You know the stereotype. Librarians are portrayed as stern, old-fashioned ladies with cat's-eye glasses whose only jollies come from shushing the giggles of children. As an antidote to narrow- minded caricatures, and to perhaps demystify my profession, I offer this (potentially recurring) column -- Ask Mr. Library Man.
Q: Dear Library Man, I'm going to be a rock star. Why should I use the library?
A: The famous rock musician Frank Zappa had some advice for kids: "Forget about the senior prom, go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts."
Q: When librarians get together, do they discuss the Dewey Decimal System?
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A: Yes, but we usually discuss the secret numbers that nonlibrarians will never know about -- numbers less than zero and more than 999.99.
Q: Is it true that Casanova was a librarian?
A: While it's not certain the famous lover had a master's degree in Information Science, Casanova did oversee a collection of books for Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein at his castle in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic).
Q: Library Man, why should we read books?
A: The late, great comic Bill Hicks had an answer. Late one night after a show, Hicks went into a waffle shop somewhere in the South. He was by himself, so he read a book while he waited for his order. The waitress approached and asked, "What are you reading for?" The question stumped him. She hadn't asked what he was reading, but what he was reading "for." For what reason was he reading? His snarky reply was something like, "I guess so I don't end up as a waffle waitress working the graveyard shift." Rude, but he had a point.
Q: Yo, Librarian, where are the good books? I can't find any.
A: Oh, the good books? We sold those for a quarter at the library yard sale.
Q: If the famous royal library at Alexandria hadn't been burned in ancient times, wouldn't human civilization be advanced hundreds of years ahead of where we are today?
A: Yes, we'd all have flying cars like the Jetsons, and we'd never have invaded Iraq.
Q: Hey Library Dude, are you a real librarian, or do you just work at a library?
A: Well, I do have a piece of paper with some kind of silvery embossed thing on it, and it came from an institution of higher learning, but in these parts, we don't trust those highfalutin intellectuals with their postgraduate whatevers, so let's keep this between you and me.
Q: Library Man, a library is just a room full of books, right?
A: Here's a serious answer: Every day in libraries, we celebrate the achievements of human civilization. Even a small junior high school library contains some of the greatest ideas by the greatest thinkers in history. We collect fantastic stories from cultures all over the world. We celebrate literature, poetry, scientific discovery, technology, art and music -- the best things about being civilized humans. New generations of students don't have to re-invent the achievements of the past; they can use libraries to build on everything that's come before.
Q: Answer me this, Library Man: Do you wear your hair in a bun?
A: I used to, but I'm searching for a new image.
Dear Readers, If you have any questions for Mr. Library Man, please e-mail them to the address below.
Barker is the librarian at Mark Twain Junior High School in Modesto. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.