We all have a good time with the Sheikhs and what not but I thought I’d get Serious Business for a moment. I spend QUITE a bit of time thinking about how to present this collection, of Desert Romances and Thrillers, both to the general public and the researchers for whom it was developed for. I am torn between explaining exactly why they are being collected and making a judgement on the books, which goes against The Librarian Code. Often time, discussion of this collection leads to condemnation of Romance as a Genre which peeves me of, both as a librarian and someone who reads in the genre herself.
Originally this was called the Orientalist Literature collection but the name was changed for two reasons. A lot of people don’t know what “Orientalist” means and I would be making a judgement upon the books and possibly those who read them (librarian code). If we want to get real, that IS why I have developed the collection. They have stereotypes about Arabs, particularly Arab masculinity, in them. Which is a goldmine for people doing research on the subjects.
Those doing this particular research GET IT, they understand why these books are in the library because they’re collecting them as well. These are not the people I am worried about. The person I am worried about is Joe Public who sees these books in the museum library & thinks because we’re a museum we are endorsing their content. How do I explain very quickly that these books have some stereotypes in them without making it sound like he would be a bad person for reading them? I am also worried about people who are aware of Orientalist Tropes who see the books and think that I am just clueless or worse, promoting stereotypes because I think they are true. I feel obligated to bring people over to the area myself and give them a rundown of the collection, just to show them that it was collected with a particular research goal in mind & that I’m not clueless about Orientalist Tropes.
At the end of the day, these books and others like them belong in the library. They are valuable research resources on the subject of Arabs in America, which is the mission of our library and of the museum in general. While I feel it is against my principles as a Librarian to judge the material while it is on the shelf, I need to think of a way to properly convey the intention of the collection to all that see it. We changed the name of the collection from “Orientalist Literature” to “Arab Representations in Popular Fiction” and I created a sign that explained the collection thusly:
What does mainstream fiction with Arab main characters tell us about our society? What kind of messages about Arab culture do they hold? How are the Arab characters presented and what does it mean? This collection focuses on these works and the scholarly work being done about them for the purposes of researching these questions.
Vague enough so I’m not saying whether the books are “Good” or “Bad” but explaining why they exist. What do you think? Yes? No? Should I just come out with it and use the O word?