Working in a library gives me a bit of a problem. Much like sending a morphine addict to work in an opium den, in fact. This is made worse by the fact that it’s a big library with a large book stock. And then there’s that nice little perk of the job, the staff library card.
They’ve had this everywhere I’ve worked - if you’re a member of staff you get an extremely generous borrowing allowance, generally around twice what the public are allowed. You might also get free use of the reserves system, meaning that a whole county’s library stock is just… there, waiting for you to notice it and decide to read it.
My staff card has been maxed out since pretty much the week I started. The perils for the bibliophile are everywhere. Books coming through your hands as they are returned. Books waiting to be shelved. Books you find on the shelves while shelving. Books next to the books you are shelving. Books that just happen to catch your eye as you are walking around. Books that live in the section which you are responsible for tidying that you initially just about manage to leave where they are, but which gradually break down your resistance.
As a result of this I have had to become very proficient in reading a book in about 24 hours once again - something I used to be very good at when I was a London commuter and had a rail and Tube journey of at least an hour and a half each way, out from the western suburbs and back. All this largesse has, not surprisingly, also had a considerable effect on what I read. I had grandiose plans to give up with my annual book-a-week challenge, in which I try to read 52 books a year, and work through the collected writings of the Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne in 2012. Well, that has gone completely by the wayside and may not, I realise have fitted very well into the year-long reading challenge format in the first place. I still hope to do it - but it can realistically only happen after I have read all the books in the library that I can’t bring myself to walk past without taking them down and reading the blurbs on the back. And occasionally stroking the spines.
I do find myself much, much more reluctant to read bad books. I’m a real literary omnivore and my reading tastes definitely used to encompass the odd romance novel and a bit of genre fiction, especially escapist crime and thrillers. Not so much now, because I am conscious of a superfluity of better things waiting. (Mind you, the romance novels had to be quite niche before they would appeal, Mills & Boon Modern mostly, I cannot be doing with the billionaire foreign playboys, autocratic Arabs or costume dramas. And, as for medical romance, well my sense of the ridiculous is just too well-developed. I came across something called “Doctor’s Baby Surprise” the other day and thought: he didn’t do his gynaecology module, obviously.)
There’s fiction and interesting non-fiction and all the things that you meant to look into and read up on some day. Then there are books that will help you with whatever other projects you are trying to squeeze into your spare time - knitting or cooking or writing a novel. Then there are the books that you know are tailor-made for your loved ones, but you really do have to let them make their own choices instead of filling their library cards up for them, most of the time, anyway.
Then there are all the books we actually own which occupy more space in our house than any other class of object, including about 25 metres of custom-made shelving and every available surface. There’s a pile (on top of a piece of furniture) specifically made up of the recently-acquired, not yet shelved and awaiting a space in between the constant flow of irresistible library books.
So, when they tell you that being a keen reader isn’t necessarily the most helpful attribute for library work. I can confirm that they do actually know what they are talking about…