You Do What? Re-working a Librarian “Career Day” Presentation

A group of 15-year old high school students from a nearby city have been visiting my college campus periodically since the 4th grade. They’re part of a pre-college program that prepares students to be the first in the their family to attend a four-year university.

This year, students have been focusing on careers. I was asked to give a 50-minute presentation on: My Life as a Librarian.

What???? I immediately panicked. How would I make a presentation about librarianship interesting to high schoolers? Was it even worth it to participate?

Making Connections

The quick answer: Yes, it was worth participating! I knew I wasn’t going to make mini-librarians out of anyone…nor should I even try. Plus, I’m dubious of pigeon-holing anyone into a specific career so young (says me who changed his college major three times!). What I thought was more important was:

  • Seeing how high school students perceive libraries/librarians
  • Getting that perception to be something positive
  • Making students comfortable with the idea of the academic library and what we have to offer

My Plan

Instead of going through the usual:

  • this is what a librarian does…
  • this is how much they make…
  • these are the requirements for the job…

…because, let’s face it: BORING… I decided instead to pull out a few “fun” things and do some hands-on activities.

Team-based Activity

After welcoming the students to the library, we went into the Library Classroom and I introduced myself. I avoided rattling off my list of job duties because I had arranged for something more interactive. Our classroom has three interactive whiteboards. I split the students into three teams. Each whiteboard had this question:

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

Students brainstormed with their team members and used the touchscreen technology to record their answers. Here is where librarian stereotypes come into play. Students mentioned words like: books, old lady, mean, shhhh!, glasses, and checking in books.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

Then I asked the question:

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

What do you think a librarian does?

What do you think a librarian does?

Again, we got stereotypical remarks such as reading, checking in/shelving books, etc…

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.


Library/Librarian Stereotypes

From there, we had a quick little discussion about some of these stereotypes. I mentioned that I hadn’t shushed anyone but had been shushed myself–which brought out some smiles and laughter from the students. I also explained that our student workers are the ones who usually check out and shelve books. I even admitted that I don’t get to read as much as I like and I definitely don’t read on the job (for fun anyway!).

Each team had a teacher, chaperone, or one of our college students seated with the students to give some guidance. I got some great answers this way: develop programs, teach students, etc…

In my role as a reference/instruction librarian, I compared my job to a teacher: helping students find and evaluate information, helping with assignments and projects. That seemed to make the connection.

Because many stereotypes were brought up, I shared this slide of: What Librarians Do that I grabbed from the library at Otis College of Art and Design. Side note: when searching for images of “what people think a librarian does” most search results include the “sexy/naughty librarian” stereotype which may not be appropriate for all age levels. That’s why I liked this image and felt it perfectly encapsulated what librarians do for a high school audience.

"The librarian...What we actually do." Image source: Otis College of Art and Design Library

“The librarian…What we actually do.” Image source: Otis College of Art and Design Library.

What I do

Then I touched upon a few of things I do…

I mentioned that everything I do relates back to “stuff” (inspired by a keynote talk from Amy Buckland at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference).

What I do as a librarian...

What I do as a librarian…

And to do what I do, I only briefly mentioned educational requirements (yeah, yeah master’s degree)…but more importantly stressed QUALITIES you need: namely curiosity and helpfulness.

Curiosity and helpfulness: good qualities to be a librarian.

Curiosity and helpfulness: good qualities to be a librarian.

Then I segued into a few specific things that might surprise them:

Teaching & Research Assistance

I shared a few examples of research questions that the librarians have helped students with this semester, emphasizing that at a small university the librarians have to know a little bit about a lot things. The takeaway being: It’s OK to ask for help!

Teaching and research assistance

Teaching and research assistance


I briefly discussed books. Yes, books are still important, but they are not our only resource. We have books, e-books, and articles you can access online! To give the students a sense of history, I grabbed the library’s oldest book from Special Collections: a book about ecclesiastical law in Great Britain, published in 1604.

A really old book...1604.

A really old book…1604.

Showing the book to students, I asked:

When do you think this book was published?

Some guessed 1800s, some even said 1900! Nope, 1604! Students thought it was cool to see such an old book. It also helped reinforce the library’s mission: Collecting and providing information, regardless of what the format or delivery method may be.

