80s TEEN NOVEL : "Probably Still Nick Swansen"

Probably Still Nick Swansen by Virginia Euwer Wolff
     One of my English teacher friends asked if I wanted about three bins full of old books, and I said yes. There's no library funding, so I'm big on donations. Whatever we can't use for our library I take to a used book store to trade in for store credit, which I use to get things we CAN use.
     As I was going through all the old books, I found this little paperback gem from 1988. The cover illustration struck me as pathetic, along with the tagline, "What's wrong with being Nick Swansen?"
     If you have to ask...
     Then I flipped it over and read the synopsis on the back:

Nick has a problem. No, problems.
Nick is 16. He is still trying to learn how to drive. He's an expert on some things, not so good at others. He's haunted by the memory of his sister who drowned nine years ago. Nick is a "Special Ed" kid.

He's been teased about it. But that doesn't stop him from asking Shana, a former special ed classmate, to the Prom. That, Nick thinks, will be really special.

But things don't always go the way you plan.

Suddenly Nick wishes he was anybody but who he is... anybody but Nick Swansen.

     Oh, dear. Poor Nick Swansen in his awkward tuxedo, waiting for his "special" date. And what's up with that seemingly random brick of tragedy tossed in, about Nick's dead drowned sister? Like Nick's struggles aren't enough "teen issues" for one book without a haunting accidental death from the past? Virginia Euwer Wolff, you are one hard and unflinching writer.
     There's even a nice little insulting "Author's Note" at the beginning of the book, which reads:

This book contains some incorrect grammar and punctuation in order to tell Nick Swansen's story in language that is consistent with his.

     Wow, Virginia Euwer Wolff, I'm not sure who's more insulted by that, poor Nick Swansen, or the reader.


          I received a Facebook message from a former student asking me for help on a presentation for one of her college classes. The subject was "School Question." The message read:

Hey Tommy! I have to do a short presentation on the future of public libraries for one of my classes on Wednesday. I wanted to just ask you what you thought about the current library situation (for example: cutting back on days, not providing as many books, etc) and what direction they will be going. Also, your views on the same situation but for school libraries.

The deformed narwal's inability to turn the book's pages,
due to its lack of appendages, represents... um...
the library's inability to provide adequate service due to
lack of funding & staffing.
          I wrote her back right away, typing furiously because of course it's something I really care about. I told her I think it's a shame that libraries are so under-valued. It doesn't matter how many books we check out, how busy we are, what an awesome program we have going, none of that seems to translate into funding. I know things are pretty much the same for public libraries, too.
          Julie and I were just talking about how neither of us (she's a public library Director) have an actual book budget, and have to depend on donations and grants, and any other "special funding" we can drum up to buy new books. Every year we have to get craftier and craftier. It's not like there aren't many new books being published! The Young Adult market is exploding all over the place. How are we supposed to keep up?
          We almost had some Librarian positions cut this year, but an old dude retired, so the district just left that position open, and didn't lay anybody off. But that means the Librarian I work with will now have THREE schools to bounce back-and-forth between, instead of just two. I'm by myself two to three days a week as it is.
          Oh, and even though they keep cutting library staffing and funding, they still expect the same level of service, and the same quality and quantity of materials. It's very frustrating.
          I know we're a vital part of the school. There are even times every week when we have to put out the "library full" sign. The most we can handle at one time is 40 students. (We have the smallest library in the whole school district)
          Tomorrow is Back To School night, and I've been asked to keep the library open for it. I guess I'll put a big box on the counter that says, "HELP! Please donate!" and beg for money all night. Maybe I should wear rags, and smear some coal on my face.
          As far as what direction I think libraries are GOING...
          I fear it will be more of the same over the next couple of years, if not worse.
          Maybe the problem is that we library workers are too solitary and too meek. Especially solitary in the public school system, since we're literally by ourselves most of the time, and others have little or no idea how much we actually do. And many library workers tend to be quiet and uncomplaining. Do we need to complain more? Do we need to continually march up to the office and loudly gripe about how many kids were in the library that morning, and how the phone kept ringing, and all our "other related duties" (lost-and-found, lockers, computers, copier, etc)?  Sometimes I get a little sick of hearing the 3 main office ladies bitch about how so-and-so doesn't want to help out on the phones, or so-and-so isn't good about taking her break on time, or whatever.  There's THREE of them up there, and ONE of me in here.
          It's like how the Republicans usually get their way because lots of them are louder and meaner than most Democrats.
          I have allowed myself to go on a bit of a tirade here, I guess.  I did not write all this in response to that former student's question, I swear!