Monday, September 18, 2017


I had my first day at New Library yesterday. One of the first things I did was do the branch's pull list to help familiarize myself with where things are in the collection. (For non-library readers, the pull list is the list of items that need to be collected from the shelves because a patron has asked for them.) One of the things on the list was a copy of 1984, which I couldn't find anywhere despite searching high and low. A little bit later I noticed that there was a copy in excellent condition sitting in our pile of donated books to be sorted, so I asked my manager if the library ever adds donated books to the collection. The answer was 'pretty much never,' just like it has been at most of the libraries where I have worked.

This bums me out a little bit, since I'm pretty sure that a big fraction of the patrons who donate books think that they are contributing to the library's collection, when instead they're contributing to its book sale (or, sometimes, its recycling dumpster). This made me think of other common misconceptions about the library that seem to cross the various public libraries where I have worked.

Librarian readers: Anything to add?
Non-librarian readers: If any of these are still a surprise to you, I apologize.

1. If you donate a book, it is added to the library's collection.
2. The librarians know where all the books are.
3. The library keeps track of what you have checked out.
4.  If you wanted, you could volunteer and staff the information desk.
5. Surely the ISBN is important somehow. (About a 50/50 split between people who give to me for item lookups and people who scan it thinking it's the library barcode)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

New job

Good news, everyone! I had scheduled blog posts out through August mainly just because the number I had written spread neatly over that length of time rather than because I realistically thought I would have a job by September, but I am starting at a new library next week!

I haven't come up with a nom-de-blog for New Library yet (I think I'll need to get to know it a bit better first) but the striking thing about it is that I'll be working in its children's department. It's a small library so I'm sure there will be a lot of cross-over, but I'll be doing kid's programs and things and doing some extra chatting to small children and their parents. I expect that that will make for good blog material.

I didn't specifically seek out a children's librarian job--instead, I wanted to work at this particular branch of Sprawling Metropolitan System because it's in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, so the materials and services that the library is providing access to are really, really important to the people living there. I'm not sure if I'll make a good children's librarian or not, so if any of you have tips or resources to suggest, I would be grateful!


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Where my house moved

Friday afternoon on the 2nd floor of Downtown Library:

Years ago, I used a service where you could have them call a friend and sing them happy birthday. But I just tried to call them and it didn't work. Do you think you could find another phone number for them? Or another company that does the same thing? I think they are based in California, if that helps.

Can you renew this book for me? I keep trying to read it on the bus, but people always talk to me. We know each other well, this patron and I, so I say, "maybe you need to look meaner."

Excuse me, can you help us with the scanner? Common scenario where the parent thinks they need help but the kid disagrees.

Hello. Is this your local history research department? I have a really odd question for you [for once someone said this and their question was actually kind of odd!]. When the highway was built through town, they demolished most of the houses, but they put my grandmother's house up on blocks and moved it across town. Can you help me see if I can figure out where they moved it to?

I need some articles that are pro or con. I am writing a paper about smartphones. Can you help me?

Mormons come in. Sure, you are welcome to use our computers, 'Elder' John, just please don't leave literature that I will just have to throw in the recycling when you leave!

Do you have meeting rooms there? What do you need to do to reserve one?

Excuse me, can you tell me how to find a copy of the book When Panic Attacks?

Is the library showing a movie tomorrow afternoon?

I understand that it's empty, but I still need you to throw your box of Dots candy away.

I lost my phone--someone stole it, actually--so I want to make a new email address since it was all on auto-fill and everything. That sucks, sir, I'm sorry!

One old man is teaching another old man to use ebay. The teacher says, "If I'm too loud, please tell me!" Sorry, but you are a little bit too loud.

Oh no! Why is the text so giant? Is this a special computer for people who are visually impaired?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Blast from the past refgrunt

The first patron through the door is one of our board members, who has the a meeting room booked and wants to book one for next week as well. Our circ person doesn't know how to book a meeting room, and our security guard is new and hasn't turned his radio on for us to call him and ask him to unlock the one he already has. We're not really showing off our best work, here.

A man whose son broke his printer and who needs my help to print some pictures of tattoos calls me "Hon" like 10 times even though he's only 4 years older than I am. Also he lifts up his shirt to show me a tattoo. But he's basically polite and well-intentioned so I don't push back on any of that--if you learn anything in the public library, it is the importance of picking your battles.

Someone shouts all his sentences during a normal checkout transaction for some reason. He's not mad, just really, really loud.

Phone message: Can you tell me what hours Little Branch is open today, Saturday July 15th?

Phone call: Can you give me the number for the hotel or motel in the town of Kingwood, West Virginia? I'm pretty sure there is only the one.

I check out movies to a couple of patrons while my circ counterpart is helping someone else.

Page #1 reports that Page #2 hasn't shown up for her shift. Uh oh! Hopefully she is just confused, not hurt.

I teach Page #1 to hand out summer reading prizes, since she will be covering my lunch break later. Roles at this library have gotten pretty crazy since we went to a one-desk model.

Patron to clerk: "Your hair is sharp!"

Where's the bathroom? I thought you had one on this floor. Oh, for kids? Never mind, we'll go downstairs to the main one.

The question "Where is the Dewey number R 303?" morphs into "let me show you our online business databases!"

I thought I had put my first name and middle initial in to get on the computer, but my printouts aren't showing up under that name. Sorry!

She is printing out $24.75 worth of documents! Why oh why aren't you open on the weekend, Insta-Prints!?

Call from my counterpart upstairs: Have you talked to the woman who needs someone's phone number in Neighboring City? She is hard of hearing and she keeps hanging up on me! If she calls back, could you please give her the number of Neighboring City Library, because the person she needs isn't in any of the online directories and we don't have any of their paper phonebooks.

