by Stacey Embry,
Director,
Morgan County Library
At the Missouri Public Library Directors meeting, during a discussion about HR, specifically firing or disciplining employees, the lawyer for St. Louis County Public Library mentioned empathy. He actually implied that, as librarians, we are an empathetic lot and that is not always the best attribute when issues of discipline arise. Not where you thought I was going, right? Listening to the St. Louis director mention issues with employees and her use of the adjective “lovely” to describe the individuals she had to discipline, not in a sarcastic way, it was obvious that although she was better at discipline than she was originally, her empathy was still strong.
I have mentioned empathy before or at least have made reference to getting softer in my old age, I am not referring to my physical or emotional state, just my heart. I love that each day my compassion for others deepens. After a discussion I overheard in the library yesterday, I started to wonder why this is my path and not the path of others my age. Then I remembered that lawyer; I work in a field of empathic people. Guess what, 16 years in education, that will make you empathic, too. If not, then maybe you should not be teaching. But is it only my occupation, or something else?
Now to the conversation overheard that led to my ramblings for the week. Some books were referred to as not being appropriate for their children to read. I am not even going to give you the exact title, no fuel for a fire that does not exist. These parents read the books their children read. I did this with the Mark Twain nominees when my children were little, but not for the same reason. I enjoyed the Mark Twain’s because they were great books, these parents read to be aware of what their children are exposed to.
My parents never pre-read any book I picked, nor did they restrict what I read. When I was in high school, there were no young adult books. I read Robert Ludlum for my book reports.
At our library, we are not the parents. We cannot tell a child what to read or not read. In our youth section, we have noted what qualifies a book as YA or JF (Juvenile Fiction) by age suggestions from the publishers; suggested ages, not enforced by the library police. There are no library police and we are not the parent. The parents I overheard have every right to do what they are doing. I do not have an issue with their choices, but it did make me wonder what impact YA books would have had on my development.
YA holds my favorite selection of books. It contains the most unique voice in the library. These books deal with the struggles of growing up and refer often to social issues that adult books do not. I have mentioned before that the types of books we read may affect how we relate to others. Fiction, in particular, can improve empathy. I am not making this up. “Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.” Seriously, Google it. There are multiple references.
So, has my compassion for others developed from the occupations I have had or from the books I read? Does it seem to be growing exponentially because of my YA addiction, from raising two great kids, from having wonderful friends who love in a different way than I do, or from age and the reality of my mortality?
All I know is, I can only regret that YA literature wasn’t around to help my growth happen sooner.
Back to my pondering, what happens when we do not let our children read books about people who are not like them? How do we learn to understand others, especially if we think these people are not in our community (granted I think they probably are)? Do not misunderstand what I am saying, parents you can do what you want. My concern, in my empathy filled body, is that even our adults are refusing to understand others. If a book has an “ethnic” author, it struggles to circulate. If a movie has people who others think are not a part of our community, it struggles to circulate, which is weird because, last I checked, Superman has not made an appearance in Morgan County.
I am not perfectly empathetic; I still say awful things about people who drive the wrong way in the Walmart parking lot. So, what do I want? I want those parents to read the books, even if they don’t want their kids to. I want my patrons to read the books written from a different cultural perspective than they know. I want you to pick a movie that broadens your view of the world and I guess I want someone to write a really great book about those people who cannot read the large arrows in the Walmart parking lot.
For more information, visit the Morgan County Library, 600 N. Hunter, in Versailles; call 573-378-5319; or see the library’s website at morgancountylibrary.org. Library hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

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