Tuesday, August 28, 2012

'Weeding' books

I was going to post about how I got a project at work: I am going through all of the books in the Dewey Decimal 500s (science) that haven't been checked out in the last three years and making a recommendation about which to keep and which to 'weed' from the library's collection. But I decided that that would give things away. So I have a question for you instead.

One of the strange things about public libraries is that, even though the public pays for the books, we have almost no influence over what is in the library collection. Although people can make purchase suggestions in most systems, I've never heard of a method by which non-employees can directly influence whether or not something is kept once we have it. So before I tell you about what we actually do,

how would you decide which books to get rid of if it were up to you?

(P.S. We are having a massively intrusive upgrade to our intergrated library software today which has taken down the self-checkouts, the ability to log into a computer with a library card, and the public catalog. Most of the patrons have taken it very badly. Only Research Guy is unaffected and cheerful as ever.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

More incidents from Adult Reference

A woman with a very quiet voice called the reference desk. She wanted biographical information on “Rin Tin Tin, that German Shepherd dog,” specifically his birthplace, birth year or date, death year, and place of death. I told her it would take me a little while to find that information and she said oh no, that wouldn’t work because she wasn’t at home. I asked if I could email her the answer but she does not have email. She says she will call back tomorrow morning. Yikes.

A 50-60ish man in shorts, a t-shirt, and black tennis shoes (no visible socks) approaches the desk purposefully.
Man: Are you old enough to work here!?
Me: Just barely.
Him: Well, keep it up!

and from the Children’s Desk (always too much excitement):

A small girl is walking around looking confused.
YS Library assistant: Are you looking for your shoes?
Girl: Yes!

Yesterday I found a biscuit on top of the children’s DVD section.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I have had to think a lot more about the concept of ‘fair use’ since I started working in a public library. Librarians tend to be associated with a fairly liberal attitude toward copyright, which I always supposed in a vague way that I shared. However, I often come up against the following situation:

A kid wants me to print an image created by someone else (tween girls want photos of boy band members, little boys want Lego Ninjago and Dragonball Z images). This image belongs to a person or corporation who/which put resources into creating it. The kid doesn’t want to make money off of this person’s work, but getting the printout is a substitute for other manifestations of fandom that might actually involve purchasing something, for example buying a poster or a coloring book.

Do I help this kid  copy and paste the picture from Google Images into MS Paint and then print it? Is that the right thing to do?*

*It’s worth noting that our library models this behavior. All of our displays are illustrated with images from the internet, and I doubt they all come from Wikimedia commons.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Stolen: 20,000 English Words Spelled Correctly

Yesterday I found a ripped-out RFID tag that belongs with the book: 20,000 English Words Spelled Correctly.

This raises a large number of questions, among them:

Who steals a book from the library when she could check it out for free and keep it for up to 15 weeks at a time?

Specifically, who steals THAT book?

And of course, most importantly, why did the library lay out money to buy that book in the first place?

(The answer to the last question, of course, is that patrons want it so badly they will even steal it.)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Emphasis on the "Texas" part

Yesterday a man in a cowboy hat came to the desk to request instructional DVDs on the two-step. When I finished placing them on hold for him he touched the brim of his hat and said “Thank you, ma’am.”

Friday, August 10, 2012

Teach a man to fish (but don't teach a woman to fish?)

I've been thinking a lot lately about the saying "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." I worry that I spend a lot more time giving fish than teaching fishing at work. (Despite the post title, my experience has actually been that women are more interested in 'learning how to fish' than men are.)

This happens particularly with requesting books. Last weekend a lot of people wanted books that our system doesn’t own, so I offered them the options of interlibrary loans or purchase requests. My worries about feeding versus teaching escalated when I realized that, based on my previous conversation with the patron, I decided ahead of time whether to put in the request from him or her or whether to show the patron how to do it. So not only do I rarely teach, I apparently also use stereotyping to decide who is a candidate to be taught.
Who I taught how to put in a request:
-Middle-aged white woman requesting the sequels to YA books for her daughter. She knew the books she wanted were not yet out and she had checked for records for them in the catalog. When I asked her if she wanted me to put in a request for her or if she would like to learn how to do it, she enthusiastically replied that she would like to learn.