Mr. Timmons stops by to return some movies and to request Striptease with Burt Reynolds and Demi Moore. He is always telling me outlandish stories about celebrities he met because he used to be a bouncer or something at a big entertainment venue in Florida, and today it's how he took his mother-in-law to meet Burt Reynolds and she was sooo happy.

Business database guy comes back down and stops at the desk just to thank me.: "I learned a lot." Nice!

Someone was jumped and beaten up in the park across the street. He comes to use our phone to call the police and his mom (the latter so he can get her to buy him a bus ticket out of town). I also recognize him as the "I'm not an addict anymore; I'm on methadone" guy who has been kicked out of the library several times and owes us a hundred and twenty dollars. I can see him outside, hiding behind a tree and talking to a police officer, so he's getting help with this situation at least.

I spot a woman with a shirt that says "Any dog can be a guide dog if you don't care where you are going."

Hi, can you tell me where your restroom is?

When are they going to put out the Legos!?

Do you have any of the Adventures of Gumball books?

A patron talks to me for three minutes about how great the TV show "Ancient Aliens" is and how "it's all true."

The computer catalog says there is a copy of The Grapes of Wrath in storage. What does that mean?

Old white lady: I need a library card. I'm a refugee from Neighboring City. They don't have Value Line anymore.

Answer some summer reading questions for a nice family with three kids. Mom is wearing a hijab. After that, check out a big pile of books to them, including a few related to Islamic culture and one on Islamophobia. Makes me sad, but we have a nice conversation about picture books and the dad says to me "It's nice to see so many people using the library!"

Friday, August 18, 2017


I was checking out the DVDs that a dad and his small son had chosen, and the son was looking at the covers of the different movies. He pointed at Benedict Cumberbatch (who, in fairness, was wearing a red cape) on the cover of Dr. Strange:
Son: That's Superman!
Dad: Well, he looks like Superman, but his name is Dr. Strange.
Son: But does he have to save the day?
Man behind them in line: No, he gets to save the day!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Why, humans, why?

Sometimes people come to the library and need to use a computer briefly even though for whatever reason they can't use their library account (they're not a resident, they owe us too much money, etc.). Usually they just need to quickly print something out. Here is how the process for printing a document from one of our "guest computers" works:

1. Enter your name to log on to the computer.
2. Locate your document and hit the "print" button.
3. Hit "ok" on a prompt that warns you that printing costs fifteen cents per page.
4. Go to the "print release station," which is a computer next to the printer.
5. Enter your name again to view and pay for your printouts.

Today two men got stuck on step 5 because they had entered random key strokes instead of their names during step 1.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Easy to get used to

A gentleman who was Deaf came into the library this evening and I spent about half an hour communicating with him in writing since I don't speak ASL. After he left, saying things out loud felt super weird.

Maybe I could have wrapped up that reference interaction faster but we were chatting about the weather.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

(Least) Favorite

Most favorite things about working at the central branch of a big public library system:
1. We have all the most obscure books
2. Not having to answer boring local history questions because we have a whole department for that
3. The two patrons waiting in line to print could be a person who is homeless, followed by the mayor of the city
4. Hearing patrons say variations of "Wow, this is a huge library!"
5. We have all the assistive technology, even if I struggle to advertise it well

Least favorite things about working at the central branch of a big public library system:
1. Having to decide whether something is pornography or not
2-5. Actually, all of these are about having to tolerate various weird smells.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ref desk thoughts

More things I start wondering about when a desk shift is too quiet:

I'm always refilling the paper trays of the copier and printer before they are totally empty. I wonder how long the very bottom sheets have been in there. Months? Years? Does paper go bad?

Is there any personal information that patrons wouldn't freely give me if it meant I would fill out their online forms for them?

Have any of our patrons ever died from following the nutty medical advice in our alternative medicine and self-help sections instead of going to the doctor?

There are patrons who call the library and insist that "I was just talking to you" when I haven't even taken a phone call during my shift. Do they think I'm confused or that I'm actually deliberately lying to them about who I am?

How many rows must a librarian walk down before he finds an empty chip bag or an empty bottle of alcohol in the stacks? Statistically speaking, I mean. I'd like to know the average.

Friday, July 28, 2017

I misjudge

Today a patron called and said: "[mumble mumble mumble] get some help with a history question. Is there someone I can talk to?"

I was kind of intimidated because of what I thought the mumbling might have been, but I talk faster than I think sometimes and who was going to help her if not me, so I said "Actually, I majored in history in college. Maybe I can help."

The patron said she's a student of the history of slavery and somehow she'd heard about "this woman who was taken to the U.K. and made into a madam, or a prostitute or some kind of thing. Men would come to stare at her because they had never seen a black person before. She had a huge booty, I mean huge. Her name was Sarah-something. She had, like, the biggest booty. This was the 19th century."

I started looking around on Google, but to be honest I didn't expect to find anything, or at least anything credible. We get a lot of eccentric claims and alternate histories, and I thought that this was one of them. Not because Europeans didn't do absolutely insane things to black people in the 19th century (among other centuries), but because of the weird emphasis on this woman's butt.

However, I found this history blog, which led me to a book called African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus by Rachel Holmes, and included this picture:

La Belle Hottentot.jpg
(A public domain image from Wikimedia Commons)
I was so excited that there was a real history with documentary evidence instead of a single mention on a fringe website. I put African Queen on hold for the patron and I think I might put myself on the list after she brings it back.

She brought me my only really interesting question during an exhausting Saturday desk shift, so she is definitely this week's patron of the week!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Patrons I will miss the most

For various reasons, I don't have as many personal relationships with patrons here in Michigan as I did at my original library in Texas, but there are still people who it will be kind of hard to say goodbye to when I move. Here are the top 5:

1. Mr. Timmons, who brings me candy every time I see him, and tells me 50% outlandish stories about his crazy former life in New Orleans, 50% about what his grandchildren are up to and how proud he is of them.