3D Printing

Then I switched to something a bit more new: 3D printing. I ran through a quick explanation and demo of the 3D printer and let the students pick out something to be printed: In this case, a smiley face. I explained what our faculty and students use it for (science models, action figures, home decor, mechanical pieces) and why it belongs in the library (a place to collaborate and experiment!).

3D printing a smiley face.

3D printing a smiley face.

Because I wanted a free little giveaway, before the session I had printed enough small 3D items (smiley face, Pokemon “squirtle”, Ultimaker robot, Coffin’s cube, #MakeItHappen bracelets, and heart-shaped jewelry) to hand one out to each student.


Lastly, I discussed events that the library hosts: a party to welcome freshmen to campus, therapy dogs during Final Exams, etc… to give students a sense at how social the library is.

Library events...

Library events…

And that’s where we had some more interactive fun… I mentioned about hosting a Nerf tag event and that I needed to check to see if all of the library’s Nerf equipment was still in good working order. I asked:

Would you like to help me test of out the Nerf tag equipment? 

A resounding “YES!” So we had a few moments of Nerf tag in the classroom.


Then I wrapped up with a quick tour of the library and a short reflective exercise:

  • Name one thing you learned about?
  • What was something that surprised you?
  • What do you think about librarians now?

Forgoing the usual, “these are my duties as a librarian” lecture, I focused more on some of the fun, creative, tech stuff, and research activities that I get to participate in. It was less about me, and more about the library. Combining this with some interactive exercises made for a fun experience with these students. No one is going to decide to become a librarian (nor should they at this point), but hopefully they all left feeling that the library is a fun, dynamic, and helpful place.

You’ve Come Along Way Baby? Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Picture Books

I’ve been doing a shifting project in the curriculum/children’s lit collection I manage at my academic library.

Every now and then I come across a little “gem” like this: I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl – written by Whitney Darrow, Jr. and published in 1970.

What’s it about? It goes through a series of things boys do vs. what girls do. Here are a few screen shots:

I'm Glad I'm a Boy! I'm Glad I'm a Girl

I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl

Boys are doctors. Girls are nurses.

Boys are doctors. Girls are nurses.

Boys are policemen. Girls are metermaids.

Boys are policemen. Girls are metermaids.

Boys can eat. Girls can cook.

Boys can eat. Girls can cook.

Boys fix things. Girls need things fixed.

Boys fix things. Girls need things fixed.

Boys invent things. Girls use what boys invent.

Boys invent things. Girls use what boys invent.

I'm glad you're a girl! I'm glad you're a boy!

I’m glad you’re a girl! I’m glad you’re a boy!

We need each other.

We need each other.

Have you fallen out of your seat yet? Turns out this has been a popular little book. Brain Pickings provides an excellent overview, as does Bustle. So it this “for real”? Well…the author, Whitney Darrow, Jr., was a satirical cartoonist for The New Yorker, so *probably* not.

I tried locating reviews from the time period, but hit the wall with the usual ownership v. access problem with libraries (Most of our print indexes, bound volumes, and microfilm are gone. Our full-text access for what we have doesn’t go back far enough for the usual book review sources). I did a search in the Google Newspaper Archive and came across an article that was published in a series of newspapers in 1974: Children’s Book Changes Proceed – which discusses sexism in children’s literature.

A more recent take, “Planning Literacy Environments for Diverse Preschoolers” (Young Exceptional Children, 15(3), 2012) appears to take the book at face value and labels it as blatantly sexist.

Gender Stereotyping in Children’s Picture Books:

So is I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl! staying in the collection of my academic library? Yes. A lot of the education classes discuss gender stereotyping. Even as satire, this can be a useful tool (see Teaching Children’s Literature: It’s Critical). Does it belong in the children’s collection of a public library? Probably not. What do you think?

“Why the hell would I want to leave the library?” – The Library on “Orange is the New Black”

Oh Orange is the New Black: why do you release all of your episodes in the summer?

I will stay indoors on a perfectly beautiful summer weekend and watch all of the episodes. Last year I binge watched season one of the hit Netflix series. Now I’m doing the same with season two. Whether it can be true to “real” prison life is up for debate. What is does have is good writing, great acting, and a showcase for actresses that are unfortunately not often featured in mainstream Hollywood roles.

