Feminism: Marginalization of the Self

I've been buying a lot of e-books for my library lately.

I started about a year ago when I got my eReader. I didn't usually visit the library very often, which was odd because there is one less than 5 minutes from our house. Husband and I would sometimes check out movies and TV shows from there, but I would almost never check out an actual book because I was so afraid of hurting the book somehow. This is not a rational fear; I have books in my personal library that I've owned for decades without blemishing them, but it was a fear I held nevertheless. But then an eReader entered our home, and with it a world of possibilities: e-books from the library!

Not every library has an e-book collection yet, but my library did. And they had a lot of really lovely titles! I spent days combing through the site, marking things on my wish list and borrowing and reading for the sheer joy of it. But I started wanting more: I wanted to check out books the library didn't have, books I knew I wouldn't read more than once, books that I didn't want to buy for my own library to sit fallow on my eReader account for time eternal. I could have bought the paper version of these books and then donated them after reading, but I didn't want that; I wanted to read on my eReader. So I did something that is very hard for my timid-in-Real-Life self to do: I wrote an email.

I dug all over the website for my library and found an email address. I wrote to explain that I'd like to donate money to buy some specific e-books for their catalog. And then I waited. A few days later, a librarian wrote me back with the nicest email I think I've ever gotten. They had been excited to receive my email, she said, and though they had no current infrastructure for an automated donation system, I could send a check and email them my list and they'd work out the details on their end. Almost every month since then, I've sent a check for $100 and a list of about 15 books from which they can usually select 5. (Since I can't view the pricing and availability for libraries on Overdrive, there is a significant amount of juggling involved on their end.)

At first, the lists I sent were pretty innocuous stuff. Classic literature. Fiction. Fantasy. Science fiction. Young adult books. A couple cookbooks, a few crafting books. I tried a little teaspooning: fiction with female protagonists, fiction with minority protagonists, issue fiction. But largely fiction.

Last month when I sat down to write my check and look at my list, I chewed my lip a little. I have a laundry list of atheist and wiccan and pagan non-fiction books I'd like to read. I have biographies of people who have escaped from various cults on my list. I have books on science-in-schools that deal with Intelligent Design in a non-conciliatory manner, books on skepticism, books on mysticism, books that criticize mainstream Christianity, books that simply do not adhere to the mainstream Christian bent that I perceive in my surrounding community. And for the longest time I'd let these books sit quietly on my wish list, uncertain what to do with them.

I don't want to get my library in trouble. I don't want a local outcry about the liberal taint that has infected our library and how TAXES are being used to CORRUPT our children. And, I'll be honest, I didn't want my librarian thinking worse of me for being one of those Horrible People who read Horrible Books. I care about her opinion of me, for no real reason except that that's how I was raised. And I seriously considered just buying these books on my own account and moving on with life.

But I was a kid once in this community. I read books at the library that I otherwise would not have been allowed to read: books with dragons on the cover by Patricia C. Wrede that my mother thought were Satanic, books that challenged my mind and broadened my horizons. And e-books are the newest bastion of free thought for children with computer access and library cards: it's easy to borrow and download a book without your parent ever even knowing. You don't need a car, you don't have to worry about returning the book on time. You just... download and read.

How could I tell an atheist child in my community that I wanted to donate an atheist book but I was afraid of being disliked by the librarian? How could I tell a pagan child that I wanted to donate a book on wicca but I was too timid to even ask? In a burst of guilt, I composed my politely worded little list, sent it off in the mail, and started biting my fingernails for a week.

When my librarian wrote me back to tell me what she'd been able to buy, she was amazingly enthusiastic and supportive. For the first time in this whole year of donations, she actually went over my $100 in order to get 6 books on my list and covered the cost difference with library general funds. She told me that all the books she'd gotten -- books on atheism, wicca, paganism, and cult survival -- had proved immediately popular with the library patrons. When I logged onto the system to add my name to the "holds" list, I was shocked to see that every book had a minimum of four holds on them already in the short time they'd been in the system. I added my name to the holds list. In one case, I was the 7th hold on the book.