Who I put in requests for:
-A 13ish boy who wants the DVD of the new Wimpy Kid movie, which only came out in theaters yesterday.
-An elderly white man who wanted a biography of a psychologist for his daughter. He introduced his question by saying “If I’m having a senior moment, are you the person to talk to?”
-An African lady who I spoke with over the phone. She had a heavy accent and was also carrying on a conversation with family members in the background. She had previously failed to understand a couple of my answers to her questions.
I think in the future I am going to make it my policy to always offer to teach, although I have to figure out a good way to say “or I can just do it for you” without making patrons feel bad for selecting that option.

Note from a few days later: I have tried this three times since and not one patron was interested in learning. Bummer.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Patron-to-patron assistance

Today I helped two small boys print out pictures of Legos. They were working on separate computers so I bounced back between the two of them. I went back to the older boy, who was at the 'release print job' stage, to find that a 30ish woman had helped him. I realized that, with the exception of patrons from the same family or group, this was the first time I had ever seen one patron help another patron in the library.

Is this as rare as I think it is? Have you ever helped, or been helped by, another library patron? In what situation?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

In which I recieve a business card

This story is from last week (i.e., pre-blog days):

There is a homeless (we think) man who comes into the library often. He is always very well-groomed and is always checking out and/or reading books about computer systems administration. However, his most notable habit is that he loses things every time he comes into the library and then he comes to the reference desk to ask if anyone has found them. Every time we tell him to ask at customer service, because that is where the lost and found is. Every day he goes and does that, and then comes back to us again the next time he loses something.

Last week he lost a personal book and came to the desk to ask me if it had been turned it. It hadn’t, but I found one later that evening. Next time I saw the guy I told him that I might have found his book, and that he should check at the customer service desk. It was indeed his, and he was so thrilled that he came back to thank me about three times. After the third time he said, “What is your name again? Here, take my card!” Then he handed me an extremely professional-looking business card which listed him as an Oracle administrator. Huh.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

From the adult desk

Woman: I want [such and such a book] but it says you don’t have it.
Me: I’m sorry about that.
Woman: Well, I wanted to buy it anyway.
Me: You could use a computer here to order it on Amazon, if you want.
Woman: Can you order it for me? Do you do that?
Me: I’m sorry, we don’t do that.
Woman: Oh, so the library doesn’t order books for people?
Me: No.
Woman: Oh well. Thanks anyway.
Unclear on the concept:
Woman holding up one of the books from our Olympics display: So are these books for sale?

Elderly man: If I’m having a senior moment, are you the person to talk to?

My favorite patron

I thought I would start the blog out on a positive note by telling you about my favorite patron, who I call Research Guy. Research guy comes in a few days a week, usually for hours at a time. I have never seen him check out a book, use a computer, or even go into a section other than Reference. He stays there and reads things aloud to himself from dictionaries and encyclopedias. He may be schizophrenic and he gives one of our normally unflappable adult reference librarians the creeps for some reason. But he doesn't seem distressed and is always very polite, at least to me.  Plus he asks interesting questions, and he's more or less the only person who uses the reference collection, so I like him.

He first asked me a question a couple of weeks ago.
RG: “Can you help me find the name of somebody? He was a famous French pilot. It was saint ex-something.”
Me (double-checking on Wikipedia): “Sure, just a moment. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry?”
RG: “Yes, that’s it! Thank you!”

Another day he came back and asked me if I could help him figure out a word. He described its definition. The word was ‘anachronism’ and he was thrilled when I came up with it. He opened this conversation by remembering that I had helped him identify Saint- Exupéry before, and thanked me for that again.

Welcome to the blog!

Because it is more important than anything else, first a disclaimer: This blog is not intended as a critique of the library system or city where I work. I will not use anyone’s name or identifying information without his or her explicit permission. If you have concerns about privacy or about anything else related to the blog, please let me know and I will address them immediately.

I hope that’s taken care of, at least for now.

Anyway. I'm trying to keep this blog from becoming narcissistic, which blogs seem to have a HUGE risk of. I will try to keep in mind that it was created with three purposes:

First, to provoke a discussion (not a lecture from a soapbox) about the purpose of public libraries and how they do or should go about fulfilling that purpose. I think anyone in our society is qualified to have an opinion on this, and this means you! I encourage you to add your thoughts via comments.

Second, to talk about the ethics of being an information provider. Again, I think everyone is qualified to have an opinion on this.
Third and lastly, to share some anecdotes, mostly lighthearted, from a mid-size library branch located in a large metropolitan area in Texas.
If I knew of a way to make this a more discussion-friendly forum, I would. I am new to the career of librarianship (for those of you who don't know, I'm currently a paraprofessional) and I need your help.