Friday, December 2, 2011

Case Study No. 0098: Scott Douglas

KDOC Scott Douglas Interview
Interview with "Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian" author Scott Douglas. From KDOC. Originally aired 4/15/08
Tags: scott douglas quiet please dispatches from public librarian
Added: 3 years ago
From: Roboscott
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["Daybreak OC, 6:19 AM" is in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, as two newscasters are addressing the camera]
SHALLY ZOMORODI: Okay, I remember when I used to go to libraries and get in trouble all the time--
PETE WEITZNER: Because you talked?
SHALLY ZOMORODI: "Shh!" That's all I got! "Quiet please!"
PETE WEITZNER: I'm not shocked ...
PETE WEITZNER: A local librarian is on the cover of the OC Register this morning.
SHALLY ZOMORODI: He's the subject of "The Morning Read," and he knows a thing or two about reading. Scott Douglas has been a librarian at the Anaheim Library for ten years, and now he's gone from reading books to writing his own!
[Pete holds up the book]
PETE WEITZNER: There it is ... That's right, it's called "Quiet Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian." Couple weeks out on the market.
SHALLY ZOMORODI: Scott joins us this morning ... yeah, to talk about how he got to be a librarian and what his book is all about. Scott, thanks so much for coming in to talk about your book!
[camera pans over to show Scott sitting next to them]
SCOTT DOUGLAS: Thanks for having me.
PETE WEITZNER: You wrote a book, quite an accomplishment.
PETE WEITZNER: Uh, what started ... I mean, you make all these observations, you meet all these people, gonna talk about some of the people, characters, but that's quite another step to then put the pen to the paper, right? And put a whole book together.
PETE WEITZNER: How do you get that impetus to do that?
SCOTT DOUGLAS: Well, I've been telling about libraries on mcsweenys dot net, it's a website that's a supplement to McSweenys Magazine, for about five years. And I just got to the point where I had so many stories to tell, that I decided to put it down on, in a longer format and tell a longer story with it.
PETE WEITZNER: Well, that's terrific.
SHALLY ZOMORODI: I'm just imagining, over ten years--
SHALLY ZOMORODI: The stories that you probably know!
SHALLY ZOMORODI: One of those stories, uh, the weirdest stories that you have in your book has to do with a man on the bathroom floor?
SCOTT DOUGLAS: Yeah, that's actually probably one of my most memorable patrons--
SHALLY ZOMORODI: What was that about?
SCOTT DOUGLAS: I honestly, I don't know ... He was just--
[they both laugh]
SCOTT DOUGLAS: I would've loved to, actually I don't think I would like to know. He was just sleeping on the bathroom floor, I guess he found the tile floor to be cool over the summer, and he was asleep next to the toilet.
PETE WEITZNER: So he just, uh, the library just will abide by that and let him, he's comfortable, he's not bothering anybody?
SCOTT DOUGLAS: I actually did have to move him when I found out he was there, but ...
PETE WEITZNER: Other, I mean, it's an observational memoir, a fair way to describe this book?
PETE WEITZNER: So other observations, other characters in the ten years so far ... Are you still at the library, by the way?
SCOTT DOUGLAS: I'm still at the library, yeah.
PETE WEITZNER: Other characters?
SCOTT DOUGLAS: Oh, there's so many of them.
[they both laugh]
SCOTT DOUGLAS: I, honestly the bathroom ones are the most memorable.
SCOTT DOUGLAS: There's been so many things that happen in the bathroom.
SHALLY ZOMORODI: Wait, you just said bathroom "ones"?
SHALLY ZOMORODI: So that means that there's multiple, uh, stories in the bathroom!
SCOTT DOUGLAS: There's several of them ... There's, there's quite a few in the bathroom, and there's always so uncalled for. It's, the things that happen in the bathroom. There's people that go in there to cut their hair, and to brush your teeth and get ready in the morning, like it's their house bathroom.
PETE WEITZNER: You're a first time author, and this isn't maybe, y'know, the topic or the story or something that would jump off the page to a publisher, but you found a way to get your book published. Was that difficult?
SCOTT DOUGLAS: Actually, it wasn't too bad. I found an agent pretty quick, and she helped me sell the book to my publisher.
PETE WEITZNER: Okay, it's out for several weeks. We were talking earlier--
PETE WEITZNER: A natural concern these days for libraries in general, because, y'know, obviously people can, y'know, do a lot of their reading on computer. And what have you found over in Anaheim, and what is your outlook for the industry?
SCOTT DOUGLAS: Computers have definitely changed the library, and that's one thing I talk about in the book, but ... y'know, libraries are still gonna be there. They're still gonna be a gateway to information, it's just changed how people get their information. Instead of getting it in books, they're getting it more in computers.
SHALLY ZOMORODI: So, you watch a movie, we talk about all the time ... there's certain stereotypes that go, that come along with being a librarian. Are those stereotypes true, in your opinion?
SCOTT DOUGLAS: Well, there's truths to every stereotype, but ... it, it's changing. There's a lot more with younger librarians coming in, and I think they're changing the way people see libraries.
PETE WEITZNER: And this is very much a career you can, through Master's--
PETE WEITZNER: Are you, for instance, Master's Degrees, right, in Library Science?
SCOTT DOUGLAS: Yeah, I got my Master's in Library Science.
PETE WEITZNER: Well, fantastic. We wish you the very best of luck.
PETE WEITZNER: Scott Douglas is the author, it's called "Quiet Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian." I'm sure Amazon, and the usual. Barnes and Noble.
PETE WEITZNER: Places to get it. So thank you very much for coming in, Scott Douglas.
SCOTT DOUGLAS: Thank you for having me.
SHALLY ZOMORODI: Yeah, and thanks for being here! You can also check out "The Morning Read," again, if you wanna read more about it on the front page of the Orange County Register this morning. The article's done, I believe, it's by Peter Larson. Or you can also log onto ocregister dot com.
PETE WEITZNER: Right. We should mention, subtitled "Strange Things People Do in a Bathroom" ... no.
PETE WEITZNER: Pleasure to meet you.