I don't know why these books have been so immediately popular. Maybe a huge group of angry fundamentalist Christians are reading about Wicca in order to get good and outraged. I hope not, but it's entirely possible. But I think... or at least, I'd like to think that there's actually a big community of pagan and atheist readers in my area whose relative silence I have always mistaken for absence. I want to believe that they exist, that they're part of the library system with me, that I helped in a very small way to fill a niche that wasn't otherwise being filled.

I'm a solitary wiccan, with no desire or need for a face-space community. I'm happy with my internet friends and comfortable in my broom closet. But possibly my comfort with being alone has meant that I've quietly marginalized myself and people like me to the point where I erroneously believe I'm the only non-Christian in my entire state. I've slowly forgotten that though my state is ultimately red in the Conservative/Liberal binary divide, it's really more accurately described as purple: a little bit of each side, mixing together and trying to make the best of it.

I'm writing another monthly check soon for my library, and I'm feeling a tiny bit braver. I want to write out another non-fiction list, another list of books that I'd like to read and that I refuse to be judged over. Maybe some history books that teach the history that our schools so frequently shy away from. Maybe some fat acceptance books that talk about set point theory and why body shaming is unhelpful and discriminatory. Maybe some feminism 101 books that talk about rape culture and consent and yes-means-yes. Maybe a cookbook that is also a Wiccan cookbook. Maybe a lot of things.

I don't know if anyone else wants to read these things besides me, but I do know that I need to stop assuming that they don't. Because when I do that, when I assume that I'm the only one, I end up silencing myself more effectively than the most vocal of my opponents.


Dav said...

That is so cool. I have rafts of those lists - I can only justify the occasional book purchase, and it has to be *awesome* - but there's lots of stuff I'd like to read. I'd worry about my librarian's reaction too, because my stuff is split evenly between "things I think are going to be awesome or edifying" and "things that sound so dreadful that I really want to read them".

As a fundamentalist-ish Christian kid, I read a lot of books from the library that my family wouldn't necessarily approve of, and I totally would have read pagan and wiccan books if they'd been available. Especially if you're part of a dominant culture, it's important to have books that reflect minorities and are *from* minority communities. It's important that the only source of knowledge about "witchcraft" is not just the local Southern Baptist church. (I remember keenly how much less exciting the only book on wicca in our library was than what my pastor's imagination had conjured up.) So even if the books are being checked out by fundamentalists looking for a thrill, the books still serve a healthy purpose.

Kit Whitfield said...

Out of interest, what were the books you recommended? :-)

Majromax said...

She told me that all the books she'd gotten -- books on atheism, wicca, paganism, and cult survival -- had proved immediately popular with the library patrons. When I logged onto the system to add my name to the "holds" list, I was shocked to see that every book had a minimum of four holds on them already in the short time they'd been in the system. I added my name to the holds list. In one case, I was the 7th hold on the book.

For many people in judgemental situations, reading on an otherwise controversial is safest in e-book form. There's no physical evidence lying around that you're seeking "to join some strange Satanic witch-cult didn't we raise you right your father will be so upset about this when he gets home!" Even on the reader itself, the reading could be covered up simply by opening another book.

Also, having it in e-book format is less likely to get the library in trouble, for much the same reason. For someone not actively looking for the book, it's a lot easier to simply not see the available e-book than to miss the Paganism shelf in its entirely.

jill heather said...

Yes, I'd rather like to see your monthly recommended books lists as well.

depizan said...

You're an awesome person. I say that both as a user of libraries and as the employee of one. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

The last list I sent was this:

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent
Church of Lies
Crones Don’t Whine
Good Wives
Holy Writ as Oral Lit
Jesus Freaks
Letter to a Christian Nation
Secret Ceremonies
Seductive Poison
Some Mistakes of Moses
The Origin of Satan
The Wiccan Year
When Religion Becomes Evil
Wicca: the Complete Craft

She picked out 6 of those, but I can't remember WHICH six. I remember that it depended on Overdrive availability, because they have different rules for different libraries. (A rant for another time.)

