. Their frequency slowed for most of 2007, when, I suspect, he began working on this book.

My initial reaction to reading this memoir was, "Wow, I'm glad I don't work in his library!" Libraries have long been a place where dysfunctional people come together, and that's just the staff. In one of his many footnotes, Douglas writes, "In all fairness to Pam, she is not as unprofessional as I make her sound in this book…. Things about the characters have been changed for their protection and to bring more humor to the story." With that in mind, the reader should not take these stories too seriously. This is a memoir, not a factual recounting of historical events.

At the end of each chapter, Douglas writes a few paragraphs on what he learned from the events recounted in that chapter, as well as the questions they raised in his mind. These are the sections of this book that I would direct my colleagues to examine. Douglas does not paint a pretty picture of libraries or librarians, which may anger some, but he has significant things to say about the profession that need to be heard.

I am a university librarian at a small private school, but I still felt the sting of his between the lines reprimand. Librarians sometimes need a wake-up call to remind ourselves of what it is that we are supposed to be doing — providing information and resources to all of our users. So often we place roadblocks to prevent that from happening, and many examples of that are in Douglas' book.  As he shows, these roadblocks mainly stem from a rigid adherence to rules versus considerate compassion and an understanding of the user's needs.

For the general library-loving, book-reading public, this memoir is an entertaining glimpse behind the curtain. Here is your chance to look at public libraries from the perspective of a librarian who isn't afraid to show the carpet stains and sticky keyboards. Douglas' wry humor and evocative storytelling makes Quiet, Please an entertaining page-turner.

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