Bad books aren’t worth talking about. Good books, however, should stand up and be recognized.
To that end, I invented a new thing that I’m going to act like I’ve been doing for ages: The Librarian Avengers Stomp of Approval.
As you know, Librarian Avengers stomp around quite a bit, railing against things and waving our arms around.
In this case, we’re stomping in approval of Lizzie Skurnick’s new book Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading.
Shelf Discovery is a compilation of Ms. Skurnick’s excellent Fine Lines posts on Jezebel, in which she lovingly scrutinizes Young Adult books read by bookish girls of the X/y/whatever generation.
I’m always surprised to find such quality writing just floating around on the web for anyone to read, and I’m glad there is finally a dead tree version available as well.
If I suffered from Pageant-Mom syndrome and wanted to create an exact replica of myself from the raw material of some random pre-teen girl, I would begin my narcissistic experiment in literary manipulation by having her read all of the books celebrated in Shelf Discovery.
Which is all to say that I love this book and you should too. So, yay.
Stomp stomp stomp stomp.
I want to talk about YA books for girls in the 1980s. Books like Anastasia Ask Your Analyst, and The Girl with the Silver Eyes.
Besides PBS and the Thundercats, these books were pretty much the only media I had available during my nerdy nerdy youth. And since I hadn’t been sentient for too long, so they had a disproportionate impact on my social development.
I wasn’t alone. The fine ladies at Jezebel (One of those Gawker media blogs. I’m usually against ’em. This one, however doesn’t suck.) do a recurring feature called Fine Lines, which is UNCANNY in its ability to suss out YA books from my misspent youth.
I checked out an average of 14 books a week from two different local libraries, thanks to my geek parents. Most of the books I read were comic anthologies like Peanuts, Bloom County, Garfield and (odd for a 12 year old) Doonesbury. However, the books that really got through were the ones like Island of the Blue Dolphins, or From the mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankeweiler.
Fine Lines has them all, lovingly glossed and tinted with a healthy dose of grown-up lady perspective. Go. Go now. Read and remember. You were not alone.
Thanks for all of the kind comments on the previous post. They really helped balance the freaking out I had to do when a kind well-meaning soul posted this link as an example of a REALLY GOOD children’s website.
Ok. Let’s go through this again. Slowly. This time I’m going to spell it out.
Anyone can make a website. The web is the most democratic publishing forum ever conceived. But, unfortunately, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you are the best person to do it. It is an unpleasant fact that most library websites, most digital libraries, most catalogs and electronic collections are badly designed.
And by badly designed, I mean this. Ugly. Ill-conceived. Verbose. Inaccessible. Acronym rich. Confusing. Lofty. Unnecessarily complex. Deprecated. Self-absorbed. Low-quality. Pointless. Patronizing.
Are you still with me? Remember, I’m being a bitch so that you don’t have to.
There is a tendency in the library community to blow sunshine up each other’s asses, as though our intent to do good were enough. As though our good works shouldn’t be held to the same standards as commercial products because we are Nice. People don’t seem to criticize each other’s work in this profession. Which makes for a perfectly lovely working environment where you can find yourself producing piles of junk because all you have heard is happytalk from supportive colleagues. And that’s not Nice. Nope. Not at all. That’s painful and embarrassing and rather cruel.
You would tell a friend if she had toilet paper on her shoe, right? Gentle criticism (not my specialty, obviously) has a place in any relationship, especially when the stakes are high. When your TP-shoed friend is about to go up on stage in front of a bunch of elementary school kids, they probably aren’t going to listen to her charming and educational speech. They are going to see the toilet paper and turn into a pack of hyenas.
And it’s a shame, because the Internet Children’s Digital Library (and the gajillion sites like it with smaller budgets) have the potential to become popular resources if they will only make the connection between quality of content and quality of interface. Like so many digital collections, they have great ideas, like sorting books by color, but they don’t have the skill or the perspective to realize these ideas. And they don’t have the humility to hire someone who does. So up they go in front of the auditorium with a big wad of TP dragging behind them.