Reading Recommendations for the Pandemic Summer

Hello, readers! I’ve been writing for Hack Library School for over a year now, and my biggest struggle has been thinking of new topics to write about each month. All of my sources for inspiration have come up dry this time—everything left on the list of ideas I keep requires actual research, library Twitter is pretty sparse right now, and classes don’t start for a few weeks yet. My original plan for this month was to provide some tips for starting the semester off right, but I don’t think I can stretch “read the syllabus” into 600 words. Instead, please enjoy this list of books about libraries and librarians, carefully chosen from whatever I had on hand at the time.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer. This was the hot recommendation in my cohort over the spring semester. I’d tell you what it’s about, but I haven’t read it yet. I gave my mom a copy for her birthday and she read it right away. Then my brother read it. They both liked it (“Don’t judge a book by its cover” – Dan Wros), and yet here I sit, scrolling through Twitter instead of reading a book like I’m supposed to. I blame the pandemic.

Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library by Scott Sherman. About the New York Public Library around the time of the 2008 financial crisis. I haven’t read this one either, but in my defense that was never the plan. Before I moved to Illinois I gave away most of my books, because they’re heavy. My theory was that I’m in three or four different libraries a week, I can just borrow anything I want. Within a month I was looking around my new apartment thinking “there aren’t enough books in here.” So I went to a used book sale and bought as many books as I could carry. Since I’ll probably donate them right back when I’m done with school, I like to think of it as renting the books for a few years.

Freedom Libraries: The Untold Story of Libraries for African Americans in the South by Mike Selby. What my cohort is reading this summer. It was recommended to us by the same woman who brought The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu to our attention, so I guess we know who the taste-maker is in our class. You may have seen the clip of Representative John Lewis accepting the National Book Award, where he talks about how he was refused a library card as a child. Reading Freedom Libraries will give you a stronger knowledge of that history and how it affects libraries today.

Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920 by Dee Garrison. A classic in library history, first published in 1979. Apostles of Culture examines the roles of gender and social class in American libraries. A little dated but important for understanding the “missionary” aspect of librarianship, still prevalent today, and how libraries were used to encourage moral behavior.

The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown: Civil Rights, Censorship, and the American Library by Louise S. Robbins. A library book that I checked out back in February and I guess is just mine now? I mean technically the university will want it back someday, maybe, but I like to think I have squatter’s rights after a certain point. Either way, this is an interesting book, about a librarian who was fired from her job in 1950s Oklahoma. The stated reason for dismissal was that she was stocking communist propaganda, but she had already made herself unpopular with the authorities by advocating for racial integration.

What books about libraries and librarians do you recommend? I need to know about library-themed paperback mysteries with punny titles.

Featured image is by the author.

Emily is a rising second-year master’s student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She recommends applying literary analysis to syllabi, to really get into the professors’ heads.

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