Naturally, as a librarian, I’ve been tied to some of the scenes involving the prison library and reading. There’s a Tumblr devoted to the books shown in various scenes–even Buzzfeed and Entertainment Weekly have picked up on it.

On the series, the characters Taystee and Poussey, two of my favorites, are shown working in the prison library–usually shelving books.

Taystee and Poussey in the prison library - Orange is the New Black

Taystee and Poussey in the prison library – Orange is the New Black

Taystee loves Harry Potter. Hates Ulysses. I could picture her delivering great “story times” in a library. Poussey strikes me as more of an academic–possibly using a research library to write her own treatise on literature, music, or post Cold War Germany.

Is it sad I want a subplot where either Taystee or Poussey decide to pursue a MLS degree?

Occasionally, as a librarian, you’ll find some “errors” with the prison library. In the screen cap below (featuring Daya and Bennett), you’ll see that the Dewey call number signs don’t reference which *side* of the shelf the call number range falls on. Is Is “550-559” on the left side or right side? Or do I walk down the row and continue around? Quibble, quibble.

Daya & Bennett in the prison library

Daya & Bennett in the prison library

In season two (mild spoiler ahead), the villainous Vee (shown below on the right) recruits Taystee (on the left) to give up her library job to start selling contraband tobacco.

Taystee responds:

Why the hell would I want to leave the library? It’s the best job here!

Vee counters:

Books do not pay the rent. Books do not ‘bourguignon’ the beef.

And there you have it – summed up in one exchange – everything you need to know about library work. It’s a great job, but not always the most lucrative of careers.

Who knew you’d end up getting library career lessons from Orange is the New Black?

Library Wisdom from Taystee and Vee - Orange is the New Black

Library Wisdom from Taystee and Vee – Orange is the New Black

The Library in Lego Form (aka the absolute last post I will write about Lego librarians)

Lego public library

Lego public library

It’s the summer of Lego Librarians! When I created my own Lego Librarian personalities, I didn’t quite imagine the wave it would create. People love Lego blocks. People love librarians. When you combine the two, you get an irresistible cultural mash-up.

The original post generated over 36,000 views and appeared on sites such as The Huffington Post, Flavorwire, Neatorama, Book RiotMyModernMet, Trendhunter, and Nerd Approved. Evidently it also took the country of Hungary by storm, as I had several thousand views from this one site alone.

After I acquired the official Lego librarian (I got it for cheap on eBay, rather than guessing among the unmarked packages at the Lego store), I decided that the Lego librarian needed a library!

Now I had a few of my own Lego pieces, but I had to ask for donations from co-workers. I also eBayed a few cheap building blocks…and voilà. I started building the Lego library. Just like the real library, there’s something for everyone: books, periodicals, technology, events. All walks of life are represented: young and old, well to do and not-so-much, people making a transition, and people on the edges of society. Here’s the local public library in Lego form…hope you enjoy it!

…and here’s a short movie created with the Lego Movie app:

Notes on Lego Librarians and a Shout-Out to Children’s Librarians

Yikes…who would have thought that Lego librarians could be so popular? The original blog post has had nearly 16,000 views since it was posted on the evening of July 24.

The librarian/nerd in me finds the blog post’s movement through the “interwebs” fascinating. It’s been referenced on Flavorwire, Neatorama, Nerd Approved, and My Modern Met among others. It shows how librarians ARE an integral pop culture phenomenon: stereotypes and all.

One More Lego Librarian

Although I featured over 20+ Lego librarians, the most common request I received was: Where’s the children’s librarian? So, here it is:

"Only a children's librarian would don a chicken suit for story time! That's why the kiddies love me. But once summer reading is done, I'm pawning the chicken suit for beer & wine money."

“Only a children’s librarian would don a chicken suit for story time! That’s why the kiddies love me. But once summer reading is done, I’m pawning the chicken suit for beer & wine money.”

I’ve also added it to the original post. So, I’m officially done now with my various Lego librarian personalities. But you can make your own by hunting around on eBay. You’ll be hooked–I guarantee!