2. Jack, the elderly regular at Small Town Library who apparently shares my skepticism of religion, and also told a really moving story about his life in a storytelling program that I facilitated in the winter. He always has something friendly and/or funny to say to me whenever he comes in.

3. Janis. She can be trying to deal with sometimes, but she appreciates the library so much. If I'm having a day where I feel like my work is pointless, seeing her come in reminds me of how much the place I work enriches people's lives and makes me feel good about my job again.

4. The tiny man with the taped-together glasses who comes in every morning to read the newspaper and who I also see outside the nearby government building every Friday with anti-war, pro-tolerance protest signs. Not only do I share his political views and appreciate his unfailing politeness, it will just be weird not to greet him as the first act of my shift every week.

5. The lady in my book club who always listens to the books on audio, and who always says the opinions on the books we read that I want to say but am not supposed to since I'm just supposed to be the facilitator. She also said such a nice goodby and good luck to me when I told everyone I was moving away.

I thought I'd end this with a nice picture expressing the idea of the post, but I got really sad when I looked. If you are a fellow librarian, I recommend against Google Images searches for "library goodbye." Here's a hint of why:

Friday, July 21, 2017

I'll miss Michigan

T minus three hours to the end of my last shift at Downtown Library:

Patron: How long was it between when Richard Nixon had the Saturday Night Massacre where he fired the special council until he resigned?
Me: Let's looks like the Saturday Night Massacre was October 20th, resigned on August 9th, 1974. So it roughly nine months.
Patron: Thank you!...And how long do you think it's going to take Trump?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Emailing the dark side

I was helping a man email photos he had taken on his phone to a friend of his. We got to the point where the photos were attached to an email and he had to enter an address in the "to" field. He said, "It probably wouldn't be good to put 'Darth Vader,' would it?" 

I agreed that it would not.

Monday, July 17, 2017

So cute

The objectively most adorable little kid in the universe took a long time at the book return because she insisted on kissing every single book before putting it in the slot.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Today a man who I was helping was struggling to get into his email account and in frustration he said "God--" and I was sure that was going to end in "damn it!" but instead he said "bless America!"

(Later he said "Cool beans" in response to something else, so obviously he has a variety of uncommon expressions. Also, I know you can be kicked out of the library for swearing, so I'm glad I didn't have to consider the status of "damn it" as a swear word.)

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Big news, readers! The title of this blog will soon make sense again! Later this month I am moving back to the not-so-great state of Texas. This means I'll be looking for a new job, so there may be a lull in posts. I've scheduled some ahead of time, so there won't be nothing, but the post frequency will decrease for a bit until I get established somewhere else.

This also means, obviously, that I will have to give up my positions at Small Town Library and Downtown Library. I'm getting a little preemptively nostalgic for them both. As a valedictory, I'd like to present some of the greatest things about these two libraries:

At Small Town Library:

There is a teen boy who wanted to volunteer at the library, but didn't want to do 'girly' stuff like make art or cut up things for craft projects, so he follows the building manager around and helps him out with 'manly' things like taking out the trash and fixing stuff.

I got to create a collection while I worked here. We pulled Adult Graphic Novels out of non-fiction (they are in with the art books) and put them into their own area. It made me absolutely dizzy with power, and also increased their circulation.

Our circulation staff is so great. They are friends with all the patrons and they dispense book recommendations cunningly hidden in between inquiries about how Your Son Bobby is doing at college and if anyone has bought Your Old Neighbor's House yet.

They let me order books! If I end up with a job in a system that has centralized ordering, I'm going to miss this so much. One of the things that makes me happiest at Small Town Library is seeing someone check out something that I ordered.

I 3D print stuff all the time and no one needlessly monitors it or feels the need to make rules. Kids just give me stuff and I print it. No forms to sign, no charge for materials, all excitement.

At Downtown Library:

The collection includes books about everything. I go through our new items because one of my jobs is posting about them on Twitter, and I am always amazed by what we get.  You can make some pretty excellent displays from our collection.

We have someone whose whole job it is to work out problems with Overdrive, hoopla, and our other digital content vendors. I don't know how much she gets paid, but I'm sure it isn't what she deserves.

We have a library card that kids can sign themselves up for! It only lets you check out one book at a time, but it's excellent for school trips and for kids whose parents or legal guardians aren't usually with them in the library, plus what kid doesn't want to be able to be in charge of their own card?

My coworkers are master reader's advisors. We have social-media-based RA, staff picks scrolling atop the library homepage, and tons of displays within the library, including one where patrons can pick out their own favorite books to recommend to their neighbors.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Just Google it!

This Wednesday morning desk shift gave me a small headache:

My Circulation counterpart is still shelving holds when we open; I check out a few patrons' items on her behalf.

Phone call: I left a flash drive there. Can you connect me to the people by the computers to check if they have it?

ESL teacher: Do you have a key to open the room in the basement? Seamus from Security usually opens it for us.

Another phone call re: lost and found.

A huge mob of kids in matching shirts comes in and lines up at the front desk. I am massively relieved to find out they are here for a program with our children's librarian, and they don't need me to award them all summer reading prizes.

Do you have a phone book?
For Our City?
No, sorry, you'll have to go up to the second floor. All we have hear is one for northern Michigan, for some reason.
Can I just look at that one, then?

Phone call: I have some movies that are due back today. Can you renew them? Also, can you put Ghostrider on hold for me? Oh, not that one. The second one.

I just returned Law & Order seasons 2 and 3 and I would like 4 and 5, please.

The self-check says there's a problem with my account.
Don't worry, it's just expired. We just need to check your contact info and you're good to go.

Do I bring my returns to you or put them in this slot here?

Can I sign her up for summer reading? Do you have the paper thing? We don't want to do anything on the computer.

Man from the daycare/mob of kids/whatever is here for the children's librarian's program: I just need to take these friends to the bathroom. Is it right here?

Can I sign up for some kind of temporary card to use the computer?
No, but you can sign up for a permanent one for free.

