Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Library Talk in Long Island

I woke up at 6 this morning to get to Long Island by 9, to participate in a panel discussion of "graphic novels for adults in the library." It was really quite interesting. Librarians ask the tough questions. Sometimes they even state the tough truths without any need for answers. Some favorites:

My friend said she read a comic book she thought was racist, and I said to her, "if this were 1955 and that comic book was Mein Kampf, would you carry it?" and she said, "yes." So you see, it's all context. Your racist is not necessarily someone else's.

H-what?! I'd give anything to know what comic book warranted comparison with Mein Kampf (she couldn't remember what her friend said).

I mean, I bet half the people here don't know who Neil Gaiman is. (Well-meaning young male librarian, who was greeted with a pretty rapid shooting of arms from about 95% of the room after that comment.)

But the best, and I mean the best, comment:

Well, comics turning into movies and all that is just the dumbing down of America. I mean, publishers are all just about marketing and publishing books that are all dialogue, and you (pointing at Marc Seigel of First Second Books) only publish things in paperback. You're only making books for kids. It's the dumbing down of America.

The best part of that last comment was that the speaker said it not a milisecond before we had to close the discussion, and though it warranted another two hours of follow-ups, we were physically forced to end the panel.

Lots of people came up and more or less apologized for that librarian, but truth was we on the panel all kind of agreed with her. "90% of everything is dumbed down" (Marc Siegel).

Later on the train ride home Matt Murray (president of MoCCA) said there were too many great comebacks he wished he'd uttered right after that comment. I suggested the following:

(In Brooklyn accent) Who you callin' stupid, stupid?

U.S.A! U.S.A! (While pounding fists on table)


Ed Sizemore said...

Anne, I really don’t know what people mean when they talk about the dumbing down of America. You could argue that radio dumbed down America. It takes more focus and imagination, not to mention free time, to read a book than listen to a radio play. With a book I have to imagine the sound of rain, the sound of door creaks, the sound of each character’s voice, etc. Radio spoon feeds all that audio information to me. Movies, comics and television are then just one more step in the dumbing process by supplying visual information on top of the audio. I guess the only way we can get any stupider is by having the knowledge of a book instantly implanted in our heads. You know like Jimmy Neutron’s books on bubble gum concept—Romeo and Juliet with a pina colada flavor.

Looking at the America historically, say 1620 to today, the average American has never been very culturally sophisticated or literate. I think most people forgot that it wasn’t until after WWII that going to college became a common experience for Americans. Prior to that only the rich ,or those fortune enough to come to the attention of the wealthy, got a college degree. Print technology didn’t make coffee table books with high quality color photos of the great works of art available until after WWII. So I think for most of American history, this librarian would find Americans pretty dumb. And I guess most of humanity would be pretty dumb for this librarian since it is only in the last hundred years that books have really been available and affordable for the masses.

ill iterate said...

Ed. You took the words from my mouth. I hate accusations of the dumbing down of America too. And good point about the normalization of college admissions AFTER WWII.