Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Guest Post: “The Lure of the Stacks”


by Mieneke van der Salm

As some of you may know, I'm an academic librarian. This actually doesn't mean I spend my day surrounded by books, even though the building I work at is assuredly filled with books, since the focus of my work is mainly on Information Services and Information Literacy instruction. However, it does mean that whenever I read an interesting historical fiction or non-fiction book, it's very easy for me to find further information on the subject of said books. And this is a terrible, terrible trap I can tell you.

There is nothing quite like the lure of the stacks. I'm sure you've all encountered this lure before, maybe when walking into your favourite book store or your local library, when all you want to do is spend time among those books and pick out which ones you want to read, ending up with loads and loads of books, which you then have to whittle down to a manageable number. The first time I encountered it, was when our neighbour took me to my local library for the first time when I was eight and I saw how many books there were to choose from. I could spend hours just wandering around and selecting that week’s reads. Later on, when I really got into Fantasy, the library became less important, as being Dutch, there weren't that many English language fantasy works to be borrowed. In fact, I first Eddings-Velgariad-Volread David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malloreon in Dutch and after comparing those to the English editions I bought myself, I decided to never do that to myself again. So while my love affair with the library dwindled fiction-wise – in the end, I only borrowed books I had to read for my language classes in school – in non-fiction it kept going. I read historical biographies voraciously and loved looking stuff up about the background of the historical fiction I read from my parents’ bookcases.

After a bit of a dry spell at university, where I had to read so much for classes, that in my free time I just wanted to read SFF and escape from the dry reading of the more classical works, my enticement by the stacks returned when I started as a lending counter librarian at the Social Sciences library. Being an English Lit BA myself, this certainly wasn’t my field of expertise, but all too often as I was lending out or taking in books I’d run across titles that looked super interesting, or I’d wander the stacks retrieving books to be sent out as part of the interlibrary loans program and stumble across a book that was just fascinating. And sometimes these books would find their way home with me, if they weren’t already on the way out with a patron and I had almost finished my current read. Most of the time though, I’d write them down on a list: the “one day I will read these books”-list. And it got longer and longer... and then I switched jobs and in the process lost my list. In hindsight, this may have been best for my sanity!

But my new job is even more enabling: I now work at the main library, which houses the humanities collection. So any time I read a fascinating historical novel I can go into our catalogue and see whether we have something on the era it’s set in or about the person it’s about. Sure enough, we almost always do. And mostly, these books get added to a new list, as I’m forever in the middle of a book I need to read for review and reviewing non-fiction is not my forte, nor do I think the people who read my blog would enjoy too much of it. Right now, I have about thirty books on there, a mixture of academic works on the SFF genre and history books about different era’s and persons. And still, sometimes I wander by the new acquisitions cases and go: “ooh, I’d like to read that and that looks interesting as well and I’d like to know more about that topic.” And yes, I keep promising myself that one day I’ll read these books... I just hope that when I do get around to them, the list won’t have grown so big it’ll smother me.

So how about you? Do you recognise this siren call of the stacks? Have you ever wandered around a library to get one book and gone home with a completely different, non-fiction title? Or is this just my librarian’s quirk?

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Mieneke is another great book-blogger, and I highly recommend her blog – A Fantastical Librarian – from which I have learned of many new and old novels I would not otherwise have tried or stumbled across. Also, follow her on twitter! (That’s an order…)

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