Another man, as I'm signing that man up for a card: I just need to know where the bathroom is.

Can you let me into the bathroom?

There used to be a citizenship class here where they helped you fill out forms. Do you still have that?

He needs to wash his hands. Could you let us into the bathroom again?

Another library card sign-up. If I'm making systematic mistakes, Circulation is going to be sorry about how hard I worked today.

Phone: My father needs to come in and use a computer and a scanner, but he doesn't have a library card. Is that okay?

My mom says can you please add more time to her computer?

Do you have an outlet back there behind your desk where I can plug in my phone?

This computer refuses to pull up a book that I know exists!

Is there someone I can talk to? I'd like to make the comment that there are some titles in the new nonfiction area that children shouldn't be running past.

Phone: I returned a book to you a couple of weeks ago, but it's still showing up on my account.

I'm here to see if I can get a Consumer Reports. Can you check those out?

Can I return this? I thought it was Descendants 2, but it's the first one.

Phone: I need the number for two hair salons on Martin Luther King Drive.
Me: Do you know their names?
Phone: Just Google it! We're a small city, we don't have that many.

Monday, July 3, 2017

YS fever

I'm a woman in my late 20s, so people have started to talk to me about baby fever. I don't have that, but last week I did have a flare up of totally misguided desire to become a youth services librarian, which I'm going to call YS Fever.
One of the pleasures of working at Small Town Library, as I think I've mentioned before, is that we got a 3D printer this winter. It's just a toy so far, but it's a pretty great toy. I've jointly taken the lead on doing stuff with it along with another librarian because again, I have techno-joy rather than techno-fear.

I really wanted to use the 3D printer as a way to draw patrons in to a maker space program, about 1/2 because I was genuinely interested in maker spaces and 1/2 because then I could have maker space experience on my resume. Maker spaces are one of the latest bandwagon trends in public libraries: they're meant to make libraries a two-way street by making patrons into producers as well as consumers, to be the birthplace of world-improving ideas or at least low-budget small business incubators, and to foster/teach collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, and probably also some kind of employable technical skills. Low expectations, right?

Anyway, we had our first 'pop up maker space' program last week. It mainly drew kids ages 8-15 or so, about ten of them. I'm an adult services librarian mainly because I have no clue how to interact with kids in a group setting or to how to make them do what I want, so this was intimidating to me. So imagine my relief and excitement as I watched all the participants help each other selflessly and in a non-bossy fashion, basically exactly how a makerspace program is supposed to make people behave. One kid would speak up to get my help with something and in the 20 seconds it would take me to get there, another kid would already be there looking over the problem and providing guidance.

They chatted with each other and with me quite a bit, and it was a success. I wowed them by telling them it was the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book being published and telling them about the early days of fandom. We compared some of our favorite maker-relevant YouTube channels. I like that you can say things to kids that it's socially unacceptable to say to adults even when they are true--somehow we got to talking about dogs, and I told them that I wanted to get a greyhound because they're lazy and I'm lazy, so I thought it would be a good fit. Not something you say to strange adults, but the kids didn't bat an eye.

Then I was on the desk next day, checking out books to a family of a mom and two young kids, the older of whom was playing Pokemon Go on his mom's phone. They had a big pile of picture books, so to chat while they waited I asked him if he was playing Pokemon. Two minutes later, I was assuring this boy that I would keep an eye on the Arbok his family had put in the gym outside the library--Go Team Mystic!

I may have to sit in on a storytime this week to cure myself. The high-pitched, constant voices and total lack of regard for personal space at Preschool Storytime should do it.

Friday, June 30, 2017

You can't make this up

Today a grandmother called because her granddaughter had returned a pile of library books to the book drop and accidentally included one of her own books. We searched through our returns and found the granddaughter's book. The little girl had carefully written her name inside the front cover. Her name? "Paige Turner."

Monday, June 26, 2017

Grandma Librarian

Overheard at the checkout desk:

Head of circulation, to woman who is renewing the library cards of her two children: I bet you didn't realize this would be so much work!
Woman: No, I pretty much expected it. My mother used to be a librarian.
Child #1: What!?
Woman: You never knew that? Why do you think all the books at Grandma and Grandpa's  house have the Dewey Decimal system!?

Friday, June 23, 2017


The "Old Man Fan Club" tag continues to morph from 'old men who are fans of me' into 'old men of whom I am a fan.' Today an older man called the reference desk to ask, "I need the straight distance between Wittenberg, Germany and London, England. You know, as the crow flies. I'll take a round number. Thank you!"

I looked up the answer, in the process making an important discovery about Google Maps's "Measure Distance" tool (learn it yourself) and told him it was approximately 545 miles, to which he thanked me and added, "My crow can fly that easily!"

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


A pack of kids making eerily accurate cat noises for no apparent reason passed me on their way out of the library this evening.

Kids are so weird, guys.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Someone on another website I read started a guessing game where you describe your job in haiku and other people try to guess your job title. I thought a mini version for library-themed poems might be fun. I submit:

I cannot tell you
What your email password is
This place is for books


Yes I pick the books
This collection is for everyone
Please don't yell at me

Friday, June 9, 2017


This week's patron of the week is the woman who called this afternoon to ask: "What is the longest name of any town in the United States?" I struggled for a while to find an authoritative source, but I was able to learn that there exists such a thing as the United States Board of Geographic Names (it's some arm of the federal government) and that this question is #22 on its page of Frequently Asked Questions!

