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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Vandals

Everyone knows that you're not supposed to write in library books. (If that rule isn't yet in the Constitution, it should be). Books are expensive to replace, it's not fair to the other patrons to ruin them, blah blah blah. Children's books are especially targeted for defacement since kids seem to prefer writing on any surface that's not actual notebook paper or their homework.


As a librarian, I don't normally condone vandalizing library books. I admit, though, that it can be endearing at times.

Exhibit A: "Save Time - Write Book Reviews IN the Book"




It's hard to tell if this was the work of a single vandal or two offenders (results from the handwriting analysis are still pending). I also have to wonder why the kid didn't join a book club or write a blog or tell a librarian about loving this book. However, his/her literary enthusiasm is still appreciated.

Exhibit B: "Gettin' Territorial"


'Nuff said. This kid knows what's up. (Bonus points for writing in pencil).


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wining, Dining, Overdue Fining

We all know of the fun that can be had inside a library. But occasionally the fun happens right outside, as illustrated by something I found as I walked into work recently. Behold:



This scene brought to mind several questions:

1) Who drinks outside a library in the middle of the night?
a. College kids?
b. The homeless?
c. Patrons who REALLY want to get a good seat in the morning?

2) Was my library the party destination? Or was this just one stop of many on a late-night library wine tour?

3) Why is there wine in the water bottle?
a. Was the wine-drinker saving some for later?
b. Were two people sharing the wine? And if so, why didn't they
just split the bottle? Germs?
c. If you drink wine outside of a library at night, are you really the type
of person who cares about germs?

4) Why didn't the wine drinker(s) place the bottles in the garbage can a few feet away? (Never mind about recycling; we're way past that issue here).

5) Why wasn't I invited?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Library Thuggin' Ain't Easy

Some guy posted an anti-union, anti-library rant here:

http://www.stoptheaclu.com/2010/10/14/union-killing-local-libraries/

He's just plain wrong (and he insulted my friend Ingrid in the comments). Subsequently, I couldn't keep my mouth shut. Here is part of my response to him (he called me a "liar," a "demagogue," and a "union thug" in return. Awesome!)

It’s clear you don’t understand why librarians require higher education and specific training. You also don’t seem to think that libraries are really all that important in general. Honestly, I’m not going to try to change your mind, although I do wish you would educate yourself about the subject a bit more. (And you can call my comments “idiocy” or use whatever other kind of ad hominem argument you’d like while evading/ignoring my actual points. That’s fine).

I do want to say to anyone else out there who might be reading this (librarians in particular): this is exactly why we need to keep advocating. Educated, informed, and rational people know how hard we work and what we contribute to society. I see it in the grateful faces of the adults, teens, and children who visit my library every day. However, there is still a staggering amount of ignorance and misinformation out there. We need to continue to fight it – through our work, through discussion, through organized advocacy efforts – on a daily basis.

Being a librarian is not something that everyone could or should do. We all worked extremely hard to get that graduate degree, but there is also a certain fanatical devotion that comes with being a librarian. For the majority of us, it is not just a job, but a passion. I will continue to advocate for libraries and librarians as long as it is necessary.

Thank you.

~Rita

Work Perks

As part of my job as children's librarian, (and as a perk of being on a children’s new book review committee at the library), I often have the chance to meet/listen to/speak with authors and illustrators in the field of children’s literature at publishing previews, library programs, etc. These are almost always fun, informative and a good networking opportunity. Plus, they usually give out free stuff. Librarians love free stuff. (Okay, I love free stuff).

Recently, the library had a breakfast for John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury, (children’s book author/illustrator, respectively), who were in from the UK to attend the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards ceremony and to talk about their new picture book, There’s Going to Be a Baby (Candlewick Press, 2010).





It’s a lovely book. Burningham and Oxenbury are picture book royalty for a reason.

After the general conversation between John, Helen, and a well-renowned children’s book editor, I had a chance to personally speak with Helen. As we chatted, I told her that I frequently use the books that she’s illustrated in my storytimes and they get wonderful response. She thanked me, and said that her books don’t always hold the interest of children. She said that while doing a reading of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes at her young grandson’s school, the children slowly began to lost interest in the book. One by one, they got up from the reading rug and went to explore other areas of the classroom. The only child who remained seated to hear the entire book was Helen’s dear grandson. This anecdote made me feel immediately better about any unsuccessful storytimes I’ve had.

