Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The saddest thing

I asked one of our young regulars why she said she didn't like books, only movies. She said, "I used to love reading, but reading isn't fun anymore. I have to read so much for school that now I never want to read for pleasure!"

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Today an elderly patron (finally) stopped chatting with me because she had to go catch her bus. She said "Well, I'd better make like a herd of turtles" and shuffled off.

In the U.S. in 2013, 3.7 million people got jobs...

...that they had applied for online using a computer at a public library: http://digitalinclusion.umd.edu/sites/default/files/DigitalInclusionIssueBrief2014.pdf

Pretty neat, eh?

Apparently 30 million people used public library computers to apply for jobs in 2013, which I guess explains why the guy who I've helped upload his resume to 20 applications is still coming in.

Oh well. You've got to help them try.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dinosaurs Destory Detroit

Despite the fact that a Michigan library has been the home of this blog for months now, I only just today learned that this exists:

Dinosaurs Destroy Detroit

You can see the whole series listing on Wikipedia, but this one is my favorite.

"Fiction or nonfiction?" follow-up

A couple of weeks ago, I asked people which they would rather their public library give up if push came to shove: fiction or nonfiction. Five of the six commenters voted to preserve fiction. No one voted to preserve nonfiction. The sixth asked the reasonable question, "Why would a library ever do this? couldn't they give up half the non and half the fiction instead?"

In real life, of course Anonymous Poster 6 is right--if for some reason a library did have to toss half its materials, that's probably what the overwhelming majority of them would choose to do. In the U.S., we (meaning both librarians and the moderately-interested public in general) have come to regard both fiction and nonfiction as essential to a library's mission. The public library is supposed to both inform and entertain.*

The responses were interesting because early in public library in the U.S., nonfiction dominated. The little fiction available was works of literature, morality tales, and other 'improving' books. Let me give you a little two-minute history of public libraries in the U.S.:

Before taxpayer-funded libraries were prevalent, the collections of subscription libraries were the most commonly available books to the average person. For a fee, a person could become a member of the subscription library and make use of its collections. While subscription libraries started in the 18th century as the preserve of the elite, in the 19th century they became more common and prices came down. They were used most heavily by the upwardly mobile middle class, but in theory the fee was low enough that subscription libraries' collections were in reach for the working class as well.

In the late 1800s, philanthropists began funding libraries that were open for anyone to use (many modern public libraries are still housed in buildings built with Andrew Carnegie's money), and public libraries became much more common. However, they still tended to be focused on improvement rather than pleasure--people came to them to be educated rather than entertained, and one of the major hopes for public libraries was that they would essentially indoctrinate new immigrants into American culture (we could have a whole post on this, but there isn't space here).

During the 1900s, more and more popular fiction was added to library collections, and now entertainment rather than information does seem to be what most people think of when they think of the public library. At both public libraries I've worked in, fiction and DVDs (which are almost all fiction rather than documentaries) make up the majority of the collections by number of items and the majority of checkouts as well.

Considering that, I shouldn't have been surprised that most of my readers identified fiction as most essential to the public library. However, the interesting question is why. How exactly did this come about, given where public libraries started?

I'll do follow up on follow up later to post my own thoughts, but I don't want to overwhelm you with text. In the meantime, if you've got theories or comments on how fiction came to predominate in public libraries, or opinions on why it should (or shouldn't) stay that way, please let me know!

*Note: I'm using the word "entertain" here as a bit of shorthand. I'm aware that it's not quite adequate. Obviously, people gain a lot and learn a lot from reading and watching creative material. It expands their own creativity, helps them understand the world, comforts them in hard times, and helps them empathize with other people. Calling that "entertainment" isn't meant to trivialize that--it just means that stories are nearly always things people choose to read for their own sake, not something people are trying to simply extract information from.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"Good movies" and other recent notable interactions

Yesterday a man and his two friends came in. He asked, "Where are the good movies?" I figured he wanted a particular movie, or to be pointed to the right section of DVDs (ours are separated into Mystery, Action, Comedy, etc.). Nope. Maybe he wants some recommendations. Well, what kind of movies does he like? What has he seen before and what did he think of it? Does he have any favorite actors? Nope. "Last time I came here I just asked and they picked out the movies for me." So I picked him out a semi-random selection of ten DVDs and he walked away happy.

Friends of the Library Board member with a 'service dog' comes in; dog immediately lunges for the children's section (I'm sure it smells fascinating). Coworker grumbles, "You can so tell that's not a real service dog."

Man buys a two-dollar pair of headphones, pays with a check.

Outreach librarian doing a tour: "This desk is where you come for help. You want to know the atomic weight of tungsten, your zip code, whatever, this is the place."

Can you tell me which cities are at least 40 miles away from [City the library is in]?
A. Most of them. B. Does this have anything to do with a restraining order?

Accidental eye contact with someone who is picking his nose. Eew.

Guy who needs help with a computer (the monitor is turned off) asks if me and coworker are sisters. Nope, we're not, but we get asked this on a regular basis because we have the same hair color and nerdy thick-rimmed glasses, and are both white.

Man needs to print some attachments from an email but doesn't know his password. Figuring out your password is not a service we provide, but fortunately his daughter had set up his account for him and had the sense to put in his phone number to get a text as a password recovery option.

Woman wants contact information to write to author Brad Meltzer about the Constitution.

Retired plumber: I was told I could bring my computer in here and maybe you could help me figure out what's wrong with it. (I could! Then he wants to know--do I have a business card?)

Is there somewhere in the library we can go if we need to be loud?

Guy who is coming off of something (?) and is really messed up: A guy back there pointed his fingers at me like a gun and said 'band bang, you dead.' I think he's going to rob me.
Me: Well, that is a threat and we can have security call the police.
Guy: No, I don't want them to get involved.

Teach two different patrons about Craigslist. A new world opens up.

An older couple makes copies of the tax instruction booklet (we weren't able to order copies from the IRS to give away this year; it's a nightmare) without complaining to us or needed assistance with the copier. I would like to thank them for how low-maintenance they are, but I'm so overwhelmed I might cry, which would be awkward.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Fiction or nonfiction?

Hello faithful readers!

Something occurred to me earlier this week and I thought I'd ask for your opinions on it because the patrons I see in person just want me to hand them their computer passes and stop talking to them.

If your/my/the/a public library (whatever is most relevant to you) had to give up either all its fiction or all its nonfiction, which would be more tolerable, and why?