By Shannon Kazmierczak
“That’s not a real book”: or, the most ridiculous thing anyone has ever said to me while working on the desk.
When most of your hours are spent at a public facing desk, you tend to entertain a good amount of questions and requests that come off as mildly offensive (you’re replaying some of your own in your mind right now, aren’t you?). Some of these questions and requests will be microaggressions that you may let slide because of the patron’s age or experience (or lack thereof). Others are backhanded comments asking things like, “Do you read all day?” That one never gets old, does it?
Yet, has anyone ever said anything so disarming to you at work that you are rendered speechless?
While working the desk one morning, a patron asked me for an uncommon Isaac Asimov novel. We didn’t have it available nor did many nearby libraries, but it was available on Hoopla. These are moments as my library’s Digital Downloads Coordinator that I get a little giddy! What is more satisfying than being able to give someone the instant gratification of a book through a platform that allows you to have simultaneous use of eBooks and audiobooks (see why I write to the audience that I do?)? Unfortunately, my dear patron didn’t have the same enthusiasm that I did. Their response?:
“I want the book.”
But don’t you see? This is the book! And it can be in your hot little hands, at no cost to you, in a matter of seconds–on the chance that you remember your PIN.
“That’s not a real book.”
Maybe they misunderstood me. No, this is the book; these are the writings of Sir Isaac Asimov himself, containing all of his ingenious ideas that make him the master of SciFi.
“I want the book,” they say again.
I’ve dealt with these types before–maybe they’re a bit of a luddite, someone who waxes poetic about the weight and feel and smell of a book. I’m a librarian, I get that.
“I assure you,” I tell them, “this book is the real book. It’s the exact book you are asking for in the format that we can get to you right now.”
Then the patron said it; I’ll never forget. The moment the words left their lips I was devastated.
“eBooks aren’t real books–they aren’t books at all. In fact, this is just another computer.”
I wanted to shout, “Take it back, take those words back!” Maybe I did, I can’t remember. I sort of blacked out for a moment. It was my instinct to argue, but I played it cool. I turned into a library salesperson, almost akin to “What can I do to get you into this book today?”
I told the patron that they should give it a try: “It’s so lightweight and carefree, and you could have been halfway through it by now if you weren’t busy telling me such nonsense!” Yet, they continued with the rationale that unless the text was something one could hold in their hands, “as the author intended”, then it’s just not a book.
That was the last straw.
I showed my librarian side then and there, and told them all of the reasons that this eBook was still a book! I argued that ebooks help people who have dyslexia, and that these books provide access to texts that have long been out of print and can’t be purchased readily in physical form by the public library. These books save trees by not being printed on paper, and these books, that also come in audio form, allow people who experience vision problems to read via increased font sizes or by listening to it read aloud to them. Are you telling me that blind people aren’t reading?
Okay, maybe I took it a step too far, but the patron still wasn’t convinced. My fight was over. Exhausted and defeated, I told them that there was only one other copy of this book in the system in print and that the owning library was over an hour away. I offered to place a hold on it for them, and said that the book would be available within a week. The response?
“So you don’t have it right now?”