Day after day, Scott Douglas was watching you.

You, the teenage boy sneaking peeks at porn on the library computer.

You, the poor family living in a motel, entering reading contests to earn free In-N-Out meals.

You, the cranky, paranoid, obsequious, lazy, stoned – take your pick – co-worker.

Douglas saw quite the show at the Anaheim Public Library on most days, it would seem.

But Douglas wasn't just watching from behind his computer at the reference desk or the counter where he checked out books for library patrons. Because if all he'd done was watch, well, you wouldn't be reading this story about him.

Instead, Douglas started to write it down, capturing all the weirdness and strange characters he encountered as he slouched through his twenties, accidently moving up the library ranks, wondering all the while whether he really wanted this or any career.

Writing it down is one thing, though. Finding a place to publish it – and discovering whether anyone would want to read it – is another thing all together.

"Library page is the lowest place you can be on the library totem pole. Besides putting books back on the shelf, the library page is also responsible for doing the jobs that nobody else feels like doing, which include, but are not limited to, cleaning up vomit, washing the windows, scraping gum off the tables, moving furniture ... Being a library page also means you are stupid until you can prove otherwise." - Scott Douglas

As Scott Douglas La Counte grew up in Anaheim, books and the public library were a constant in his life.

"My mother let us read whatever we wanted," he says, his soft voice perfectly suited for the workplace he inhabits. "She let us read Mad magazine and comic books. She didn't care what were reading, as long as we were reading."

He and his brother were regulars at the Sunkist branch library near their home, going there for story time when they were little, later to borrow books or research school projects. Even then, he was ever watchful, ever cautious.

"When I think back, I always think intimidating things – the librarian telling us to be quiet," he says. "There was always the sense of looking over your shoulder to see if the librarian was coming."

Around the same time he stopped visiting the library so much – junior high school – he started writing.

His first effort – a few chapters of a novel about punk terrorists taking over an airplane – was quickly set aside. But as a high school junior, laid up after back surgery, he completed another book, a coming-of-age story about a basketball player.

"It was kind of a crappy book, looking back," he says.

After two years at Fullerton College, he transferred to California State University, Fullerton, working toward a literature degree. Looking at the classifieds one day – his eye drawn there by the art with an ad seeking strippers – another listing caught his eye.

"DO YOU LIKE BOOKS?" it inquired. Sure I do, he thought, and answered the ad.

"I needed a job," Douglas says. "And it was like the job I had always wanted, to work at the library. I like quiet places and books – it was just everything I enjoy."

As a library page, he came into the job at the bottom shelf of the profession – shelving books, washing windows, cleaning up all manner of nose-wrinkling messes.

He loved it as a job, though the career it led him into he remained ambivalent about for years to come.

"If I didn't make the money I do as a librarian, I'd go back to it in a flash," Douglas says. "I like the busy work and being the low man on the totem pole and being told what to do. It gives you time to think."

Time to think about things like why are all the patrons AND my coworkers seemingly nuts?

"You realize it pretty quick," Douglas says of the strange world he had just joined.

"As a page, you're not really part of it," he says. "You see these people yelling at librarians, but you're just shelving books. It's not so much you think (librarians) are weird, until you think back on some of the things they did."

He'd started writing freelance pieces – young adult book reviews and articles on pop culture for Christian magazines – but eventually, after earning his master's in library science, started to write about the people he saw around him.

He started sending to McSweeney's – the online literary and humor magazine ( – "weird lists about libraries and none of them were ever published," Douglas says. "But the editor wrote back and said, 'Why don't you write a few dispatches (from a public library) and we'll look at them."

The first one appeared in December 2003, and over the next five years 27 more would follow. John Warner, editor of McSweeney's Internet Tendency – – says the stories clicked with him from the start.

"It just seemed like the kind of job where people take that person for granted, and yet all day they must be seeing interesting or unusual things," Warner says. "So I just kind of encouraged him to write about what he saw."

At the library, Douglas – he dropped La Counte from his name for the McSweeney's pieces – says that while he worried a little at first how other librarians would react, no one who saw them every said anything critical about them.

"I remember once I got an e-mail, saying, 'Hey, look at this, "Librarian pickup lines,"' he says. "And I thought, 'This looks familiar.' And it took me a few seconds before I realized I'd written all of them."

The dispatches were rewarding to get published, but they paid nothing and the audience was limited to Web site visitors. So two or three years ago, he decided to write a book.

"I became a librarian in some ways because that's just the path I was on at the time. I don't think anyone ever really knows what they'll be when they're grown up ... We stay with it not because it's what we always wanted to do but because we are happy. In the end, we all just want to be happy at what we do."

The McSweeney's pieces caught the attention of book agents, Douglas says, and within a matter of months, he'd signed with an agent, who in turn sold the book to a publisher a year ago.

"I thought the material I was reading was hilarious," says Andrea Somberg, his agent, of her reaction to the packet Douglas mailed her. "I thought he had a great eye for the absurd."

"Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian" (Da Capo, $25.00) came out this week – National Library Week.

It's a mostly accurate memoir, Douglas acknowledges in the book and in interviews. Some characters are composites, some events are exaggerated for effect, but the stories all happened.

And while at times it feels like the author can't stand any of the people around him – or his chosen career – by its finish, you see that he does care deeply for many of those he sends up or tears down.

He says he plans to write more – though he's not sure what comes next – but regardless, you can find him at the library.

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