What’s Next?

There will be one final Lego blog post within the next couple of weeks when I unveil my “Lego Library.” Then I will happily retire from Lego librarians all together as I’ve had my fill. Thanks for your comments…this crazy blog post idea has been a truly fun experience.

Image, Public Perception, and Lego Librarians

I love seeing how the public and the media portray librarians. Whether it’s the shushing/conservative stereotype, “naughty librarian” stereotype, under-appreciated & over-worked public servant (this one is NSFW-but one of my faves!), dealing with inept patrons, or even ones that combine the brainy stereotype with sexiness – I eat it up. I wonder if accountants or architects feel the same way when they see their field portrayed?

Entering Pop Culture

So, how do we know when librarians have hit the big time? Lego has introduced a Lego Librarian – part of its minifigures series line. This line of minifigures is an eclectic group. Series #10, which the librarian belongs to, also includes a warrior woman, sad clown, and a paintball player among others. In fact, the librarian is the only viable career option in the set! How cool is that?

There are 150+ minifigures, only about 10 require a college degree, so the librarian is in rare company!

Here’s the Lego Librarian [screen capture from the Lego website]:

Screen shot 2013-07-06 at 11.35.20 PM

The official Lego Librarian, part of Minifigures Series 10.

OK, so it plays into several librarian stereotypes…but I would expect nothing less. The Lego character must be easily identifiable to the public: “Oh yeah, THAT is a librarian!” So, what do we have?…

  • Female? Check.
  • Glasses? Check.
  • Cardigan? Check.
  • Sensible hair? Check.
  • Book? Check.
  • Coffee cup that reads “Shhh!” Check.

Oranges and Peaches

The creators went to some lengths to add a bit of fun. There’s even an inside joke in regards to the “Oranges and Peaches” book. It’s a reference to the 1995 movie Party Girl starring Parker Posey as a library clerk. In the scene below, a patron asks for Darwin’s Origin of Species. The Parker character mistakes it for “Oranges and Peaches”:

A Biographical Story

The Lego Librarian comes with a brief bio. Again, it plays into some trite stereotypes, but it’s fun:

Books are just about the Librarian’s most favorite thing in the entire world. Reading them can take you on exciting adventures in far-off lands, introduce you to new friends and cultures, and let you discover poetry, classic literature, science fiction and much more. If only everybody loved to read as much as she does, the world would be a better place…and quieter, too! The Librarian feels that it’s extremely important to treat a book with the proper respect. You should always use a bookmark instead of folding down the corner of the page. Take good care of the dust jacket, and don’t scribble in the margins. And above all else, never – ever – return it to the library late!

It’s no surprise that the Lego Librarian is female. It should be. We’re a female-dominated profession. It makes sense. But I wanted to have some fun, so I decided to to see if I could make the librarian version of me – Mr. Library Dude. It was not hard.

I grabbed the Lego computer programmer minifigure. He’s wearing a sweater vest and glasses. Doesn’t that scream male librarian? I actually think I have that EXACT sweater vest! I added an iPhone (those who know me never see me without mine) and I invented the Mr. Library Dude Lego Librarian:

This is Mr. Library Dude.

This is Mr. Library Dude.

Lego Librarians on Parade

So besides the official Lego Librarian version and my knock-off, how might we portray other librarians in Lego form? Or what other ways are we perceived by peers or the public? I decided to take a stab at it and had a bit of fun. Maybe you even know a few of these. So here’s my satirical take. What would you add?

Note: Naturally, the LEGO images below are popular with children. Please be forewarned: there is a bit of cursing below.

Update: By popular request, I have added a children’s librarian. Look for the chicken suit!

“All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”  :)

Librarian Twitter Bingo

You ever think: wow those librarians are always tweeting about the same thing!

Well, now you can play a game: It’s called Librarian Twitter Bingo. Every time you see a librarian’s tweet about one of the topics below, cross it off. When you get a whole row, yell “BINGO!”

Librarian Twitter Bingo

PS–I myself could probably cross off at least 13 of these boxes with my own tweets, so please don’t feel like I’m picking on any librarian in particular.🙂 – I love your tweets!

Full image on Flickr.
This is modeled after Hipster Bingo.