Here’s a picture of me with Helen, who was delightful. (I had way too much coffee that morning, which accounts for my slightly manic expression):






Thursday, October 14, 2010

Too Much Info for this Info Professional

A librarian at a reference desk is a beacon of knowledge in a world full of ignorance. A living, breathing repository of information. A helping hand, a warm smile, a direct conduit for the bathroom key. Let's be honest, here: a librarian at a reference desk is a sitting duck. A magnet for the friendly, the irrationally angry, the incontinent. That is the nature of the job, and most librarians accept and embrace it (some even love it, like I do. Did I mention that I’m a bit of a masochist?)

There are some patrons who feel that the librarian is there not only to provide information/book advice/computer help, but to listen to their problems, learn their secrets, give personal (or medical, or legal, or financial) advice, or just to act as a sympathetic, impartial shoulder on which to cry. In some cases, this might be true. Librarians often form close bonds with patrons, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing for a patron to feel comfortable enough to trust librarians with information about their lives. Ultimately, the librarian must be professional and set the boundaries about how far is too far.

I am constantly and consistently amazed at the degree to which people will share personal information. I suppose some of it stems from loneliness – the librarian is there to listen, and often, people just don’t have that luxury in all facets of their lives. Some patrons need actual help and don’t know where to get it (and the librarian can point them in the right direction, like to a hospital, social worker, or exorcist). At other times, the patron just plain doesn’t realize that he or she is secretly horrifying the person behind the desk. It's often an interesting sociological study.

Some examples:

- A female patron, who had just left the public restroom, gave me a detailed account of her digestive health (while I sat there, trapped, trying to keep an expression of abject terror off my face and my breakfast in my stomach).

- I had a telephone reference call with an extremely angry and high-strung man who was upset about being unemployed and broke (understandable). He kept dropping racial slurs (not understandable) and talking about his diabetes, all while calling me "girlie." Luckily, I was able to stop his diatribe and get to the question, which, incidentally, had nothing to do with any of the aforementioned.


- A man told me about his mother who had recently passed away (sad) and how she was buried next to his deceased father in the cemetery (sad, but sweet) and how they weren't buried six feet under the ground, but only 18 inches under (sad, sweet, and disturbing). He was definitely one of the lonely ones, and I could tell he wanted to talk more, but it was very busy in the library at the time, so he eventually shuffled away.


Then there's the type of personal information that the patron doesn't mean to share, like the time I accidentally discovered a guy's "Porn" folder when helping him save files on his laptop. But hey, I don't judge. I'm only here to help.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Advocacy in Odd Places

Do you know who John Waters is? He's this guy:



Yeahhh, that guy. In a nutshell, John is an American film maker, (with a huge cult following), actor, and writer. About a month ago, WORD Brooklyn sponsored an event during which Mr. Waters talked about his most recent book Role Models. Admittedly, I’m not the world’s biggest John Waters fan, (nothing against him, I just wasn’t into his stuff), but my friend had a ticket and couldn't attend, so I went in her place, thinking "What the hell?" During the talk, I felt like a bit of an imposter standing there in this crowded hipster bar with people around me crying because they were in the presence of John Waters (who, by the way, was absolutely gracious and wholly entertaining). When it was my turn to get a book signed, I felt a bit panicked because I had absolutely nothing to say to Mr. Waters. I hadn’t seen many of his movies, so I couldn’t connect with him on that level, and I was only a few chapters into his most recent book (and hadn't read any of the others). Subsequently, I did the most natural thing I could think to do: I talked about libraries.

John Waters, pen poised: “Hi, what’s your name?”

Me: “It’s Rita. Thank you so much for signing my book.”

John Waters: “Okay, great.” (There’s an awkward silence as he signs).

Me: “You know…I’m a librarian, and…we can hardly keep your book on the shelf!”

(That was true. When I initially tried to put a hold on Role Models at the library, all copies were out).

John Waters: "That's great! You know, there was a time when my book wouldn't have even been allowed on the shelf."