For those of you too lazy to click on the link, I present:

The following list is for names of communities only, and does not represent the longest name in the database.
These are the longest community names with a hyphen or "-" in the name and total number of characters.
    • Winchester-on-the-Severn, MD (24)
    • Linstead-on-the-Severn, MD (22)
    • Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, FL (21)
    • Vermillion-on-the-Lake, OH (21)
    • Wymberly-on-the-March, GA (21)
    • Kentwood-in-the-Pines, CA (21)
These are the longest community names without a hyphen or "-" in the name and total number of characters.
    • Mooselookmeguntic, ME (17)
    • Kleinfeltersville, PA (17)
    • Chickasawhatchee, GA (16)
    • Chancellorsville, VA (16)
    • Eichelbergertown, PA (16)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


We are hosting a programming class at our library in a couple of weeks and have various things around the library advertising it. Today I overheard an older man say about his wife, "So I can bring here in and you can re-program her?! There's hope after all!?"

It's funny. The Old Man Fan Club tag used to be for old men who were my fans; now it's generally for old men of which I am a fan.

Strip malls

What I wish West Side Library shared its strip mall with:
1. An office supply store (for regular envelopes, manila envelopes, resume paper, etc.)
2. A post office (for stamps, and for posting tax returns at 4:50 p.m. on April 14th)
3. A childcare center (of course, convincing patrons to use it instead of us would be another matter)

4. A cheap cafe (drink your coffee and brightly-colored energy drinks there, please, not at our computers!)

What West Side Library actually has in its strip mall:
1. A hair salon
2. A tax preparer
3. A taco place
4.A liquor store

Monday, June 5, 2017

Best comments

One of the things I love about doing this blog is all the stuff I learn from the comments, especially because they are usually delivered in a humorous way. Here are some of the best things I've learned from the blog's comments:

"no one wants to *look* "stupid" --we prefer to *act* stupid." (On Hypocrisy)

"Libraries would be better if their policies were based on good data rather than on what some middle-class white woman has been doing for 30 years." (On How Are My Numbers?)

"Emergency cake is a fabulous idea. Working scissors is a pipe dream." (On Supplies I Have Wished for at the Reference Desk)

"Pseudoscience, the patrons love it." (On Things To Worry About)

"patrons with coats over their heads=trouble" (On Curses)

And my very favorite:

"people really do want to be told what to do, but not in respect of the things I want them to do, if you know what I mean." (On Overheard by the Staff Elevator)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Things Small Town Library does well

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about ways in which libraries could do a better job of living up to their own values and I illustrated some points with examples from Downtown Library and Small Town Library. I don't want you to get the idea that either of those places are bad, or even below average, compared to other libraries, so today I want to tell you about some of the things that make me proud or happy to work at those places. I wrote one about Downtown Library already. Downtown Library was easier because it's part of a big system that, like most big public library systems, tends to conform well to the American Library Association's Code of Ethics. The strengths of libraries like Small Town Library are significant, but ideological purity isn't its strong suit (nor, I suspect, is it the strong suit of most small-town libraries). When you have limited resources and different demands from your community, it doesn't tend to be a priority.

That said, here are some ways in which Small Town Library practices what it preaches:
  • Items on the self-serve hold shelf are covered with white paper so that other patrons can't easily see what their neighbors have on hold.
  • The library offers study rooms in which patrons can have private conversations, and which library staff could conceivably use for confidential reference interviews (Downtown Library, to my constant annoyance, has cubicle-style study rooms that are roofless and not private at all).
  • Privacy screens are offered by default at all public computers for adults.
  • The library has held on to Fifty Shades of Grey and similar materials despite patron complaints about the 'inappropriateness' of those titles for a public library.
  • Despite an overall chatty atmosphere, staff members very rarely share what a patron was looking for with a coworker unless it's specifically to help meet that patron's needs.
  • The library has refused to place rating-based restrictions on what DVDs kids can check out, despite patron requests to do so.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A book detection victory

At Small Town Library this morning:

Patron: Sorry in advance, this is a stupid question.
Me: Believe me, it's fine. There are no stupid...
Patron: Is there a way to look up a book if you remember things about it, but not the title or the author?
Me: My first suggestion would be to find a librarian and tell them everything you remember and we'll see if we can find it.
Patron: Okay. It was from a dog's point of view and I think the guy is a repo man and he stumbles across a mystery and then has to solve it.
Me: I have a few ideas! It could be one of a few books by W. Bruce Cameron. He has a series about a repo man who has a dog, the dog isn't the narrator but he's definitely a character in the story, and then he has some other books from dogs' points of view. It also might be this mystery series that is definitely written from the dog's point of view, they're by Spencer Quinn and I think the most famous one is called "Dog On It"...
Patron: I think that first one sounds familiar!
It was The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron, and I looked like a wizard to the patron. I ruined the mystique a little bit by confessing that I'd listened to the book within the last year, but I couldn't help it because that book is soooo good* and I couldn't stand giving up a chance to tell someone how excellent it is.

*If you're going to listen to the audio like I did, I actually suggest you listen to the sequel, Repo Madness, because I personally thought the narrator was much better, but if you're going to read it they are both excellent.

Things Downtown Library does well

I wrote a post last week about ways in which libraries could do a better job of living up to their own values and I illustrated some points with examples from Downtown Library and Small Town Library, the two places where I currently work. I don't want you to get the idea that either of those places are bad, or even below average, compared to other libraries, so today I want to tell you about some of the things that make me proud or happy to work at those places. I'm starting with Downtown Library, since that's where I am today. These aren't the only things I like about Downtown, but they are the ones most related to last week's post.