I'm pretty sure "Church of Lies", "Wicca: the Complete Craft", and "Some Mistakes of Moses" were picked up. I know "FatherMotherGod" wasn't available, because I wanted it really badly. Either "Letter to a Christian Nation" or "When Religion Becomes Evil" were picked up, but for the life of me I can't remember which at the moment.

It's actually kind of ironic that WtCC was available because WtCC (by Conway, iirc) is NOT what I would pick as a Wicca intro, as she's a little, ah, There Is One Right Way To Do Wicca, but I think she was backlashing a bit against the "what 'Charmed' and you're good to go" books.

Joanne said...

This post actually made me a little teary. I was raised in a really strict conservative Christian home. Some of my most vivid memories of childhood are the times I snuck science fiction and fantasy books into the bottom of my backpack to try to get them home from the library without getting in trouble. I remember the heart-in-throat feeling of checking them out, looking over my shoulder to make sure that no one I knew saw me at the library desk with Anne McCaffrey or Arthur C Clarke or any of a hundred other authors I was forbidden to read. I used to check out non Christian music, too, and hide the CDs under my bed until I could listen to them with headphones on after everyone else had gone to bed. Having my own library card made a huge difference in my quality of life, and I can only imagine what its like for kids these days, with their fancy eReaders and such. You're doing good work. On behalf of all the other misfit kids (and adults) out there, thanks.

Ana Mardoll said...

Aw, thank you. I have tremendous respect for library employees. It seems an arduous job.

Ana Mardoll said...

So many hugs. I'm sad that our experiences are wide-spread. :(

depizan said...

Mostly, it's an enjoyable job. I'm a clerk (sometimes known as an assistant), which means I'm a non-degreed employee, at least at this library. It's roughly the same as working in a bookstore, except you want the books to come back.

I'd love to get a library, history, or archivist degree and work in special collections (the local history section), but I lack the money. And I think I'd miss how much I work with the public right now. I kind of need a heavy public service job to keep my ability to deal with people.

hapax said...

Er. Just remembered that not everybody reads Latin.

The above epigram can be translated as "Therefore we go to the library, not just because it contains *many* books, but because they are *carefully chosen*".

Ana Mardoll said...

I can already donate paper books to my library which they may place on the shelf for use or sell for funding. I asked if they had a similar (though not the same, because there is currently no infrastructure for selling titles) infrastructure for donating e-books, and they suggested this system, not I.

I certainly hope that none of the librarians in my area who have so creatively come up with this system think that *I* think they are "outsourc[ing] [their] professional collection development responsibilities", because I do not.

depizan said...

Does that mean your library doesn't accept any donation of materials? I mean, a good portion of materials donated to the library I work at end up in the friends bookstore (and some may end up in recycling, for all I know - that's not my department), because the collection management department doesn't think they belong in the collection. But we do still accept material donations. There's just no guarantee they'll actually end up in the collection.

Ana Mardoll said...

Ah, if you were commenting on your own library policies in general and not expressing an opinion on my personal library in particular, then I did indeed misunderstand. This seems like a very plausible explanation as I have been working (at work-work, not blog-work) since 6 am this morning and will unfortunately not be able to leave work until 10 pm, which (I believe) puts me at 14 hours into a 16 hour shift.

depizan said...

Augh. Please tell me you get overtime or something for that. O_o

Ana Mardoll said...

Technically, I do not, because the company gets the first 5 hours of overtime free. However, my company has a "buy back" policy where overtime can be used to buy back vacation used in the last 10 weeks, and it just so happens I used some vacation in January, so that's getting bought back tonight.

But I would honestly rather be blogging till 10, which is my usual habit. :)

depizan said...

At least you get some extra vacation time, but still. Dratted company.

hapax said...

