Thursday, June 30, 2016

Library purchases

A coworker  in the Youth Services department went to our local megastore to buy supplies for her upcoming programs, but she left one of her bags at the store. She called them when she got back to the office to see if they had noticed it: "Hi, I was just there and I think I left one of my bags...okay, thank, balloons, disposable gloves, and possibly some bottles of rubbing alcohol."

People being annoyed

Things patrons have complained about this week:

That the Friends of the Library took down the lifetime membership plaque in order to update it, so she couldn't look at it right this minute.

That TurboTax is hard to use.

That the clerk who called to tell her about her overdue item "wasn't very nice."

That the copier gave her a free second copy. 

That someone who discovered a lost purse turned it in to the lost and found instead of calling her personally to let her know he found it.

That this year's summer concert series is in a local concert hall instead of outside on the library's lawn.

That Millennials "don't understand metaphors."

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bad books?

I can't convey in writing how frustrating my first reference question of the morning was (laptop help over the phone--my colleague says, "If only videocalling had become a thing"), so instead let's talk about collections because it's my current favorite thing.

I had a library school indoctrination, including a class on ethics, so I think of myself as being pretty firmly in the camp of 'everything belongs in the public library,' but I walked by the 610s (medicine) yesterday and had a powerful urge to take a pseudo-science 'cure all your problems with a weird diet' book off of display, and perhaps to mis-shelve it a little, too.

Are there any materials that you think do not belong in a public library?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

My First Professional Job post

If you read this blog for the funny patron stories alone, you probably want to skip this post.

I had my performance review for the end of my 'introductory period' of working at Small Town Library today. I've worked there for 3 months, and they must know what they are doing, because it's just in the last couple of weeks that I have started to feel caught up with the longer-serving employees and started looking around to see what projects I might be able to take on. I've done some searching for advice on how I should be spending my time, as my job description and instructions from above aren't really enough to go on--I can meet their requirements and still have substantial time left over.

Because my library is small, it doesn't offer me access to a lot of professional databases or similar resources, so Google has featured remarkably prominently in my search for information. Unfortunately, with the library job market as it is, searches for things like "first professional position librarian" turn up all sorts of advice about how to get such a thing, but not what to do when you've gotten it. The most relevant thing I found was this article from the Metropolitan New York Library Council, but it was full of advice that was almost painfully obvious: Listen more than you talk. Get to know people. Don't push for change until you understand the existing processes. That's all great, but what I want is advice that is way more specific and relevant to my everyday work:

I order fiction books. How do I make sure that I'm continuing to order series that my predecessor used to order?

What's a good way to keep track of how the books I've selected for the collection are doing? How do I know if I'm ordering the right things?

How often should I review my collection for weed candidates? I know that the answer is "often," but I'm finding that once every two weeks is too often.

I'm supposed to be getting involved in programming, but we schedule programs so far out that anything I propose won't happen until September at the earliest. What can I do between now and then? 

Since it would drive my boss crazy if I were constantly asking her to assign me new projects, what should I do with my free time? What are ways I can get more on top of my work and improve the library without stepping on my coworkers' toes or requiring approval by multiple people?

What kinds of investment in 'professional development' are worthwhile? Should I be watching a webinar a week, or trying to get conference presentations together in a bid to get sent to an in-person conference?

How can I work to get to know the community in which my library is located? 

Anyone who has advice on any of these questions, or advice on what to do next in your new job (librarian or not) once you have settled in, is more than welcome to share.

I will post later about what I've done so far, in case a future new librarian finds herself in my predicament and does the same optimistic Google search.  


It's interesting to work simultaneously at Small Town Library and Downtown Library. Here is a sample of reference questions at both:

At Small Town Library:
Are there any spaces left in the garden program?
Could you please order this for me for my book club?
Where is the children's program that's happening this afternoon?
Do I need a key to get into the restroom?
Where do I sign up to volunteer? 

At Downtown Library:
How much does it cost to get about seven copies from the computer?
Do you have an occult section?
I need to sue my landlord; where is the form? 
How do I make the computer screen bigger?
Do you have another bathroom? Someone's been in there for half an hour and I think he's doing drugs.

At Small Town Library, our patron base is white, upper-middle-class retired people and white, upper-middle-class stay-at-home moms and their children. At Downtown Library, our patron base is pretty much the same as the patron base of the bus station down the block--poor, disproportionally nonwhite, and unemployed.

Many of the differences between how the two libraries work are symptomatic of larger inequalities between wealthy bedroom communities and large-ish urban areas--the differences in the quality of the facilities, the different amounts of funding, the different attitudes of community members toward the library--and are mostly out of not just my control, but any individual library staff member's.

The most striking difference in my everyday life, though, is how staff approaches patrons at each library. At Small Town Library, the patron always has the benefit of the doubt. The rules are designed to be permissive. If you're not sure if something is allowed, you generally let the patron do it. At Downtown Library, it is the exact opposite. The rules are restrictive. If you're not sure if something is allowed, you might get in trouble for letting a patron do it. It's made me wonder about cause and effect. Are Small Town Library patrons appreciative, polite, and patient because of the culture they come from, or because we approach them with the expectation that they will behave that way? Are Downtown Library patrons sometimes adversarial, rule-breaking, and impatient because of all the other stuff they've got going on, or because the library is structured in response to a perception that that is how they will behave?

You can probably tell which way I am leaning. I'd love to have the power to swap the staff and policies of the two libraries for a month and see how people's behavior changes. If only that were remotely possible. Maybe someday when I am the Librarian of Congress...*

*Important note for non-library nerds who might be following this blog: The Librarian of Congress has almost never been an actual librarian, at least not in the sense of having a graduate degree in the subject from an institution accredited by the American Library Association. Carla Hayden is currently in the nomination process. If confirmed, Hayden would be the first woman, the first black person, and basically the first actual librarian to hold the position. By the way, she got that ALA-accredited degree from my alma mater (although it no longer has a library school). Read more in this news article.

Hey, Research Lady! how one patron opened a conversation with me earlier this week. That is one job title I am happy to accept!