Borchert, Don 1949(?)-

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Borchert, Don 1949(?)-


Born c. 1949, in Cleveland, OH; married; children: three daughters. Education: Attended Ohio State University.


Home—Lomita, CA.


Librarian and writer. Torrance Public Library, Torrance, CA, assistant librarian, c. 1995—; also worked as an assistant librarian at the South Bay Public Library System. Previously worked odd jobs, including record store clerk, short-order cook, door-to-door salesman, Christmas tree chopper, and in advertising.


Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library (memoir), Virgin Books (New York, NY), 2007.


Don Borchert is a librarian who has written about his experiences working in libraries in his memoir Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library. In an interview with Adrienne Crew for the LA Observed Web site, the author discussed how he came to write his book: "I was working on an outline for what I thought would have been a dynamite book for kids—all about the Peloponnesian Wars, but I put it aside. I knew you were supposed to write about what you know, but this was not one of these areas. Then it dawned on me that I could write about the library. I thought it would be fascinating—it's so different than the perception you might get when you walk in, look around, and go: nice quiet place."

A ten-plus-year veteran of the California library system, Borchert dispels the common view of a library as a sedate place of reading and research where nothing exciting ever happens. "Libraries are idyllic and peaceful perhaps up to 99 percent of the time," Borcher admitted to Bill Eichenberger in an interview for the Columbus Dispatch. However, the author added, "And then, like when you're at the ocean, you turn your back for a second and almost immediately get whacked by a large, impossible wave that you never saw coming. You're tumbling in the surf with a mouthful of seawater and a trunkful of wet sand, and you wonder: Where did that come from?"

In his memoir, the author provides an inside look at working in a library and recounts enough episodes of absurdity and even mayhem to dispel the notion that excitement never occurs within the confines of the library's walls. For example, he tells the tale of drug dealers who were operating out of the men's restroom and the day the police came to arrest them. He also recounts the story of the nervous breakdown of a fellow employee known for wearing a burka, traditional wear for Muslim women that covers the entire body except for the eyes. The author meets a number of eccentric visitors, from the man who chastised him for not sorting books alphabetically as he was storing them away to the patron who accosted him at a library desk because the man's library card contained two sixes in a row, which, according to the man, is an abbreviation of the 666 mark associated with the devil in Christian lore. "Borchert's deadpan and sometimes profane wit (expect plenty of f-bombs) provides the occasional out-loud laugh with his inside peek into an institution people take for granted," noted Stephanie Dunnewind in a review in the Seattle Times. In addition to some of his more outrageous stories, the author reveals some heartbreaking and tender tales, such as the story of a young kid whose parents neglected him. As a result, the kid spent most of his time in the library making friends with the librarians, with whom he continued to correspond later in life, treating them almost like surrogate parents.

The book's twenty-six chapters are not arranged chronologically but rather by themes. Borchert begins by writing about his own background and how he came to be a civil servant; he then discusses his first year working in the library system and how libraries and librarians' duties have changed over the years. Next he features stories tied together by themes in chapters with titles such as "The Parent's Conference," "Overdue Fines and Fees," "Wild Animals in the Library," and "The Summer Crew."

Some objections have arisen concerning Borchert's book, especially in his depiction of fellow librarians as basically introverts who do not have a lot of ambition. Borchert told Crew for LA Observed: "I'll still stand by this generalization. A good librarian is many things, hard-working, conscientious, but I don't see ambition as being any part of that mix." Some have also objected to Borchert being called a "librarian" since he is technically an assistant librarian because he does not have a master's degree, which librarians are required to have. In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Loriene Roy, president of the American Library Association, was quoted as saying: "It is a sensitive area for some people. A lot of fields have this sort of caste system. But to the public, anyone in the library is a librarian."

Nevertheless, critics have reacted favorably to Borchert's account of library life. Noting that the author "shares wholesome, guardedly witty dispatches," a contributor to Publishers Weekly commented that the author's "account gives a human interest spin to this undervalued profession." Mark Knoblauch, writing in Booklist, noted the author's "gritty language" and that the author's "vantage point … gives his voice and perspective unique authority."



Borchert, Don, Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library, Virgin Books (New York, NY), 2007.


Booklist, October 15, 2007, Mark Knoblauch, review of Free for All, p. 6.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2007, review of Free for All.

Library Journal, November 1, 2007, "A Library Assistant's Wry Memoir," p. 11; November 15, 2007, Norman Oder, review of Free for All, p. 65.

Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2008, "Shhh! Don't Talk, Drink or Fight in the Library," profile of author.

Publishers Weekly, September 17, 2007, review of Free for All, p. 45.

Seattle Times, December 21, 2007, Stephanie Dunnewind, review of Free for All.

USA Today, November 19, 2007, Bob Minzesheimer, "The Librarian's Life Isn't by the Book," profile of author.


Columbus Dispatch, (December 16, 2007), Bill Eichenberger, "Patron Ain'ts," profile of author.

LA Observed, (April 16, 2008), Adrienne Crew, "Native Intelligence: Interview with Don Borchert, Author of Free for All."