“A reader?” she said with surprise. “In here?”
“So it seems. How far away?”
She flipped the device open and stared at the flickering needle blankly. […] “We’re clear. The reader is…er, two paragraphs ahead of us.”
“Are you sure?”
“She looked at the instrument again. It was a Narrative Proximity Device, designed to ensure that our intrafictional perambulations couldn’t be seen by readers in the Outland. One of the odd things about the BookWorld was that when characters weren’t being read, they generally relaxed and talked, rehearsed, drank coffee, […]. But as soon as a reading loomed, they all leaped into place and did their thing. They could sense the reading approaching out of long experience, but we couldn’t – hence the Narrative Proximity Device. Being caught up in a reading wasn’t particularly desirable for a Jurisfiction agent, as it generally caused a certain degree of confusion in the reader.”
(Jasper Fforde, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels)
In Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels, Jurisfiction agents guarantee the smoothness and integrity of plots.
While not beeing read, the characters in the book are free to do whatever they want. But as soon as a reader approaches, they are back on duty and act as they are supposed to do. Unless something happens. That’s when the Jurisfiction agents come into play.
Thursday Next is one of these agents. But she is special (in many ways). Most importantly, she is special because she isn’t a fictional character but from the Outland, i.e. the real world. In the Outland, she works for the governmental Specialist Operations (SpecOps) as a Literary Detective (LiteraTec). As such, it is her job to take care of irregularities with the book production, and all sorts of “outlandish” literary problems.
While reading those lines of Fforde’s novel, I was wondering whether this could be an alternate approach to librarianship?
It is universally acknowledged (in library land) that a library without a librarian isn’t a library. You can take away all the books, unsubscribe all electronic media, set up a maker space, whatever, as long as there’s a librarian, this is considered a library.
A librarian’s job is, after all, to build communities, to support his patrons, isn’t it?
But what if…?
What if that’s not what library users actually do want? What if librarians (should) act as LibraTecs, work unseen (like Batman, you know) to guarantee the integrity of information and the smoothness of the learning/working experience without disturbing the interaction between reader and author?
After all, librarians are no social workers. Librarians are no educators. Librarians are no Kindergarten teachers. By fishing in their ponds, librarians acutally devalue their work. When “only a librarian can do a librarian’s job,” we should accept this claim for others as well. And do what librarians are expected to do: remove all barriers between the book and its reader.
This can mean, most of the time, to make readers forget that there are actual librarians working in the background to facilitate this experience. Just like a LibraTec.