  • Items on hold for people to pick up are shelved spine downward, and are labeled with a code (first three letters of your last name, first three letters of your first name, last four letters of your library card number) instead of your name.
  • Our IT department does a really good job scrubbing internet history, created files, etc. between each user's computer sessions.
  • Our catalog computers and print stations are set up to time out if they are left untouched for a while so that people who forget to sign out still have their privacy protected, even if on a delay.
  • We have a patron elevator for our two-story building, and a process for taking patrons through the staff areas to use the freight elevator if the patron elevator is broken so that they can still get where they need to go.
  • We have library card brochures and applications in four different languages (including English).
  • I am pretty confident that all public areas are passable by electric wheelchair (you might think this would be an Americans With Disabilities Act requirement, but actually it isn't).
  • We have many members of staff who practice extreme patience with, and have great empathy toward, patrons with intellectual or mental disabilities. It's a pleasure to listen to our circulation staff chat with some of our regulars who have limited capabilities--they not only make them feel welcome, they always make sure to keep them in the loop about any library changes that might affect them.
Copyright thoughtfulness:
  • The system of which Downtown Library is a part is the only one where I have ever worked where I have had first-hand evidence of the library paying for stock photos instead of just borrowing photographers' work and using it without compensation to the creator.
  • The existence of colorful sign templates that are used system-wide discourages people from pulling any old file off the internet in order to create signage.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

To do list

Today I found a list with the heading "Library" in the recycling bin next to the printer. Here's what was on it:
  • Budget
  • Golden Corral locations
  • Touchless car wash
  • First pass on photos
  • Backup to HD

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Things patrons have told me lately that have made me (at least briefly) angry:
  • That I don't understand what Microsoft Silverlight is
  • That I was "just making excuses" for the local history librarian's failure to immediately return a phone call
  • That I'm racist
  • That they don't understand how many copies of pornographic trash (i.e., the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy) the library has to buy with taxpayer money
  • That the library should be open until 9 p.m. on Fridays because "some people have to work"
  • That I let other patrons be too loud in the library
  • That a picture book about gender identity isn't appropriate for children
  • That, no matter what I may claim to the contrary, they were just speaking to me on the phone

Finally some funny things

I know this blog has been all serious lately (it's been a serious week, sorry), so I thought I'd point those of you looking for funny reference interactions to this LibraryThing thread about them. My favorite is probably the patron who wanted to renew his books and phrased that need as "I want to make the fining stop."


Today there was an incident where I was accused of being racist, and it made me feel good rather than bad. Let me explain:

I think I'd like to be a department head or maybe even a library director someday. Knowing this, I keep an eye out for things that happen at work that would tell me if it am suited for the work and would help make me more qualified. So today was sort of a weird experience.

A woman was having trouble with a website in one of our PCs. At first she was cursing and mumbling to herself but it started to get louder and I thought it might bother other patrons. Instead of starting us off on bad foot by having my first interaction with her be a complaint, I went over near her and said "Do you need some help with the computer?" to which she responded something like "No! I need you to get out of my space and I need your mother f***king computer to work! So you can just go back and get away from me." So I did. Soon after that I went to help a white woman sitting a few chairs down whose web browser had frozen. That was a normal nice patron interaction where no one was mad at anyone and we fixed the problem and I left again. 

After a bit the first woman started cursing again so this time I went up and said "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but you can't use language like that in here. I know you're frustrated but it violates our code of conduct. If it happens again I will have to ask you to leave the library." While I was saying this she was simultaneously talking to me about how I needed to get out of her space (I was about 5 feet away from her chair) and how she would leave if we asked her to and she had her own car and we could call the police if we wanted. So I left again.

Unsurprisingly, the cursing didn't stop, but as I got up to go over to tell her she needed to leave the security guard approached (my colleague had heard our last interaction and called her on the radio, anticipating what would happen next). The security guard escorted her out while she continued to curse and make complaints about me getting in her space and being racist (she said she was being kicked out because she was black and that I had been rude to her but nicer to the white woman I helped with her web browser). Since I grew up in a culture with institutionalized racism, I am sure I have some racist feelings and beliefs at a subconscious level, but I know I didn't make this woman leave because of the color of her skin and I am confident that I would have treated a white person who was behaving the same way in a very similar respect.

Both of my colleagues on the floor came over to say how mean that woman was and how I had been perfectly reasonable with her. Even a patron came up to basically say the same thing. I know they were trying to help me feel better, and I appreciated it, but actually...I didn't need help. I was feeling pretty good about myself. One of the things I worry about disqualifying me from management is not being emotionally tough enough to be the person who tells patrons they have to leave, or to stand up to people who are being verbally abusive. I did have the safety net of the security guard to fall back on, but I still felt like the confrontation I had today was an indication that I was getting better at it and would eventually be able to do it well. I dreaded the conversations I had with her a little, but I still had them, and had them confidently without getting emotional myself.

So that was a victory for me, in a weird way.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

My First Book Challenge

There are a lot of things that library school didn't teach me, but one thing they did prepare me for was book challenges, that is, when someone points out an item in the library's collection that they don't feel should be there. Going by how library school treated book challenges, I expected them to happen all the time, not for it to take three years past my degree to get my first one.

Yesterday at Small Town Library a patron came up to the desk and said "I need to talk to someone about this book that I borrowed from another library." Small Town Library is part of a consortium that does interlibrary lending, so this seemed routine. I was ready to direct her to the circulation desk, thinking that she had damaged the book or that it was overdue or that it had arrived for her in bad condition, but then she said "I don't think it is appropriate for children."

It was a picture book called Who Are You?: A Kid's Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin-Whedbee. It's really worth taking a look at the website, which shows the wheel a kid can use to identify their body (sex), identity, and gender expression. It seems like a well-done, thoughtfully presented book and it got positive reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal, which are standard sources that we used to buy books for our own collection. If I were the selector I'd be prepared to go to bat for it.

Fortunately, I didn't have to. The patron understood that it wasn't our library that had bought the book, and just wanted us to give her insight into the process of making a complaint. I explained that libraries generally have a collection development policy that professionals use, along with their trained judgment, to buy books for the library collection, but that they also generally have a process for addressing objections to items in their collection. I told the patron that she could go to the library that owned the book and they would probably ask her to fill out a form that would ask for more information about the book and about her views on it, and that that would start a review process for whether or not they wanted to keep the book in their collection, and either way would allow her to have a conversation with staff about her concerns.

