Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Close Enough to Touch - by Colleen Oakley

Jubilee Jenkins' allergy to people has kept her a recluse for nine years. Following the death of her mother (who had been supporting her) Jubilee takes her first tentative steps outside of her house. Rather remarkably she almost immediately lands a job in the local public library. She also falls in love and begins a long journey towards living a more regular life.

Jubilee comes to like her job at the library and even comes up with a plan to get more people to use it when budget cuts threaten her job. 

It is sometimes harder for me to write about library-centric books than it is to write about books in which the library or librarian is only a minor part of the story. Where do I start? What do I leave out? In this case the passages I marked mostly seem to indicate things that are especially un-librarian like behaviors.

On her first day she is asked to reshelve some books "according to the numbers on their spines". I think we can safely assume these are Dewey Decimal Numbers. The Dewey Decimal Classification system isn't especially difficult to learn, but I cannot imagine that anyone would be expected on their first day of work to understand it so thoroughly as to need no training whatsoever before being asked to reshelve books. I have seen people with plenty of experience make mistakes in shelving, especially when the decimal place gets past a few digits.

There are some other very obvious places that indicate that the author perhaps doesn't fully understand library work. For instance when Jubilee is asked to fill in for the children's librarian during story time she panics a bit but her co-worker Louise assures her that "it's easy. Roger left the three books on his desk and I think you give out candy and sing a song or something. Over in thirty minutes." Jubilee does manage to get through the program and she "silently thank[s] Roger for at least picking out the right books." I can assure you that Roger didn't simply "pick out" some books. He planned a program.

Besides having Jubilee do the more difficult task of leading the story time while she staffs the Circulation desk, Louise also manages to have Jubilee do her "dirty work" for her when she decides that a patron needs to be told that she can't have "private parts up on computers" because "what if a child walks by". The fact that the website didn't appear to be porn, but rather was likely a medical site made no difference. The patron needed to be told it was "against the rules". I thoroughly disagree with this. Everyone has a right to find the information they need in the library. If there are concerns that others might see something then the library needs to figure out a way to ensure privacy. It is the bedrock of our profession.

Jubilee's love interest, Eric, discovers that the library is the perfect place not only to see Jubilee, but also to check out YA books that interest his estranged teenage daughter in the hopes that if he reads them he can get her to at least get her to return his texts. He checks out The Bell Jar, Twilight (he's Team Jacob), The Virgin Suicides, and The Notebook. He also enlists Jubilee to help him understand the works so that he can better discuss them with his daughter. The library (and Jubilee) also help him with his 10-year old son when he realizes that he cannot leave him home alone after school, and no babysitter wants to stay with the disturbed child. The provision of after-school care is a real issue for public libraries. Many families have no other options except to send their children to the library until they can be picked up when their workdays are done.

Despite its shortcomings in describing the library work, I very much enjoyed this book. It was a good, easy read during the holiday break.

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