Wednesday, December 21, 2016


In our regular segment of Things the MLS Did Not Prepare Us For, a coworker came to me with the following question. She is the Teen Librarian at Small Town Library and she devotedly manages and supports a cadre of teen volunteers/fans.

I wrote some scholarship recommendation letters for one of the teen volunteers and she gave me a handwritten thank you note with a $40 gift card enclosed. I haven't touched the gift card. I can't even really look at it. I know she spent her own money on it and she doesn't have forty dollars. I feel like writing those recommendations was a way to say thank you to her for all her volunteer work, and also sort of part of  my job. What can I do with this card? Can I give it back? I don't want to hurt her feelings, but I don't feel like it's right to use it either.

Any thoughts, readers?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A little different

A family member and fellow librarian (isn't that great that I have such a person!?) pointed me to this tumblr written by a Target cashier a while ago. Although the writer works in a for-profit store and books and media are only a small fraction of the material he provides people with, it is strikingly similar to both this blog and my daily life. It's worth a read.

What I've learned from ordering: 100s

As you may recall from the 700s edition of this series, I have been keeping track of the first titles I ordered in my capacity as Newbie Librarian at Small Town Library. Today I took at look at the nonfiction titles in the Dewey 100s--the philosophy and psychology section.

I thought the 100s would be easier than the 700s because the topics are much closer to my own heart. I like philosophy and psychology and I read a lot of pop psychology in my free time. However, in the public library most of what falls into the 100s is self-help, and that is a genre that I've really struggled to get a grip on.


I think I made two major mistakes in my early work in the 100s: Focusing too much on a 'core collection' that we didn't really need, and putting too much trust in publishers and review sources to predict the next big thing, instead of thinking more carefully about my own community.

Since the 100s are an area I'm more familiar with, I felt like I was prepared to make sure we had a 'core collection' in that area--books covering all the major philosophers and schools of philosophy, reference books on psychological concepts, etc. We don't get a lot of people trying to treat our library like an academic library, and we are part of a consortium if we need to make requests, so I tried to avoid spending a lot of money (and a lot of shelf space!) on classics and a core collection of secondary works. But it turns out I still overdid it. Here are some of the flops I bought:

Primary Greatness: The 12 Levers of Success by Stephen Covey--This hasn't gone out since it appeared on the shelf in early May. Covey (the author of the Seven Habits books) is a big name in self-help, but I think he may be kind of passe now. I'd still keep his major works on the shelf, but I'm not going to put him in the 'automatically purchase' category for his new books anymore.

History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell--There are a ton of schools of philosophy and major philosophers that we don't have books on, and this was sort of a compromise to stop myself filling the shelves with the entire Cambridge "Very Short Introduction" series on philosophy. However, I should have understood that the lack of those titles reflected a lack of demand, not a systematic oversight on the part of my predecessors. This title has also never circulated. If someone wants a book on someone other than Plato or Aristotle, I can get it for them through interlibrary loan.

I also bought some more time-sensitive self-help books which professional review sources and our book vendor (which provides demand levels ranging from "moderate" to "hot") indicated were likely to be hits. Some of them were, but a lot of them were not. Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life by Richard Louv, Dinner with Edward: The Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabel Vincent, and Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us about Raising Successful Children by Roberta Golinkoff all went out only twice in 4-6 months of ownership.

I thought that at least Vitamin N and Becoming Brilliant would be hits with our community because it is very parenting-oriented, but that wasn't the case. I'm not sure exactly why yet. It could be that being a full-time parent doesn't translate into reading parenting books, or it could be that the upper-middle-class patrons of Small Town Library, who often have more than one child, don't feel they need parenting help (perhaps parenting books are more aspirational?). However, my best guess is that the working dad, stay-at-home mom culture of Small Town means that the parents who come to the library are women who are outnumbered by children and who spend their whole library visits upstairs in the Youth department. They may snag their adult novels and cookbooks off of the hold shelf as they pass through, but they don't have the luxury of browsing the new adult books. Although parents visit our library a lot, I now realize that the drivers of *checkouts* in the adult department are older patrons who have grown children, more time on their hands, and no need for parenting books. Now that I've learned more about not just who uses our library, but *how* those groups use the library differently, I think I'll do better with this in the future.


