At Wiscon this year I attended a panel about librarians. There’s no surprise there. The connection between avid readers and libraries is natural. As the discussion began people shared some common comparisons or metaphors for libraries and one of them has stuck in my head: the librarian as bartender. Other comparisons were made, to gatekeepers, filters, and guides, but this one interests me.
I think the comparison was apt. Librarians are a bit like providers of drugs to the addicted. I know I’m fascinated by bookshops and libraries, stopping to look through them even when I’m on vacation. Calling librarians pushers for the mind has a frisson of excitement.
Being a librarian can feel like standing on the bulwark between darkness and light. Just look at the ALA website for banned books week or the most commonly challenged books. Librarians should feel a surge of pride as they stand between freedom and censorship.
But of course the very efforts to ban books from libraries shows the double edge of the intellect. For some people the ideas in books are literally dangerous, a threat to their morality. Like the demon rum opposed by prohibitionists there are people who want more control over what others can do and think.
The metaphor of librarians as bartenders confounds freedom, pleasure, addiction, danger, socializing, and consuming. All of them are in the mix. It’s heady fun and danger at the same time.