Kimmy Goes to the Library!

Fifteen years, two books.* I wouldn’t last an hour in a two-book bunker, let alone a decade and a half. Compared to Kimmy Schmidt, I am so, so breakable.

In many ways, librarians are always on duty.

"UKS library"

Yes, even while binge-watching Netflix, I want to help characters sort out their reading lives.

Now, when I say “help,” I don’t mean bibliotherapy. Bibliotherapy is a controversial subject in the library profession, and for good reason: what helps one person may harm another, and while some readers may devour books about diseases, death, murder, or missing children, others will close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and cry, “LALALA! Not listening!”

In other words, I am not going to be the person who says to Kimmy, “Oh my God, have you read Room? You have to read Room!” (Or Above, or The Collector, or The Never List, or One Kick, or Normal…okay, wow, there are lot of books about women being held captive underground; to quote Siri, “that’s messed up.”)

Nevertheless, most librarians already go above and beyond the parameters of their professional expertise: in public libraries they often function as ad hoc social workers, tax preparers, childcare providers, life coaches, and much more.

So, if Kimmy wants strategies for overcoming her terror of Velcro that don’t involve confiding in an elderly widower with dementia or an inebrieted Uber client, steer her towards the self-help section (sample title: The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD from the Inside Out); if she wants to read about others who have survived traumatic experiences, there’s no shortage of memoirs on the subject.

Life Skills

Kimmy is an extremely resilient human being, as well as a resourceful one. Really, the biggest issue she faces is that her skill set is…shall we say, unique? For example, she has an encyclopedic knowledge of home remedies to reverse the effects of botulism and can knit a scarf made of human hair, yet struggles to use a cell phone and keeps all of her money in a backpack (which, predictably, gets stolen).

Given Kimmy’s difficulties with math, her unconventional employment situation, and her tight budget, I’d say personal finance is a priority. Many public libraries have extensive holdings in this area, including resources specific to young and emerging adults. (Some even have resources dedicated to individuals who have ‘aged out’ of the foster care system, a situation that in some respects parallels Kimmy’s circumstances.)

Among many worthy options is Saddleback’s 21st century life skills handbook series, with entries such as Consumer Spending, Everyday Household Tasks, and Transportation and Travel. These have a lexile score of 820, putting them at a reading level appropriate for Kimmy, whose “being tooken by a cult” prevented her from finishing eighth grade.

If these feel too much like required reading, Kimmy may be interested in the a growing sub-genre of books that tackle the unique challenges of navigating one’s twenties. Based on the author’s popular blog, Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown presents practical advice in a fun, conversational style that may appeal to Kimmy, who during her years in the bunker has managed to form and retain a strong female support network.

Love, Sex, and Relationships:

Kimmy expresses interest in romantic relationships, but given her particular mix of experience and inexperience — e.g., the “weird sex stuff” in the bunker — one must tread carefully. Not every book on this topic is going to be a winner, and many should probably be avoided, but here are some possibilities:

While Our Bodies, Ourselves is so ubiquitous it’s practically a punchline, it nevertheless contains useful, medically accurate information in a world where such things cannot be taken for granted. Better this than WebMD.

Another highly recommended resources is Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are, which presents a non-judgmental, reassuring, and (above all) evidence-based overview of women’s sexuality that emphasizes the uniqueness of individual bodies and minds, while answering the unspoken question — a la Go Ask Alice — “Am I normal?”

Education:

Most libraries have extensive school and career-related resources, ranging from college prep to job-seeking. Kimmy’s GED coursework is a great first step on the road to independence, but the combination of her lack of formal education and work experience (see BUNKER) makes obtaining stable employment particularly difficult.

Most public libraries also offer computer classes. Kimmy, “proficient in WordPerfect and Mavis Beacon teaches typing,” is an excellent candidate for these free offerings, which cover a range of topics. Whether you’ve never sent an email with an attachment or want to learn to code, libraries have your back. Which brings us to…

Internet access:

The Digital Divide is real. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, a significant number of lower-income individuals in the United States do not own a computer or have home internet access. Kimmy’s on-again-off-again employer, Jacqueline, did provide her with a smartphone, which can assist her with basic information needs — directions, simple web searches — but for more complex tasks, a desktop computer with an internet connection and a printer fulfills a range of needs for patrons, whether it’s someone like Kimmy, who may need to solve difficult problems for herself or others, or someone like Titus wanting to “watch [the Reverend’s] trial without ads.” This is something libraries can and do provide.

Entertainment: The first thing I would advise ANY cash-strapped New Yorker to do is drop the Columbia House membership. While Kimmy and Titus should be applauded for pooling their limited resources for their mutual benefit (“We both listen to those tapes!”), they could save a staggering amount of money simply by checking out A/V materials from the library. Yes, overdue fines are a pain, but I’ve never encountered a public library that makes patrons sign an arbitration agreement as part of its membership obligations.

In many ways, what’s more distressing to Kimmy than her subterranean life as a mole woman is the fact that she’s missed out on 15 years of “normal life,” particularly in the realm of current events and popular culture.

With only a middle-school education prior to her forced induction into the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne’s doomsday cult, a period spanning 1998 to 2014, Kimmy has missed out on a lot of things. For example, she has almost certainly not read the entire Harry Potter series (the 1st book was released in the U.S. in 1998, the year she was abducted), nor seen the movies. Nor is she likely to be familiar with the most popular YA literature of the past 15 years: Twilight, Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the list goes on and on. She may not be interested in any or all of these, but coordinating with a Youth Services librarian is a good move. Besides, adults read (and love) YA.

This “playing catch-up” situation is probably one in which librarians can make use of their bound periodicals stacks, provided that the library has not digitized its collection. In a pinch, one could teach Kimmy how to use subscription databases such LexisNexis (and if one can master this hot mess of UX design, one can do anything). However, there’s something to be said for the tactile sensation of turning those glossy, perfume-scented pages, though bear in mind that the experience might lead to sensory overload.

Summary:

Libraries are in an ideal position to help a patron like Kimmy Schmidt, whose optimism and high levels of motivation make her more likely to seek and accept help. Librarians can, in addition to providing useful resources and services, can also reach out to Kimmy and ensure that she receives information about library events and programming, such as book groups, workshops, social gatherings, and more.

 

*For the curious, the first is The Babysitters Club Mystery #12: Dawn and the Surfer Ghost, which becomes a significant plot point in one episode. The other, briefly shown, is Black Hands, White Sails: The Story of African-American Whalers by Pat McKissack, which is pretty much exactly as advertised: a history of African Americans involved in the whaling industry between 1730 and 1880.

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