Seeing what my best-circulating titles were gave me extra insight into my parenting book failures. Here are my top purchases, all acquired in April.
The Power of Intention: Learning to Co-Create Your World Your Way by Wane Dyer--checked out 9 times.
It's Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond by Julia Cameron--checked out 8 times
Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett (Host of NPR's "On Being")--checked out 7 times

See a bit of a theme? The Dyer book has a pretty even appeal across ages, but the other two are definitely more likely to appeal to an older audience.

I also bought two books on mindfulness and meditation that review sources and our vendor claimed would be popular since I do know it's a big topic now. They did pretty well (circulating about once a month each) and I like to think it was at least partly because in a heavily Christian community I made sure I choose the popular titles that disconnected those practices from their non-Christian religious roots the most thoroughly.

Other Observations

Review sources and our book vendor predicted demand okay in this area, but not as well as for the 700s. I should probably make a list of places where self-help books get talked about and become famous, since the the reviews can be hit or miss. That said, filtering what they suggest through knowledge of your particular patron base can help.

Also, why Wayne Dyer has enduring popularity but Stephen Covey doesn't is a bit of a mystery to me, maybe because I've never read any of their books. Anyone with theories, let me know.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Some recent patron highlights

Dad to daughter who is wandering off as he is trying to get them to leave the library: "So, shall I just come for you tomorrow then?"

Person no older than mid-30s: "Where are your compact discs?"

Patron: "I am looking for a book, appropriate for a nine-year-old, that tells the story of the musical Cats. Does such a book exist?"

Friday, December 16, 2016

All I want for Christmas (2016 edition)

Dear lovely readers,

Remember how I said that I would fight anyone who says that the 'Santa version' of Christmas is appropriate to celebrate in the library because it isn't really a religious holiday? I've gotten sucked into several debates among library professionals about this very topic over the last few weeks of December and I've been discouraged to hear many of my colleagues say that they saw no problem with decorations featuring Christmas trees, Santa, reindeer, etc. in their libraries. If you feel that way too, I'm probably not going to convince you otherwise (believe me, I speak from experience now), but if you think that having those things in a government institution is problematic, I would love it if you would consider going to your local public library and writing a comment card expressing that, whether it affects you personally as someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas or whether you celebrate Christmas but just don't see the public library as an appropriate place for that celebration.

Here is what I wrote to one of the libraries where I work, which has Christmas decorations:

I would appreciate it if the library would consider not putting up Christmas decorations next year. I am not a Christian and this time of year I feel like I am constantly reminded that I am not a part of mainstream American culture. It is sad and frustrating to experience that at the library also, since the library is supposed to be a place for everyone regardless of their culture or beliefs. I have no problem with displays of Christmas materials, but to have decorations all over the library makes me feel like the library is not really for me and makes me feel left out.

Here is what I wrote to my own home library, which (at least at that time) did not have Christmas decorations:

Thank you for not putting up Christmas decorations at the library. I am not a Christian and this time of year I feel like I am constantly reminded that I am not a part of mainstream American culture. Everywhere I go there are things emphasizing how I am a minority. It is really nice to have somewhere public to come where I have a break from that.

Although I'm not a Christian, I celebrate Christmas because that is what my family celebrates. Talking to other librarians in similar personal situations started to make me think I was making a mountain out of a molehill until I got this response from a librarian who is Jewish:

"Parents who come the rest of the year have told me that they won't take their kids to storytime in December because it is always Christmas-themed and they already get way too much of that at school and at businesses. They don't want to subject their kids to yet another reminder of how they are different and left out of what other kids are doing. Contrary to what other people are saying, Christmas-themed decorations and programming are actually driving patrons away from the library, not bringing them in. They approach me to tell me since they think I will be the only person on the staff who will understand."