I think I handled it pretty much by the book, but honestly it made me feel kind of slimy. I really wanted to say what poor Other Library's selector is probably eventually going to say: "This is a well-respected book about an important topic and we will be keeping it in our collection. If you are concerned about your own children seeing this book, remember that a child can't get a library card without a parent's permission and that you are more than welcome to monitor what your child looks at in the library and to set your own rules. Also, you're bigoted and I disagree with the grounds of your objection."

Hopefully she won't say that last sentence aloud, only in her head.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sometime in May

Longtime readers will know that I especially like working with older patrons (maybe I will be a decent Senior Services Librarian someday) in part because they tend to be in less of a rush, but mainly because I think they are hilarious. A lot of older couples come into Small Town Library and I love eavesdropping on both their reactions to the renovations we are doing and just general conversation.

Today a couple came in and were marveling at how different things looked. The man stopped to check in with the clerk at the circulation desk, as our patrons often do, and then asked her "If we don't come back in half an hour, will you send a search party out?" Fortunately they did return. After checking out their books and movies, they left the library. I could hear the woman ask the man "What day is it today?" and he responded "Oh, sometime in May."

Being good advocates

Between the U.S. presidential election in November and Donald Trump's inauguration in January, both of my favorite funny library blogs, Love the Liberry and I Work at a Public Library, have stopped posting. I suspect it's the result of disappointment and frustration on the part of the people who run them. As is probably not a surprise, library workers tend to lean liberal in the first place, and the policies of the current Republican administration are hostile to library values by historical standards.

For example, the White House wants to:

1. Completely eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is the primary source of federal funding for public libraries.

2. Revise the FCC's pro-net neutrality stance, allowing internet service providers to discriminate among different internet content providers by delivering their product at different speeds.

3. Move the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress and create a separate agency under the executive branch.

And this doesn't address all of the issues that indirectly affect libraries, library staff, and library patrons such as the proposed travel ban from Muslim countries, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, etc.

Since the election, librarians and other library workers have become open and vocal about their antagonism with the president to an unprecedented degree. People are looking at ways to get involved externally by lobbying Congress, attending protests, etc., but the political climate has also encouraged people to look more critically within their own libraries and see how they could do better at being accessible, inclusive, and open. The latter is what I'm more interested in because I think there is more scope for action. Not that political action on the national stage isn't important, but as far as making immediate changes that are within our power, investing in improving ourselves internally could pay quick and significant dividends.

Specifically, I'd like the places I work to be less vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy than we currently are. If we want to present ourselves as models of socially just, intellectually free places, most of us have a ways to go. Here are a few things I would like to see at the libraries where I work that I know are possible (because other libraries have implemented them):

1. Preferred name: Right now the library card "applications" at both my libraries let you check M or F for gender. I see no reason why we need to collect this information. We don't use it for research purposes, so I assume it's used as a clue for how to address a patron. I know some libraries have patrons indicate their preferred pronouns instead, which is cool, but I do think knowing how someone wants to be addressed is valuable, and there are no gender-neutral honorifics (like Mr. or Ms.) so what I'd really like to see is a field in the patron record for preferred name.  If your driver's license says your name is Adam Ant, I want to know whether to call you Mr. Ant, Adam, or Ada (I've talked to one or two trans people who have their birth name on their IDs but don't use it), or whatever.

2. Less copyright infringement: I shudder to think how little would be left if someone looked through my libraries' websites and print marketing materials and took down everything that included an unlicensed use of an image. It's common practice for staff to search Google Images and pull the first thing they like for a display sign, event photo, etc. This despite the fact that Google Images offers a simple search filter for reusable images. If we want to be advocates for reasonable intellectual property law, maybe we could start by following existing law or, if not that, by formally and intelligently articulating why we don't and sticking to those principles, instead of violating it out of convenience.

3. Taking privacy more seriously: Most librarians are privacy advocates, and we certainly do a better job that private businesses, but we have a long way to go. I know I for one am guilty of sharing information about patrons' questions with colleagues when there is no need for that colleague to know, and coworkers do this too ("Can you guess what Ms. Opp wanted today?"). We could do better in a lot of small ways as far as equipment and technology, too. For instance, Small Town Library has a privacy screen on every public PC, but at Downtown Library they keep a couple behind the desk and patrons must request them. To be evenhanded, I should also say that Small Town Library doesn't do a very good job getting rid of patrons' files and internet history after their public computer session ends, but even Downtown Library could do better, for example by using the Tor browser or at least having the mainstream web browsers they offer default to in-private browsing on startup.

 Whether you are a library worker or a library user, what do you think libraries could do better in this respect? What would you add to this list?

(I think soon I'll do post about some good practices at both of my libraries, because I don't want you to only hear the failures.)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Copier magician

One of the Downtown library regulars needed to copy some papers today. Our copier is very finicky and user-unfriendly. After we had done some teamwork to get the first thing done, he looked at me and said "And now, for my next trick..." as a way of introducing the other thing he needed help with.

He and I don't always get along because he is a real technophobe more generally whereas I, as the comedian Eddie Izzard would say, have techno-joy, so it was nice to have him as this week's patron of the week!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Oh dear

An older patron stopped by to make sure his library card was still valid. I told him that his card was good until January of 2019 and he said "I hope I live that long!"

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday reference questions

A man in an electric wheelchair was stuck waiting for his chair to recharge. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said, "Could you maybe bring me something to read? Except I don't know what." Then he spotted the picture books in the children's section across the room. He wasn't going to be waiting long so he said, "Could you bring me one of those kid's books? What do you recommend?" So now he is over by the plug reading The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle.

A different man is really mad that he left his umbrella in the library and how he can't find it. Security tape shows that actually he didn't have it when he entered the library. Helpful information, but awkward.

I offer to help a couple in the Fiction section find what they are looking for, but it turns out they have a whole book devoted to lists of books they want to read. The wife knows how to use the catalog and she looks up the call numbers and adds them to each entry. Then she crosses them off after she checks them out. How cool!

