At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Friday, January 10, 2003

It's Friday and my third week as a librarian is over. I've mixed myself a martini using contraband Tanqueray and Martini-Rossi I smuggled into the county; time to kick back and take stock of the situation thus far.

I was excited about getting a collection development job because I thought it would allow me, an ex-academic, to maintain some awareness of intellectual trends. I was picturing pleasant afternoons sipping coffee while reading the reviews in Harper's or The Atlantic. In reality, it is the faculty who do most of the book selection. I get lists of requests from the various departments, look the titles up on vendor web pages, enter the items on our budget spreadsheets, and hand over the paperwork to our acquisitions person. It's menial work for which my Ph.D. is overkill to a ridiculous extent. If my dad is reading this, he's muttering right now "I told him so...just because you like to read doesn't mean you'll enjoy being a librarian, anymore than liking food means you'd like to wait tables."

Still, after the stress of my last few years bouncing from one sabbatical replacement to another, a steady though unexciting job is a welcome relief. And I do get to exercise some discernment when it comes to donations. Three times now in the past three weeks we've received boxes and boxes of books from former Baptist pastors. Godlike I divide sheep from goats, graciously admitting the elect into the hushed and illumined beatitude of the stacks, consigning the others to a dark, cold, web-ridden hell in the basement, there to await final doom at the Book Sale.

So how do I make such a momentous decision? Fairly casually, I have to admit. In many cases the decision is obvious. How could any library pass up a biography of John Hus written by Benito Mussolini? Other books, though lacking in broad appeal, further our particular mission as a Baptist institution. I doubt the big state school down the road would be very interested in the proceedings of the Baptist World Congress, but I had no trouble deciding that we should keep it. Then there is blatant junk no one would want, e.g. collections of sermons by obscure preachers from the fifties. Looking at the lurid or cheesy dust jackets, I question the validity of the old adage.

The tough cases are those books that are perfectly respectable but unoriginal. I wonder if God has the same problem with those of us who live lives undistinguished either by outrageous sin or spectacular virtue? (Okay, it's didactic, but still a nice metaphor.)

Oh, I almost forgot (thank goodness for the edit button): Happy Birthday, Donald Fagen! I received a crash course in jazz harmony trying to figure out the chord progressions for tunes like "Glamour Profession" and "The Nightfly". Great, great stuff.


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