Title of Presentation

Rare Books in Detective Fiction: Information as Object

Date of Presentation


Name of Conference

American Culture Association/Popular Culture Association Annual Meeting

Date of Conference


Location of Conference

Chicago, IL

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Lydia M. Olson Library


Library mysteries written since 1970 often depict intrigue surrounding the theft or threatened theft of rare books. Charles Goodrum, a director of the Library of Congress, once wrote that when he decided to write a mystery novel set in a library, he spent an evening coming up with ideas for such a novel. He said that he came up with dozens, but settled on a plot about rare book theft because he thought it would be more accessible to general readers. Many other mystery writers have made the same decision. Although these mysteries are often considered library mysteries and frequently depict librarians (sometimes as detectives), library information is seldom used to solve the mystery. While library resources are shown to have monetary value, in terms of the rare book, they are shown to have little or no value in terms of the usefulness of the information contained within them. Occasionally, library resources are shown to have value as sources to be plagiarized or sources for blackmail. But even then, library information is valued only in terms of how much money or prestige might be gained from them, not for the value of information for service to the community. These abuses of library resources are similar to the theft of the rare book, in that they commoditize and objectify information. These portrayals of library information devalue both the library and librarians, who seem to be the caretakers of objects rather than professionals assisting patrons with information needs.

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