Library Journal Talks to the Author Don Bochert

Source: LJExpress,, October 30, 2007.

By Norman Oder — Library Journal, 11/1/2007 Don Borchert, a library assistant 1 and 12-year employee of the Torrance Public Library, CA, has written a memoir of his library life, Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library, coming November 13 from Virgin Books. LJ’s Norman Oder asked how it came about.

DB: I’ve been writing since I was 16. I started out writing bad science fiction. I’ve written a couple of other books that didn’t get close to being published. [I thought] ‘I know the library.’ I’m not a professional, but I had all these anecdotes that I thought were kind of neat. Every night before I went to bed I’d sit and write a chapter. Some are anecdotes about people that come into the library, some are the events that occur, and other chapters are the bureaucratic goings on. I figured that wouldn’t see the light of day either but at least it was fun to write.

LJ: So how did you get published?

DB: I was about three-quarters of the way through and I started looking for an agent. You have to send in sample chapters and a book proposal-I should’ve gotten a master’s just for that. I sent it to hundreds. [Agent Randi Murray ultimately embraced it.]

LJ: How’d you come up with the title?

DB: I was originally was going to call it Ten Years, Good Behavior, because that’s how you get along in civil service. The publisher said that sounds like a minimum security prison. My daughter, who graduated from UCLA in library science, thought up, A Librarian Raises His Voice. The publisher recommended some ideas, but my daughter came up with the title, which has a double meaning.

LJ: In the UK, it’s called Library Confidential.

DB: If you see the cover in the UK, it’s a cool noir-ish thing. I think both are great. I’m living out a fantasy I’ve had since I was 16.

LJ: Your title is Library Assistant 1. Is that how you describe yourself?

DB: I just say, “I work in the library.” When they say, “Are you a librarian,” I say, “Not really.”

LJ: What do you do?

DB: My job has changed so much over the past dozen years. I’ve done all the jobs in the library, I’ve had temporary move-ups: I’ve reviewed books, processed books, mended books, worked at the circulation desk, done reference.

LJ: The next step up is Library Assistant 2. Have you tried for a promotion?

DB: I’ve taken several promotional exams. They’ll sometimes offer me a job and I’ll say no, and I’m off the list. Presently, I’m number one on the list, and I have declined all the positions I’ve been offered, because the library I’m at is where I started, and it’s like home. It’s the craziest because it’s down the street from a junior high and down the street from a high school. A lot of librarians in my branch and system don’t have kids, and I do. When the after-school rush comes in, we’ll have over a hundred kids, I never try to relate to them as peers.

LJ: You’re the authority figure.

DB: I’m not the senior [librarian], or below that person, but because I have kids, I don’t ask, “Please be quiet.” I say, “If you want to be crazy, take it outside.”

LJ: In April you wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about dealing with latchkey children, prompted by a crisis at the Maplewood Memorial Library in New Jersey.

DB: About six months ago, my agent got a call from the Times, wanting to know if I’d write an article. I said, “What makes you think I’m an expert?” They said, “You’re writing a book.”

LJ: What do your co-workers and bosses think of the book?

DB: Teresa, or Terri in the book, is one of my biggest supporters. The administration and my supervisors were at first a little on edge. They weren’t sure: How many ways can this turn out well? Three or four weeks ago, I gave out several copies of the galleys. They realize I haven’t burned down my career.

LJ: Have you read “Dispatches from a Public Librarian,” Scott Douglas’s pieces on McSweeneys that also will become a book?

DB: I’m not familiar with him. I’ve gone into several library blogs and they seem awfully dry. You will never convince someone to go to library school by reading these blogs.

LJ: But you say in the book you’re done with higher education and wouldn’t go to library school, even though your colleagues encouraged you.

DB: I went to Ohio State long ago. I started out as journalism major and, during the late 1960s, I was thrown out of the school of journalism for, I guess, revolution. I was a double English major. I just wanted to do something with writing and reading.
[Borchert worked in publications for a number of firms and also had a more knockaround career as short-order cook, door-to-door saleman and telemarketer.]

LJ: How come your daughter went to library school?

DB: I’d like to say it was because of me, but she hasn’t said that. She graduated from UC Irvine in Fine Arts. She just let us know she wanted to be a librarian. I’m flattered but I can’t imagine it was because of me.

LJ: Are you a member of the American Library Association?

DB: No.

LJ: So what’s your advice for prospective librarians and library workers?

DB: The library is not going to be the library it is five years ago. Young people with enthusiasm should be encouraged-they have more ideas, they’re more apt to try crazy things than older librarians. If you’re enthusiastic at all, it’s a wonderful thing to get into.

Posting Submitted by Philip Y. Blue, Senior Law Librarian, New York Supreme Court Criminal Term Library.

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