I’m a big user of public libraries, in no small part because I live about three blocks from a branch of a very good system. I wish for books and they arrive, which is kind of magical when you think about it.
The problem with this system (and many will say it’s not a problem at all, including me during my peppier days) is that you quickly get to know your librarians, and they more slowly come to know you — your borrowing habits, literary tastes, habit of forgetting to hand them the library card and then the books to check out (stupid system; you can’t reach your wallet with an armful of books), silly hats, and so forth.
All well and good, sez I, if you’re checking out the great works of Western literature — or better still, in this day and age, the great works of post-colonial literature; those librarians are progressive, and dead white males earn you no points with some. But when you show up with an armful of paperback romance, or a fantasy comic book from recent decades, there’s that quiet, irrational shame. What if he only reads post-modern metaphysical literature, you think, what if her mother was run over by a truck full of paperback bestsellers?
(It’s possible that I did not sleep enough last night.)
My comfort to fellow sufferers of library shame is thuswise:
First, librarians too are human. They are just as likely to enjoy a really bad book as the rest of us — probably more likely, since they tend to be active readers, and are by necessity exposed to all the options out there. At the point where they’re making purchasing decisions (and in many smaller libraries, the nice person checking out books at the counter very likely does have a hand in collection policy), they’re definitely reading bestsellers as well as Proust. Probably more of the former than the latter, since a) less library patrons are going to want Proust, and b) you pretty much already know what Proust adds to your collection, and don’t actually have to read through it to make a purchasing decision.
Second, librarians see a lot of patrons, and you’re not as memorable as you think. Relish your invisibility or seek to change it as you please, but be aware that they do the same card-scan, book-scan, book-swipe, have-a-nice-day routine about a hundred times a day (made-up statistic). Take it from a worker of various small, repetitive, service-sector jobs over the years — they’re not actually seeing and thinking about every title that passes through their hands.
Thirdly, you’re checking out books because you like to read (or because you’re a pretentious ass who thinks it will make you a better person, which it will if you actually read the books but not for the reasons you’re thinking). So you’re already a librarian’s second-favorite person (their favorite, I’ve found, is a person with a challenging-but-answerable question). You almost certainly share at least one interest with them (books), and you’re a patron of the service that pays their bills. They’re unlikely to judge you harshly for your Diane Steele fetish as long as it keeps you coming back.
And finally, it doesn’t matter in the long run unless you somehow wind up becoming personal friends with your local librarian, which isn’t as hard as it sounds — but at that point, you’re friends, and can share secret little sins like paperback sci-fi serials unashamedly. Expect some toe-curling literary confessions in return.
Got library shame? Got a cure? Just got a crush on your local librarian and want to know how to charm one without being creepy? Drop a comment, and I will share my wisdom…