When your patrons aren't only unhappy with what your library is doing, but afraid to say anything because they don't think they will be listened to, you're doing something wrong.

I always vote for you

It's been a stressful week at both my jobs so it was very nice to talk to a patron today who called to ask about our renovation--not to complain; she was just interested and wanted to know what was going to change. She said, "I always vote for you. I think libraries are essential to a free society."

Monday, December 12, 2016


My favorite patron at Small Town Library is Dinner Signup Gentleman. He's a regular who knows most of the staff by name and always greets us and asks how we are doing. Small Town is pretty culturally homogeneous so patrons talk politics and beliefs a little more than other libraries were I've worked--I think because it just doesn't occur to them that you will disagree. I've been afraid that I might find out that DSG is politically or socially nutty in some way, but so far I hadn't gotten any inkling of any potentially controversial opinions. Then this evening we had this conversation:

DSG: Emma, is there such a thing as a book or a category of books about signs? You know, like omens that people see that make them think of good or bad things.
Me: Good question. Let me see...oh, it looks like there are a few. Were you looking more for stories of people experiencing signs, or guides to interpreting signs that you might see?
DSG: Hm. Both....Can you order that one for me, please? I think my wife would like it.
Me: Sure.
DSG: That sort of thing can really make people happy. Not that I think I really believe in it. But, it seems like it helps people, and I say there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't take it really far.
Me: I agree! Who am I to judge if something improves someone else's life?
DSG (lowering his voice): ...sort of like religion.

Fortunately I happen to be a receptive audience for this particular controversial opinion, but I doubt it is the standard in Small Town!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What I've learned from ordering: 700s

I've now been at Small Town Library for about 9 months. One of the things I do here that I had never done before was order materials for the collection. I keep a list of the things I ordered early on and I have been following how well (or in some cases how poorly) they circulate to try to see what I can learn from it. I'm finally at the point where I have things on my list that we've had on our shelves for more than 6 months, so I think the data is starting to be useful.

Today I looked at 40 items I had ordered for the Dewey 700s---Arts and Recreation, in a period from late April to late May. Here are some things I learned:

I had five titles that were just total flops. They have not been checked out a single time since I bought them. They are:
A field guide to American houses : the definitive guide to identifying and understanding America's domestic architecture
Soccer FAQ : all that's left to know about the clubs, the players, and the rivalries 
The smart guide to horses and riding
The baseball starter : a handbook for coaching children and teens
Experiencing Mozart : a listener's companion

Most of these titles have two things in common:
1. We are the only library in our consortium, or one of only a few, that owns them
 2. While they are new-ish titles, they are things I bought as 'replacements' for older titles on the subject that were not circulating

From that, I can draw two conclusions for future reference:
1. Trust the consortium: If no one else bought it, there is probably a good reason. I thought there might be value in having unique titles that people elsewhere in the system might want to borrow, but the lack of holdings elsewhere in the consortium instead looks like it's an indicator that the low demand for a title isn't just a fluke of our local library but instead represents a larger trend.
2. If you're having trouble finding a good title on something, consider buying nothing: Librarians want to feel like our collections are complete. I think we all dread having someone come in and having to tell them we have nothing on their topic of interest. I suspect some of the older titles that I weeded were only lingering because past people in my position had looked for newer options and seen that little was out there, so they chose to keep the older title rather than leaving a topic "empty" or replacing when choices were limited. I don't regret weeding the older titles, because they didn't get used, but I do regret replacing them just so I could feel like our library had something on the subject. Just like lack of holdings in the consortium was an indicator of patron interest, so was lack of offerings from publishers. This looks like it was especially true for some of the less-common sports, which makes sense. If 90% of people now learn sports from videos instead of books, we probably still need books on the very popular sports, but the chances of someone coming in for a book on softball or lacrosse are near zero.