Mr. Timmons stops by, says "My homegirl Emma!" and gives me a lollipop. I give him a fistbump and (after he is gone of course) guiltily throw the lollipop away.

A patron complains that he has hundred dollar bills and no stores will take them. We'll take them! But un/fortunately he has no fines. He does give his daughter a dollar to print some things out, though.

I help a patron with the self-check machine and then neither of us can find her library card for like 5 minutes. It turns out it's... right on the pad where you are supposed to scan it, disguised as the dummy library card that is supposed to show you where to put your card and how to orient it. Not my best work.

Help a patron print. I have it down to, I kid you not, a word for word spiel. In case your library has Envisionware (Are you at a U.S. public library? If so the odds are extremely good.) and you want to use it, it goes: "So now we are going to go over to the print release station, which is the computer right next to the printer over there. You can actually do a couple of things from this computer, so the first thing you want to do is tell it that you want to release a print job. Now go ahead and enter your library card number. That's how it tells which printouts are yours. If you want to print everything just hit this "select all" button right here. It will tell you your total cost up in the right hand corner here. Okay, go ahead and put your money in the machine. It takes coins, ones, and fives and it does make change. Now all you need to do is hit the 'print' button up here on the left and here are your print jobs. If you're printing something private, just make sure you hit this 'exit' button when you are done so no one could print another copy of your documents." Self service, my left foot!

A man turns in his DVDs to me.

A woman wants to get on the computer but has too many fines. She's looking for a job so I put her on one of our guest PCs with more than the allotted 20 minutes.

Help with wifi. Ugh.

A member of the IT staff comes to take a look at a weird thing my laptop has been doing lately, but of course when he's there it behaves perfectly normally.

We moved a couple of things post-renovation after finding that they weren't where patrons expected them to be or weren't where it was most convenient for patrons. For example, we had grouped all of our new items together, but that meant that new movies were on a completely different floor from all the rest of the movies, so we brought our new movies back near the main movie collection. Apparently people had just figured that out, because while last week I was constantly being asked near the main movies "where are the new movies?" now I am at the desk that's near the other new items and I'm constantly being asked "where did you move the new movies!?"

I help a sweet kid with the self-check machine, then put a book on hold for her to come back and check out later because she's reached her card limit.

Excuse me, it says I have a hold available but I can't find it on the shelf.

Do you have, like, a guide for all the summer activities?

A woman is mad because her trial-and-error approach to using the copier has been kind of expensive. If I could wave a magic wand and change anything about the library, it would be how often people wait until they are already angry before asking for help.

Can I pay my library bill by credit card over the phone?

Phone number lookup for a lovely lady who says "Always a pleasure to talk to our library"!

Today's Ms. Opp rant is about legal advice.

Why do people keep giving me things to check in?

I talk for 10 minutes by phone to a patron who is mad because her mom keeps checking out movies on her account so she's at her 10-movie limit. She insists her mom isn't borrowing the physical library card but that's the only possible explanation. My head hurts.

Can you help me find the customer service phone number for Delta Airlines? They charged me for my bag and I don't think they should have.

Mrs. Opp has reached her limit of 5 calls/day and is cut off. I really hope I won't have to be the one to tell her.

Someone wants to check out but can't because both cards she tries to use have too many fines on them.

I screw up 3 circ transactions in a row. Bingo!

Worst bingo ever.

Feeling legit

Several weeks ago, I was promoted from assistant to librarian at Downtown Library. What with the renovation, which meant big changes on our service model as well as physical changes, training me hasn't been a big priority for the powers that be. That means that it's taken me a while to get any new responsibilities to go along with my new position. However, I've long been the self-appointed advocate for our non-English collections, and I seem to have been somewhat legitimized in that role by my promotion. Today one of my colleagues, who has been kind of a role model for me since I started at Downtown, stuck his head into my cubicle and held out a "Learn English" DVD. He said "Me and John were wondering if you had the authority to move this to ESL and if you thought it was a good idea. It isn't going out in its current location."

There is nothing like being asked for help by people you respect to make you feel useful and valuable. This was the highlight of my week!

Friday, April 28, 2017

My first outreach event

Today I went to a resource fair at a senior housing complex to talk up the library. When I wasn't talking to people I was eavesdropping on the interactions at the nearby booths. The poor woman to my right had her hand in a cast and was having to answer "How did you hurt your arm?" over and over. She had broken up a fight between two dogs. She told this to one visitor and he immediately replied "Was it two Chihuahuas fighting over a taco?"

People are weird.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Real reference questions

Some legitimately challenging reference and reader's advisory questions I have been asked lately:

Why is the AIc test for diabetes called that? Is 'A1c' some kind of acronym?

Can you find me a print source that discusses anything about the light rail line they are building in downtown Detroit?

I need a recipe for making prune juice from dried prunes.

I'm trying to find out the failure rate of new businesses in the mid 1980s and how it compares to today's.

Can you help me find a book that will tell me what to expect when I have my total hip replacement? Preferably a new one, no more than a few years old.
Can you help me figure out if books by Stuart Woods will be too scary for me?

Friday, April 21, 2017

My new boss

Photo credit: Kumar Appaiah:

I had a meeting with the new boss of Downtown Library today, my previous boss having recently retired. My new boss was previously at West Side Branch so I already know her and am one of her fans. You will see why. I met with her because I am going to an outreach event next week and we were talking strategy.

New Boss on not using flyers as a substitute for personal connection: "Paper is a substitute for conversation and action, it doesn't do anything...except maybe if it's a warrant."

On having something interesting at your booth to get people's attention: "People aren't just going to come over because you're pretty. Well, maybe some are, but those aren't the ones we want."

She began her tenure at Downtown Library by trashing our typewriter, which Past Boss wouldn't get rid of because a couple of times a year people came in wanting to use it to fill out forms. She sent an email out to all staff announcing its "retirement" with the subject heading "Sad news."