Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Review: Free For All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas at the Public Library by Don Borchert

In sorting out my books read for 2009, I realized that I didn't ever write a review for Free for All by Don Borchert. This was absolutely one of my favorite non-fiction reads of the year, and one that I highly recommend to anyone who works in any public or customer service work. There just seems to be something about working with people, that you run across bizarre behaviors, interesting anecdotes, and inspiring lives. As a school teacher, I tore through this book because in a way, the stories told in this book reminded me of my own job.

Synopsis: Told in chapters that introduce the way he got into working in the library system, experiences he's had with patrons, and the inner workings among library employees, this non-fiction reads more like fiction. Borchert shares stories of people hired, in one part because they look mild mannered and fulfill a quota for diversity, that later blindside everyone with their bizarre behavior. He shares the difficulty for librarians of being seen as the after school babysitter by many parents, who drop their kids off for hours at a time. He also shares more about the interesting patrons he has run across over the years.

Review: I don't know how I can really express how much I enjoyed this book. So many things that Borchert said reminded me of my own frustrations and feelings as a high school teacher. Some of the bizarre things he has encountered, I have encountered. Some of the insanity in dealing with people who try to work the system (as if there is much to work in a library), I have felt and seen in my own work. It was just an interesting comparison, and reminded me once again, that anyone working in any sort of public service, will encounter people of all sorts. There can be highs and lows, but you are always guaranteed a certain amount of madness! In short, I loved reading about the many antics and people Borchert has experienced over the years. While some reviews I've read have really hammered the author for his supposed "negativity" about his work, I honestly could see that he simply was sharing not just the daily routine of a librarian, but the things they experience that you might not believe had he not shared them. I guarantee, I could sit down and write down the experiences I've had in the classroom, that would fill a book! Sometimes you don't believe them, but can look back and laugh at the absurdity, and yet joy that all of them as a whole have brought to your life. As one who can relate to his line of work, although different, I really enjoyed (and laughed throughout) Borchert's experiences shared in Free for All and would recommend it to anyone interested in the "behind the scenes" of a librarian's work.

In closing for this review. I was struck by how upset some readers were over this book. Although sarcastic, and points out some of the truly bizarre moments of his job, I didn't feel that sharing a laugh over them was especially derogatory. As teachers, we often share our highs and lows with one another, laughing over the absurdities and frustrations of our own work. We try not to take them outside of work though, because these frustrations can be misconstrued as a negative attitude. I'm curious though. Why is it that we frown on people complaining about their work? Are we afraid that one complaint will lead to an overall bad attitude in general? I'm just wondering. Maybe, in the end, I appreciated Borchert's courage in being a bit snarky about his own work?

For more information, see: Free For All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library.

*Review based off of a library appropriate.*


  1. I read this one a few years back and absolutely could not get into it at all.

    I am glad that you enjoyed it though. Thanks for the review.

  2. Oh, man. I really need to get this book. The name is enough to suck me in and the fact that it's about libraries seals the deal.

  3. He should try working at a state park. Like holy cow.

    I don't think poking fun at certain aspects of our jobs is being negative; I think it keeps people sane! And anyone who doesn't like people complaining about their job is a Nazi. Sorry, I calls em how sees em.

  4. I appreciate your kind words. Now when something happens and I am leading a group of angry, loud sixth graders to the front door, one of the librarians will smile and say: something for the sequel, eh?


  5. I think people are only critical of people pointing out the negatives of their job if it's a job they feel that people SHOULD enjoy because they're helping people or serving the public. For example, I don't think people would complain if someone was negative about his/her job working for Goldman Sachs. :D

  6. Goodness I'm glad you reviewed this one or I might never have heard of sounds like it's a must read for library patrons, lol!

  7. Since I work with the public, I'm really going to have to remember this book and read it!