What They Didn’t Tell You About Being a Librarian

First off, I enjoy my job as a librarian. That hasn’t changed in the 10 years that I’ve been a librarian. So, please excuse some of my snarkiness below. It’s the Friday before Spring Break (but we all know that most librarians don’t get a Spring Break) and I needed a little fun! Here’s a list of 10 things they didn’t tell you about being a librarian. These have all happened to me, or at a library I have worked at:

  1. Asking a patron to stop licking the computer monitor when viewing images of French figure skater Surya Bonaly.
  2. You should probably memorize all of the books by their color because that’s what patrons will ask for. “Do you have that green book? You know…the big one!”
  3. How to get the following animals OUT of the library: bats, snakes, robins, frogs, and yes–a roadrunner.
  4. How to ID a peeping tom in the book stacks. And making him leave when the security officer doesn’t do his/her job.
  5. That someone ALWAYS wants to photocopy something the minute before closing.
  6. When a patron is asking for books on “poultry,” he may actually mean “poetry.”
  7. That senior citizens sometimes just call the library because they’re lonely. This makes me sad.
  8. You need to de-lice the library headphones.
  9. The Robert Mapplethorpe books always ends up in the men’s restroom and you will sometimes need plastic gloves to retrieve them.
  10. Are you allowed to keep the alcohol you find in the library? Kidding! Seriously, I’ve found everything from beer cans to Jack Daniels, and even vermouth! But I suspected the vermouth to be from a library co-worker (what college kid drinks vermouth?).

Have something to add to the list? Please share!

Love in the Stacks: Why Not?

The New York Times has a nice write-up about speed-dating nights held at public libraries. It includes an interview with a man who says he hasn’t stepped foot in a public library in years. It was also cute to read about the librarians that organize these events. They probably feel like high school teachers that chaperone the prom! The speed-dating participants were told to bring their favorite book:

Can Atlas Shrugged find love with the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test? Is attraction possible between a Jonathan Franzen reader and a die-hard Elizabeth Gilbert fan?

One of the libraries mentioned in the article is San Francisco Public Library. The San Francisco Chronicle has a good report of the event with a catchy headline: Singles Check One Another Out. The article talks up libraries “new” social aspects.

Now I know folks who say that this shouldn’t be part of a library’s mission, but the “community” is the library’s mission. If it’s something that can benefit the community, then why not?

It also reminds me of my favorite librarian/love anecdote. This is a true story:

A librarian is sitting at the reference desk. Behind her are large volumes of Chemical Abstracts (back when print was the only option!). In comes a chemistry professor. He walks up to the desk and asks her, “Do you have a background in chemistry?” Motioning behind her to the Chemical Abstracts, she says, “Why yes, I do!” The professor laughs. They started dating and ended up getting married.

Love in the stacks? This librarian approves.

Back to the Future: A Library/Technology Lesson from 1983

Heading up to my office, I noticed this little nugget hanging on the bulletin board by the staff elevator:

Microcomputers for Libraries

“Microcomputers are most certainly the key to the future.”

Wow! Now this is why I stay away from making technology predictions. The book is: Microcomputers: How Useful are They? Written by Jane Beaumont and Donald Krueger, it was published in 1983 by the Canadian Library Association. According to WorldCat, there are still 214 libraries that hold this book–well, make that 213. The reason it was spotlighted on our bulletin board is that it’s headed to the “withdraw” pile.

Inside, the preface is a bit chuckle-inducing:

In January 1981, I was discussing career prospects for information specialists with a colleague. He ominously discussed the impending demise of librarians who fail to recognize and respond to new technologies. “Microcomputers,” he emphasized, “are most certainly the key to the future.”

…I sensed my curiosity being whetted by his cogent contentions and my ears succumbing to his stentorian tones. No doubt I encountered feelings which are not unique, a vague professional malaise and a timid personal hesitation which might have indicated a desire for change restrained by fear of personally initiating it.

Despite the laughs, the premise still holds true today: libraries and librarians must adapt to new technologies. However, I think “adapting” to new technologies places us in a reactive mode when we need to be in an active mode. This point has been most exemplified with the recent decision by HarperCollins to restrict its e-book lending to only 26 check-outs before the license expires. The Twitterverse exploded on Friday with tweets (search Twitter for #hcod)  from angry librarians (completely justified, btw) responding to the new terms of service.

But how do we get from being reactive to active? The Librarian in Black blog is a good starting point. Check out posts on eBook User’s Bill of Rights and Library eBook Revolution, Begin. Short of getting a librarian appointed to corporate boards of publishing companies, what else can we do? Lobbying publishing companies, educating authors and e-book readers, partnering with the American Library Association, promoting changes in digital rights management and copyright law all come to mind. A boycott of HarperCollins now started, too. Beyond protests, I’d like to know from librarians as to what concrete steps can be taken. I’m not an expert in this, but would like to be a part of the solution. Let me know!

I Need “The Source”

Have you ever had a reference transaction that just sort of ran off the rails? In my eight or so years of a being a librarian, this is my own personal favorite reference encounter while staffing the desk:

Patron: “Do you have the source?”

Me: “What source?”

Patron: “The SOURCE!”

Me: “Do you know the name of the source?”

Patron: “It’s just THE SOURCE.”

Me: “Is it something you need for your class?”

Patron: “YES! The professor said you had it.”

Me: “Is it something your professor put on reserve, like a journal article?”

Patron: “No.”

Me: “Well, can you describe the source? Tell me more about it?”

Patron: “It’s a book that lists words of other words.”

Me: “Oh…a THE-SAUR-US! Yes, I have a thesaurus. It’s right here behind my desk.”

Yep, true story. A simple miscommunication (and mispronunciation!). Ahh, the art of the reference interview. If I had asked the patron to describe “the source” in the first place, we could have avoided this whole mess. And you know what, it was my fault. I should have more readily assessed the patron’s ability to describe “the source.” The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) posts guidelines for the reference interview. In short:

  1. Approachability – Stop looking at your computer screens, reference librarians! See Will Manley’s American Libraries column on this.
  2. InterestStephanie Willen Brown writes that indicating her interest in the patron’s question also helps her buy time in thinking of appropriate resources to use. Clever!
  3. Listening/Inquiry – Here is where I could have improved. The patron did not have a “research” question. He knew exactly what he needed. A simple clarification could have solved the issue immediately.
  4. Searching – The teaching moment. When it’s a research question, I’m always emphasizing what keywords to use and why. I help brainstorm different keywords with the patron (Searching for heart attack? Try myocardial infarction, too!). I’ll often write them down for the patron in case he/she will be searching independently later. Interesting debate as to whether librarians “teach” at the Reference Desk from Edward Eckel. My view: if it’s more than just a simple directional or ready reference question, then teach ’em to “fish”!
  5. Follow-up – I like showing patrons how to get to the Research Help page on the library’s website. Good common sense customer service.

So, have you had a reference transaction that’s gone down the drain? Share it!