I had six titles that have been checked out 5 times or more, i.e. at an average rate of about once a month. Those are:
Spooky & bright : 101 Halloween ideas
Artful Halloween : 31 frightfully elegant projects
Happy home outside : everyday magic for outdoor life
Ultimate book of home plans
Supercraft: easy projects for every weekend
Teach yourself visually: knitting

What I mainly learned from this is that people love crafts even more than I realized they did. The 700s were a daunting assignment for me because their big categories are crafts, art, home decoration, movies/tv, and sports. None of these are areas of strength or personal interest for me, but for some reason I thought it was sports that was going to be my downfall, and I think I put too much energy into working on that collection compared to how much I spent working on crafts. Fortunately, I was able to learn from this that my patrons like occasion-specific titles a lot, and also that the common crafts are still the ones in the strongest demand--the more niche books I ordered (beading, quilting, and a paper crafts title) did okay, but not as well as books that I think of as falling within the core of a craft collection: knitting titles and all-in-one mega-titles.

Like my flop choices, some of these titles were replacements for areas in which our existing materials were older and not circulating. However, these were areas where we had at least a handful of titles rather than just one or two and, when I went looking for newer items to add, there were more choices.

Interestingly, I also had to go outside our major book vendor in order to get Ultimate Home Plans. At the time it seemed like a hassle and I might not have gone to Amazon if I hadn't had a patron who specifically wanted something newer on the topic. In retrospect, I'm really glad I did it--it's easy not to even look at books that you can't get through your main supplier, but there are some topics where the best books might come from unconventional publishers that the vendors don't have relationship with--for example, I think Home Depot may have published the home plans title.

Other observations

Something I was actually surprised by is that our review sources (Booklist magazine and Library Journal) predicted demand pretty well for nonfiction, at least for the 700s. Nonfiction for the general reader gets reviewed a lot less frequently than fiction, and it seems like just the fact that someone took the time to review a nonfiction title and publish that review was a good indicator that that book was worth considering for purchase. Since I don't do a great job keeping up with which authors have gone on the morning talk shows, which celebrities have published books, etc., it was great to find out that professional reviewers seemed to be either catching or predicting those things.

Sorry for the long post, but this is just the kind of information I wish I had had nine months ago. I wanted it to be out on the internet for the next new librarian in my place.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Some signs

Fortunately, only one of these came from the public areas of the library. The other three I unearthed in an ongoing anti-clutter campaign.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Other duties as assigned

Today at work:
  • Cleaned up broken glass
  • Photographed a mysterious desk lamp in our cluttered office to include in an email threatening to throw it away
  • Ordered new copies of a handful of karate books that someone borrowed and never brought back
  • Secured a promise from one of our volunteers to make popcorn 5 months from now.
  • Put a book called Getting Back In There: Dating again after the serious break up and another called One Year to Financial Organization on display ("Jump-start your new year's resolutions" theme)
  • Wrote myself a note for next week: "Call Tom C. re: Beekeeping."

Never boring

I came in to Downtown Library to find out that the police busted a meth lab next door over the weekend, and to have a patron ask me: "Is there a way I can find the horoscope for a Scorpio on April 28th, 1971?"

Meanwhile, at Small Town Library the first email of the day I saw was "Does anyone have one of those singing fish that you hope not to get for Christmas? If so, can I borrow it? I'd like to use it at the Santa visit next week."

And, on the Continual Battle Against Christmas in the Library front, I wrested control of a major display at Downtown Library and put up "The Library Speaks Your Language," featuring information about the library and books in Chinese, Arabic, French, and Spanish. This would always be a display I would be happy with, but the thought that it would almost certainly be Christmas-themed otherwise this month warms my Grinchy heart.