That sounds awful. You must be exhausted.

I don't mean to pry, and please slap me down if this is too personal a question, but does your workplace make accommodation for physical disabilities?

I get the impression that your position involves mostly desk-work, and I personally couldn't sit in a chair for longer than three hours. But perhaps you are not in a public position, and are free to move about (or lie on the floor, or hang by your toes from the ceiling, or whatever makes you most comfortable)?

Ana Mardoll said...

It's not prying if it gives me a good excuse to whine. :D

Officially, my workplace has very limited accommodations. We're not allowed, for example, to bring in our own desk chairs (slippery slope! where would it end? the engineers would declare anarchy!) which would be a boon to me, because I do nothing but desk work and the chairs at the office leave me aching well before lunch. Fortunately, my boss has pulled a tremendous number of strings to allow me to telecommute two days a week, so I am at home right now.

A very great problem, however, is that there is no position in the house that does not cause a tremendous amount of pain -- my desk chair, our bed, our couch, and our floor are all locked in an OPEC-level conspiracy to give me very uncomfortable muscle spasms. The desk chair and bed are actually fairly expensive in a middle-class American kind of way (the chair is from Staples and the bed is a Sleep Number), so I guess it's time to upgrade the couch and hope for the best.

I'm supposed to have another spinal fusion in September, if I can hang on that long, but there are definitely times when that seems a lifetime away. And now I have to smile because last night I described an ABNA character as causing "empathy saturation" with the suggestion that the author dial it back a little. EMPATHY SATURATION ACHIEVED, ANA, BACK TO WORK.

But I do apologize for my "Zounds! Prithee, but I shall forsooth misunderstand yonder comment, by Mary!" moments. :D

Ana Mardoll said...

It occurs to me, also, that (I think) none of the concerns you described above would be a problem if only they would work out a system to donate/sell e-book licenses. Then one could donate e-books in the same way one donates paper books (instead of donating money), and the library could decide what to keep and what to sell, as most already do with paper books.

I wish they'd work out that system soon. It would be nice to be able to transfer licenses.

hapax said...

You cannot imagine how much I would like the ability to donate /sell e-book licenses.

The shenanigans one has to go through to loan e-books are insane. I haven't the technical knowledge to understand all the details, but it's like DRM cubed -- once by the publisher, once by the vendor (Overdrive or NetLibrary or Recorded Books, others are looking at getting into the business, each with their own incompatible interface) and again by the lending library; and that's not getting into the issues of MP3 or WMA, EPub or Adobe or (ptui ptui) Kindle DRM...

Libraries aren't actually averse to sensible restrictions. When the whole HarperCollins put the limit of "26 checkouts and then it's dead", most librarians I know said "If it had been 100 or 75 or something analogous to actual library retention rates, that would have been understandable." As you may have noticed, we tend to be big supporters of copyright and intellectual property, seeing it as the flip side of intellectual freedom.

But the pearl-clutching Luddite idiocies of the publishers (not just them, it's also the retailers and the distributors and *some* of the authors), plugging their fingers in their ears humming "LA-LA-LA IF WE PRETEND THERE ARE NO EBOOKS THEY WILL GO AWAY"...

... I was trying *so* hard not to start ranting. Sorry.

Ana Mardoll said...

No, no, it's a sore spot for me too.

Overdrive is not at all clear and upfront about certain things, like how they limit your available pool of books based on whether or not you allow out-of-area loans. (Something I'm running into right now, because I may be about to move OUT of my library area. *sob*) The DRM schemes are all a pain, and that 26 lend restriction is ridiculous. 75-100 would have been far more reasonable, but even then I have books in my home that are pristine after 20+ years of handling.

And it's hard for indie authors! Do you know, I cannot find a way for an indie author to get on Overdrive?? I'd love to put my book on there for free to libraries, but no soup for me it would seem. My last hope is some place called iPG that Overdrive recommended to me, but I'm not optimistic. It's so ridiculous, and it infuriates me as a software engineer because THIS IS NOT HARD. It's not. It shouldn't be.

