Column Editor: Debbie Vaughn (Adjunct Instructor, College of Charleston)
Morris, Vanessa Irvin. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature. ALA Readers’ Advisory Series.
Chicago: ALA, 2012. 978-0-8389-1110-5. 168 pages. $48.00.
Reviewed by Debbie Vaughn (Adjunct Instructor, College of Charleston)
My professional library experience has been limited to the College of Charleston. As such, I never had much of an opportunity for readers’ advisory, nor for exploring the street literature genre. Vanessa Morris’ The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature makes me want to change all of that. As a reader, it has prompted me to add a number of titles to my “Want To Read” list on Goodreads. As a librarian, reading Morris’ guide prompted me to hop into WorldCat and take a look at the number of libraries holding not only her title but also a random selection of the titles included in her book. It also made me think about — as other reviewers have noted — public service, collection development, and the patrons served by libraries; and those who possibly are not current patrons but who might be, given different public service and collection development practices.
Like other RA books, Morris’ guide offers index lists of titles by reader group, monograph type, etc. However, I feel that the value of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature lies in Morris’ exploration of the background and characteristics of street lit; her suggestions for RA interactions and even RA displays; her recommendations for collection development, booktalking, and even shelving street lit; and her ideas for promoting street lit through book clubs, field trips, and other venues.
Morris approaches her guide—and her profession — with the belief that librarians must be readers not only of books (such as street literature) but also of patrons and of libraries. She writes that librarians “are not the only experts in the stacks. The patrons have much to teach us, too” (xxiii). This thought reminds me of an article that College of Charleston librarian Burton Callicott and I wrote about the concept of “broccoli librarianship,” a phrase penned by Candice Benges and Janice Brown from the University of Southern California. Broccoli librarianship is the idea that what librarians feel is important to patrons should be what is important to patrons because it is “good for them.” In our article, Callicott and I explored how such a limited view can undermine Web usability studies; obviously, though, its harmfulness is not limited to user testing. Morris might not use the phrase “broccoli librarianship,” but she certainly cautions against failing to educate ourselves about and advocating for the interests of our patrons rather than what we feel should be promoted. Morris’ guide is a testament to patrons learning from librarians learning from patrons.
I, too, hold close the notion of a cycle of learning among librarians, patrons, and the larger community; perhaps this is why I am profoundly captivated by The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature and I suspect you will be, too. It should be required reading for those in public library systems as well as high school librarians, library school students, and even English/literature secondary education students.