Hey! He gets it! We engaged for a moment! We connected! I walked away feeling satisfied that I had done some kind of roundabout library advocacy, and I mentally promised to make finishing Role Models a priority. (I still haven’t finished it. It’s in the to-read pile. On top).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Regulars

A man snores at one of our tables, today’s newspaper still clutched in his hands. At another table, a woman attempts to take a standardized test that we are proctoring for her. She is visibly uncomfortable, but politely ignores the sounds of snoring. It is my job to hold the test materials if she needs to use the ladies room. It is NOT my job to wake the sleeping man, but I do it anyway by gently (yet pointedly) pushing in a chair at his table. He has been here before, and this strategy usually works. He startles, and smiles at me. The snoring stops, and the woman gives me a grateful smile. As I walk away to help another patron find a book, however, the snoring starts up again. Not a good day for test takers.

Wandering around the stacks is a man I've mentally named “The Vet.” He wears the same green fatigue jacket every day, has a white crew cut, and always appears sun or wind burned, no matter what the season. There is an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth, like a broken arm – he stares at me as he walks by the reference desk as if daring me to say something. On good days, he mumbles to himself continuously and takes random political books off of the shelf, carefully arranging them on a table in an artfully random display. On bad days, he begins to yell incoherently, sometimes slamming his fist on the table, raging against whatever demon soldiers are still fighting in his head.

And then there is the infamous Frenchie (called such - to his face, he likes it - due to his exaggerated French accent a la Pepe Le Pew). Frenchie is notorious for harassing anyone female who is under 60 years old. When I first started at this branch, he wouldn’t leave the side of the reference desk, regaling me with tales of his sick ex-wife and telling me how beautiful my eyes were. It was not flattering, nor was it welcome. It got to the point that the security guard banned Frenchie from the library, and he subsequently visited nearby branches (and was banned from them as well). A year and a half later, he started coming into our branch again. When he first tried to talk to me, I nipped it in the bud real quick, telling him that he could ask me library-related questions and that was it. However, the young part-time girls who work here are not so assertive, so he preys on their naive politeness. I once rescued one of the girls from a conversation with Frenchie, and he later called me "crazy."

This is the current scene. These are the regulars. It's the moment before the pot boils - calm, but simmering just below the surface. We'll see where the day takes us.

Monday, October 4, 2010

I'm Bringing Reference Back

Although there are many aspects to public library service, the crux is reference work. Most queries besides "Where's the bathroom?" can be considered reference questions, and I personally love a challenge: no question is too weird, random, or involved. Some questions are straightforward, while others take a little more time and effort. Librarians are trained to know that what people request usually differs vastly from what they actually want. For example, a patron will ask, "Where are the books on love and relationships?" when what she really means is: "My husband gave me chlamydia and I need to know how to kill him." It's labor-intensive to get to the root of a reference question, requiring extreme patience and the keen ability to read between the lines.

From time to time, I will be posting questions that are beyond the call of what I consider "normal" reference work. I like to call this Random Reference. Some questions are funny, others are disturbing, and others still are just plain inappropriate. All of them, however, are part of the job and must be handled with tact and poise.

Some quick examples of Random Reference questions (without the answers. Those come later, but you can use your imagination):

"Uh, you got a cigarette?"

"Would you like to buy some of my special homemade soap?"

"So, are you married?"

"Do you have a copy of the Kama Sutra?" Same patron, a few minutes later: "Do you have a microwave I could warm my baby's bottle in?"

And one of my favorites: upon learning of our drug prevention program at the library one night, a patron asked, "Are they serving any?"

All in a day's work.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

She Blinded Me With Library Science

I am a public librarian working in one of the greatest cities in the world. I love my job immensely and feel grateful that I essentially get paid to help people, read books, and talk about helping people and reading books. Like all professions, there are good days and bad days. Then there are the days that make me wonder how there can be so many endearingly eccentric people in the world and why they seem to flock to libraries (mine in particular). I've heard many times from family members and friends: "You should really start writing down your library stories." I actually started documenting my experiences in a notebook when I got the job over 2 1/2 years ago, but only to keep a record for myself that these things actually happened.

I've finally decided to sit down and and type out my stories so that I can give concrete examples when people ask me, with dripping skepticism, "What does a librarian actually DO?" Subsequently, this blog is born: a compilation of my experiences, thoughts, musings, and observations as a public librarian. The secondary objective of forming this online "diary" is that I hope to promote, in some small way, the importance of libraries. In real life, I am a hardworking advocate for my library system and library services in general. This stems from my belief that public libraries serve essential roles as community centers and repositories of information (or whatever other buzzphrase you'd like to insert). To put it simply, people need libraries and my interactions with these people only solidify this belief in me.

So...come check out (see what I did there?) my world of crazy.