Er. Um. Rant-besties?

Lovelies, I'm DONE WITH MY WORK (against all odds) and I am GOING TO BED. Sweet dreams, all. :)

hapax said...

I'd watch out for IPG. They're currently in a pissing contest with Amazon:


This will not end prettily.

Sleep well.

depizan said...

Overdrive also won't allow libraries to allow downloading from Overdrive in the library. Unless you buy their ridiculous download stations. Once again, a business operates with no wisdom at all.

depizan said...

Wow! I'm impressed with your Friends. That sounds amazing.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'd heard about that, though I didn't realize that that IPG was this IPG. *sigh* I'm really not a fan of Amazon business practices right now.

Ana Mardoll said...

I didn't know they offered expensive download stations! I always wondered why my libraries have a "no downloading at the library, sorry!" notice on the webpage.

MaryKaye said...

When I checked out _Eight Sabbats for Witches_ from my downtown library, they were happy to lend it to me, but had to get it from a locked shelf--not because they disapproved or wanted to restrict access, but because books on that topic, they told me, kept getting stolen. Not checked out and lost but stolen from the shelves. They suspected that this was done by people who disapproved, not by pagans wanting the books for their collections, but had no proof either way.

Ebooks are at least a lot harder to steal. I like what you're doing here a lot.

hapax said...

In addition to our library network, we have a *separate* public wireless network (our Foundation obratined it on a grant) that people can use to access the internet on their laptops and other devices, and yes, download from Overdrive. (The only thing they can't do directly from that network is print.)

So there *are* work-arounds, if expensive ones.

(The staff all bring in their laptops and do most of our work off that same public network, because the City puts so many ridiculous blocks and exclusions on the official library one (we can't even access Amazon or imdb!) that it's effectively useless.

Silver Adept said...

I see that hapax and depizan have covered much of the ground that I would be covering, as well. We also accept donations (99.99% to the Friends sale, because the logistics are actually quite expensive for our system), and our Foundation takes care of the monetary donations - and from what I understand, they greatly prefer unrestricted giving because of the reasons hapax mentions above.

Also, I think that you also gave those librarians an excuse to stock material that might be off the beaten path for the area around you - in making suggestions and recommendations, they can now say "People in this community wanted this material available", no matter how blue in the face the local fire-and-brimstone club gets over the matter.

You could have potentially done all this without the donations and the librarians would thank you for the input and then see what the budget would allow - we like input, and we turn it all over to our selectors, who have their fingers on the pulse of popularity and quality all the same. Not everyone gets what they want, but enough people asking for the same category and some of it might start turning up.

Related to this, Random House just tripled their e-book prices to libraries, so that $100 might not go so very far if RH or an RH imprint is publishing the suggested selections. (It's a mess in e-book land, mostly because the publishers want us to treat their e-content as needing a EULA rather than being governed by fair use.

hapax said...

Does that mean your library doesn't accept any donation of materials?

We accept LOTS of donated materials. We have a very generous community. Our paperback collection is probably four-fifths donations. I spend up to ten hours a week dealing with donations -- and I would say that nine-tenths of them do not get added to the Library collection.

We NEVER accept any donation without saying, in precisely these words, "We are grateful that you have thought of the XX Library! We are happy to accept any and all donations, with the understanding that materials that do not fit our collection policy will not be added to the collection, and may be discarded or sold at the bookstore run by our Friends, all profits coming back to support the Library's mission. Is that okay with you?"

Almost always it's okay. Sometimes it isn't. At least there are never any misunderstandings.

(I would also note that both our Friends and our Foundation are made of awesome. The former runs the largest bookstore in town -- with a better selection and more revenues than the local chain bookstores -- all from donated materials. They fund our electronic databases, furnishings, programs, half of the latest building renovation... I don't know how we'd function without them. They are a well-known and popular group in the City, so most people are familiar with and happy to have their donations go there.)

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