Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Another service we don't provide

A man couldn't find his library card to give to me so he could check out his items. He had a wallet full of tons of cards. After rifling through them for a minute or so, he said to me/the empty air, "Alexa, find my library card!"

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How are my numbers?

One stereotype about librarians that bothers me is that they can't do math. I was a statistics minor in college and that has been really valuable in my day-to-day work as a librarian. Here's an example of how knowing about statistics helps me:

I had the bright idea today that I would compare how my later purchases for the collection did compared to my early ones in order to see if I had learned anything from my earlier work. I thought I would compare the average number of checkouts per month for the batch of titles I ordered from March through June with the batch of titles I ordered from July through December.

Here's what I found for the average checkout per month for each area of nonfiction, by Dewey number:
000s (computers): 0.44 checkouts/month
100s (self-help, philosophy, psychology): 0.69 checkouts/month
700s (crafts, art, music, film, sports, home): 0.57 checkouts/month

I wanted to go back and check these numbers against the same metric for my earlier picks, but when I tried that I realized I had a big problem: We keep our items on a special "New Items" shelf right near the front of the library for the first three months after we've acquired them. This spot is way more visible than the rest of nonfiction so it's common for items to circulate significantly more heavily in the first three months compared to any random three months later in their 'lifetime' in the library collection. With the two batches I wanted to compare, the books I made a list of in June have been in New shelving for 3 months and in regular shelving from anywhere from about 3-6 months. The later batch that I made a list of today has been in New shelving for up to 3 months and in regular shelving from anywhere from no time at all to about 3 months. So of course the averages for the latter will be higher--they are still in their high-checkout honeymoon period where they are being shown off on the New shelves. When I checked my older batch of 000s and got an average of 0.14 checkouts a month, got confirmation of the problems that the existence of the 'New' shelving was creating for the analysis (and got discouraged by those very low numbers!).

However, finding those numbers wasn't a waste of time, even though I was unable to compare them to my earlier selections as I had hoped. I was happy to see that the three numbers were fairly close to each other--in all three of my subject areas, the 'typical' item goes out about once every two months. I'd say that a typical checkout period at our library is a little over two weeks (the loan period is longer, but what I'm thinking about is how long a book is actually absent from the library when it is checked out), so that means the titles I have ordered are spending about 3/4 of their time on our shelves and 1/4 of their time out with patrons. Intuitively, I feel like something between 1/2 and 2/3 of the time is how much I would like them to spend on the shelf (I didn't realize I had an intuition about that, I guess I learned something about myself today), and this is not too much over that. I also use "less than 1 or 2 checkouts per year" as a baseline for whether to consider discarding something, and the titles that I ordered are comfortably above that margin so far.


Overall, I give myself 4 out of 5 for this attempt.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

West Side Loves to Copy

I told you I talk to the Greek gods, right?


I need to make a copy, but I've never used a copier before.


Can you show me how to make a copy?


Do you have, like, a guest...[stares at me for a few seconds without speaking]...you know, like the other library had computers that you can use without a card?


These are two loaves of raisin bread from the bakery down the street. They are a gift for the staff if you want them.


I need to print this email. How do I do that?


How do I make a copy?


Do you have tax forms yet?


Where are your exercise movies?


Call from a friend who was also sent to another branch! We have a patron over here who wants to come pick up Rob Roy by Scott. Can you make sure it's really there?


Where are the audiobooks?


My print job isn't showing up.


I need you to do your computer catalog thing. Do you have the movie Postcards From the Edge?


The copier says not to use the top feeder. Does that mean that I have to do all of these on the glass?


The unemployment office won't accept these text messages as documentation. They say I have to have proof on paper. Can you help me print them?


[One of our mobile device printing options is down. I put in a helpdesk ticket.]


I need Michigan tax forms.


Can you help me get to the hospital jobs website?


Phone call: They said you can help me find a math tutor for college mathematics. Can I come in on Saturday?


I need a friend...I need to copy this and put it into this document. Can you help me?


Can you help me with the printer?


How do I print just one page of this?


Do you have these two religious commentaries for my college class?


This computer locked me out.


How do I save something to my flash drive?


Is The Lost House back in yet?


Do you make copies here?


Do you fax here?


[Stand at the printer/fax/copier area for 15 minutes, just managing traffic.]


How do I make this full size?


Can I check my books out here?


I don't need help, I'm just waiting for the copier.


Smiled at by a lady who A) looks like a blonde version of the adorable Felicia Day and B) doesn't ask me for any information about copying or printing! If I weren't already married I would probably have asked her to marry me.


Any chance you could help me make a copy of this poster?


Do you have the TV show Degrassi? No, the old one.


[Show someone the self-check, which I love.]


One of the pages: This little girl is looking for her mom.
Little girl: There she is!
Mom: I'm so sorry!


Can you teach us how to check these movies out on the machines?





