Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library (review: 3/5)

If you’ve ever worked in a library (I’ve put in a couple years), or if you just like libraries and spend inordinate amounts of time there (I’ve put in a couple dozen years), Don Borchert’s book may give you a bit of d?©j?† vu. Somehow he got the same customers I got, even though he works in Los Angeles and I worked in suburban Georgia.
One of my favorite lines in the book appears when he’s talking about a custodian in his branch. Mr. Weams is hard-working, old, ornery, given to speeches about the injustice of the whole system. One night he was called in to do some emergency cleaning and shared some rants with Borchert the next day:

“Mr. Weams is so close to retirement that it makes absolute sense to him that the city deliberately puts him in harm’s way. His anger is like a big multivitamin for his immune system.”

His anger is a multivitamin. Ha! Love that. Borchert is a hardened librarian, beleaguered but still feisty. As he describes himself, “I know I could be a better human being, but I am an old dog content with my many shortcomings. I do not automatically try to cheer up small children because they are pouting, nor do I pander to adults because they are petulant and acting like small children.”

But he’s able to share the absurdities of modern public libraries with some heart. Not all of the stories are disaster scenarios. In one story he finally gets to know a little bit more about a regular troublemaker. Turns out the kid is from a crappy home situation. “Damn this stupid kid, I thought. He is no longer two-dimensional.”

Quick read. Good stuff.