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Where Has The Reader Gone?
Results of an Interview With A Maryland Librarian
© 2013 James LaFond
One depressing fact about being a middle-aged male author is the fact that literature for young adult males consists almost exclusively of comic books, and I can’t draw a straight line. Young men typically read sports results online and are otherwise limited to interpreting the written idea only when it is supplemented by dense literal illustration. Even missionaries no longer push bibles but bible-based comic books and heavily illustrative pamphlets.
Functional literacy in mid-sized urban centers is just under 50%. I know from experience in retail food that a similar percentage of employees cannot follow brief bullet point instructions, and that customers need just as much help with deciphering signs and labels. Are we truly headed back to the pre-modern world where the masses were indoctrinated on a sub-literate level by the articulate mouthpieces of the ruling class; brains all too easily washed? Was it really all just a pipedream to think that most people were essentially educable?
A writer—any writer who is more than a propagandist—hopes for a readership that is much more than simply literate, but literate enough to be able to appreciate metaphor, allegory, nuance; to read between the lines. For a writer, realizing that much of his gender is descending into a Mesolithic cave-art stage of pre-literacy does provide that ‘message in a bottle’ moment of passing retrospection masquerading as an elitist epiphany—just before that arrogant thought dovetails into the realization of his kind’s extinction...
On the other hand comics are at least providing platforms for ideas and commentary, and still employ narrative and dialogue. Perhaps the comic is rescuing us from dependence on utterly passive video fiction? Perhaps the comic is just a symptom of a more hectic pace in everyday life? The format does permit a story to be enjoyed in an hour as opposed to eight. Looked at in that light, the loss of categories that formally appealed to males on the book shelves, and the expansion of female romance genres to replace them, might make the expanding comics section a refuge for the male imagination.
There is the occasional bright spot though, that rock star moment when the librarian behind the counter [female or gay] finds out you are an actual published author. My moments, as the seller of less than 5,000 books in oddball categories, such as they are, approximate the local heavy metal base guitarist’s moments, but still provide something to shore up the battered middle-aged male ego.
My trips to the library consist mostly of scouting reports. I will read there and make notes that I need to purchase this book or that. However, since these books were gotten with the State’s blood money, I will not take them home and soil my conscience. Since my patronizing these establishments still raises the shadow of my apolitical hypocrisy I cloak my visit in the context of an inmate visiting the detention center library.
I was recently able to get an interview with a local municipal library manager. She was charming and even provided me with some numbers and circulation graphs. To my suggestion that everyone seemed to be using the computers and not books she halted, and then put away her defensiveness and informed me that, “Thanks to e-book downloads our circulation is up.”
She also told me that acquisitions and inventory control of hard copies has gone awry, with many books having to be dumped out of inventory through discount houses and charity efforts, having never been read.
As much as she resents running what is essentially a daycare and internet dating institution she at least sees those efforts as a socially justifiable reason for keeping the doors open and permitting her and her peers to continue their true job; which is keeping the written word available, and even alive in a physical sense. In that way the specter of a public library being little more than a playground and social networking site is softened, as these spaces also serves as an oasis of learning for the occasional literary minded human who finds themselves stranded in the postmodern wasteland of the collective American mind. These also remain as resources for writers working on slim budgets, who seek rare materials for research. There are still many things that have not gone online.
I do not want to get this young lady in trouble, and, such was my irresistible charm, and the godlike sparkle of sunlight shimmering from my prominent cranial solar panel, that she did not even seek to protect herself, but simply complied like a Victorian damsel in the hands of a Transylvanian Count. Therefore—it obviously being one of the four municipalities I can reach by bus—I will not name the system. It does operate about 20 branches including prison outlets, which did warm the Harm City soul.
Below are some circulation figures:
1. In the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 peak circulation spiked at the end of June.
2. Conversely December is always the slowest month.
3. The two figures above are nearly the opposite of retail food highs and lows.
4. These numbers do include some facilities in the Maryland penitentiary system.
5. The system door count for 2013 was 4,606,592. I am told this is almost half of numbers early in the last decade.
6. While system circulation, door counts and returns have extreme peaks there is more consistency in the computer sign-up record
7. Total year to date circulation for 2013 was 10,696,199, marking a steady increase in circulation from 2006 in which system wide circulation was 9,313,230
8. Downloadable e-books, audio books and magazines totaled 213,782, indicating where the circulation expansion over the past 7 years has occurred.
9. Internet PCs per branch range from 8 to 60 with the average daily logins per station ranging from 39 to 227.
10. System wide inventory is stable over recent years with titles holding at around a million. I assume the hard copy capacity is maxed.
Thank you Miss Bloomfield.
I’ll be back…
Where Could They Go?
book reviews
Keep On Truckin’
beasts of aryas
by the wine dark sea
taboo you
the combat space
masculine axis
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