Monday, January 9, 2017

What I did in my first 90 days as a librarian

In a long ago post/cry for help, I promised to write a description of what I did to settle in to my first professional librarian position (at Small Town Library). I had trouble finding other people's accounts of their experiences, or advice about what I ought to be doing, so I thought I should write my own in case it could offer a small amount of help to another new librarian worrying about the same things. I'm not saying this was a good strategy, but it was what I did. Now almost ten months into the job I have finally finished my write-up.
 

I spent the first week in actual training. I got an extensive tour of the building and took care of administrative things like tax forms and how to fill out my time sheet. I read through the official policy manual. I spent some time sitting at the reference desk observing another librarian work. I spent an hour at the circulation desk learning circ basics. I didn't have to make a lot of decisions about how to spend my time during the first week or two; my supervisor had planned out most of it. I also spent one afternoon sitting at a computer looking over our staff intranet, and opening any folder that sounded like it had information I should know about.

 Starting in the second week, I started to work the occasional hour or two alone on the reference desk. In between patrons, I looked through all the drawers in the desk and read all the files, notes, and other miscellaneous documents I could find. I eavesdropped on the circulation desk a lot to learn how it was normal for staff to talk to patrons, and vice versa. I paid particular attention to what the rules were for patrons. While there is a formal code of conduct and list of procedures, those things are never the same as how people are actually treated. I started to learn which "rules" existed only on paper and were not enforced.

This was also when I was assigned my areas of responsibility for collection management--the Dewey 000s (General Works, Computer Science, and Information, mostly computer books in our collection), 100s (Philosophy and Psychology, mostly self-help in small public library collections), and 700s (Arts and Recreation) and hardcover fiction by authors whose names start with M-Z. I learned how to use our collection management tools to show me a list of what we had in each collection, along with basic information like publication date and number of checkouts.

Weeding the collection was my first project. I was lucky to have that option because it didn't require a whole lot of knowledge of the specific library--a 10 year-old computer book doesn't belong in any public library, no matter its user base, so there was a lot that I could do right away. Making weed lists kept me entertained on the desk when it wasn't busy, and spending time in the stacks helped me get to know my collection and also gave me something to do on my off-desk time. Library managers don't tend to be very active, so I definitely needed to come up with something to do on my own. My manager 'trained me' in the first two weeks and then kind of left me to my own devices, because even assigning me projects took some of her time up front, so it took her a while to get around to that.

I also learned our acquisitions system and started ordering at the same time as I was weeding. At first I found that this took a lot of concentration and I had to do it off-desk, but by the end of the three months I was doing some ordering during desk shifts as well. I think I under-ordered for all of my collection areas at first, because I was afraid I would waste the library's money. That did make our New Books area look sparse for a little while, but fortunately I had a grace period because things my predecessor had ordered continued to come in during the first month or so, and we had a standing order plan in place for popular fiction authors.

My library is very program-oriented so it felt weird to be left out of programming at first and it was hard not to jump right in. Fortunately, I didn't have the option to create programs right away because they have to be published in the quarterly calendar so they are scheduled pretty far ahead of time. While this annoyed me at the time, in retrospect it was a good thing because it enabled me to understand my new community more and create programs that would be in demand. That was good not only for the library but also for me, because it helped protect my reputation among the other staff--I didn't get a reputation as 'the librarian whose weird program ideas always flop' as I might have if I had been able to dive right in.

Overall, I think things went well. It felt kind of stressful and isolating, but my coworkers thought I was doing a decent-or-better job, so I think the feeling was a reflection of my insecurity and of an initial lack of feedback rather than a reflection of actual poor performance. The main thing I wish I had done differently was asked more questions. I didn't want to seem high-maintenance or needy to my supervisor, or clueless to my colleagues, so I made mistakes that could have been avoided if I had asked for help. Looking back, making the mistakes ended up making me feel worse than asking questions would have, even though asking questions would have felt difficult at first.

I'm very glad that I found a project (weeding) that I could work on safely--I needed it not to feel adrift, and it left me in really good shape later because I could focus on other things when I got busy knowing that I had plenty of space in my collection areas for new materials. I was a little worried that I would get a reputation for getting rid of library materials rather than adding to the collection, and I sort of did, but not in the negative way I was expecting. My librarian coworkers didn't pay much attention at all, but the clerks and the pages (who have to pull items on hold and reshelve materials, and thus don't appreciate overfilled shelves) noticed my work and as a result I started out on good terms with them right away. The carts of discarded books also provided tasks for some underworked volunteers, so our volunteer coordinator appreciated my work as well. It turned out to be an excellent way to make good connections with people who it might have taken me a while to get to know.

If anyone else wants to share their experience in a new librarian position, or offer some best practices, I would love to hear it! 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

It will help you

Highlights of my first #SaturdayLibrarian day at West Side Branch:


My friend who is a clerk at Downtown and was also sent here during the construction reports that Mr. Timmons told her to let him know if anyone down here was giving her trouble and he would take care of it.


Someone wants to read A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies just for his own edification.


Fist-bumped by a stranger whose friend I helped upload his resume to a job application--patron of the week!


Bodybuilder Lady waves happily to me! Our librarian-patron relationship started off on a very bad foot so I am still excited that we are friends now (I had to say, "I can't help you when you are raising your voice at me").


Help out circ for 15 minutes and don't screw anything up!


I help two young women find a memoir. I hand it to the one who asked me for it and she hands it to her friend and says "Read this. It will help you with your messed up life."


Overall...


Friday, January 6, 2017

Visiting the West Side

Downtown Library closed for renovations on the first of the year and the powers that be have dispersed its staff, including me, to other branches in the system for the next couple of months while the construction workers and the movers work on the library. I was assigned to West Side Branch, along with Seamus from Security and a couple of pages and clerks. West Side Branch is one of the closest ones to Downtown and is on a lot of bus routes, so I have been seeing a lot of my old regulars here.


My first shift was earlier this week and I immediately spotted Janis, Giant Headphones Guy, Local University Regalia Guy, Online Class Gentleman, and even Mr. Timmons, who stopped by the desk to greet me, give me a lollipop (he brings his own candy), and tell me "Have you used the bathrooms here yet? Look out, it's like the toilet flushers have a kick!"


Seamus also stopped by to check in. He told me he'd helped Janis get set up on a computer and gave the verdict "This place seems a lot like Downtown. Mostly good but each with their own set of problem patrons. I'm already getting to know them."


Right now I am on the Youth desk watching a toddler contentedly chew on the rubber protector that holds one of our early literacy iPads. I'm glad that here, unlike at Downtown, it's going to be someone else's job to put those away at closing time.

Monday, January 2, 2017

What I've learned from ordering: Fiction

I should maybe title this post "What I haven't learned from ordering" because after nine months, fiction remains (ahem) a closed book to me.

I select non-mystery fiction by authors whose last names begin with the letters M through Z. Here are the first 24 titles I ordered for my library:



The first thing to note is that James Patterson, Debbie Macomber, Danielle Steel, etc. are all absent from this list. We have a standing order arrangement with our book vendor where we provide them a list of authors to auto-order: For example, if Danielle Steel publishes anything, send us two copies and bill us for them.

I am so, so grateful for that arrangement. As a result, I'm allowed to devote all my fiction ordering time to identifying debut novels or ones by lesser-known authors that might do well at my library, rather than manually checking for all the big names to make sure that if they have anything new I haven't overlooked it. Having that extra time has been really valuable. The only downside, I think, is that it encourages me to over-order the more obscure stuff, because I get a falsely low sense of how much new fiction we are getting. On the flip side, it might encourage someone who didn't enjoy ordering as much as I do to under-order, since things continue to come in even if you neglect the hands-on portion.

Overall, I'm happy with how I did considering I'm a beginner. I only had a handful of things I consider flops:
Father's Day
Tuesday Nights in 1980
Sport of Kings

I also had a few things that kind of took off, at least by the standards of non auto-order titles:
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
The Assistants
Barkskins
I Let You Go

Barkskins isn't a huge surprise, since it's by Annie Prolux (when I did my annual review of the auto-order list, I added her to it). Similarly, Curious Charms, although it's a debut novel, got a ton of buzz in popular review sources and was so clearly designed to be the next Mr. Pettigrew's Last Stand that I knew it would be a hit.

Interestingly, The Assistants by Camille Perri and I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh are the only two titles out of everything I ordered that I actually read. In both cases I was on the fence about whether or not to order them so I got a hold of advance reader's copies to evaluate them myself. I enjoyed The Assistants a lot, and suspect that two of its checkouts are a direct result of me 'hand-selling' it to a patron who asked for book recommendations--she checked it out and then, I think, suggested a friend borrow it when she returned it. I wouldn't have thought of it as I suggestion if I hadn't read it myself. On the other hand, I thought that I Let You Go was awful, but when reading it I noticed how much it resembled what people said they liked about The Girl on the Train so I decided to buy it thinking it would be marketed as a read-alike, or that I could suggest it as one.

So, actually reading the things I ordered did pay off. However, I did that on my own time, not at work, and I have mixed feelings about that from an ethical perspective. I see why my employer wouldn't want to pay for me to just sit at my desk and read, but at the same time, I didn't even enjoy I Let You Go, and I wouldn't have picked it up if I weren't considering it for a work purpose. Maybe the solution is to try to get my hands on more digital-format advanced reader's copies and read during lulls on the desk--that way I'm using work time, but only time that would otherwise be unproductive.

There's definitely still a lot that I don't get about fiction. Why did my flops flop? I see that my patron base prefers realistic fiction so I now understand why some of the sci-fi/fantasy selections didn't go over as well, but two out of my three lowest-circulating choices were realistic fiction. Also, how good does something have to do to be considered a success? Should it have to circulate as much as a Patterson? Could I hand-sell anything I had read to make it as popular as The Assistants turned out to be?

Many questions remain.

If you want to read about arts and recreation or about philosophy and psychology, check out my posts on the 700s and the 100s respectively.