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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Et Tu, Penguin?

I'm sure you've all heard about the Penguin ebook thing. Yeahhh. It's been bugging me for the past couple of days, so instead of a posting funny library story, I'm going to say a few frustrated words about the whole mess from my perspective as a children's librarian.

A great post by Librarian by Day reminded me of something I heard at a wedding last year. During the reception, I met a woman whose sister used to work for one of the "Big Six" publishing houses. (I can't remember which one, and I don't remember her exact title, but she was pretty high up there.) When I told the woman that I was a librarian, her eyes lit up and she said that her sister had a motto: "Get the librarians on your side."

It stuck with me. And if you think about it, it just makes sense. Librarians exist, in part, to push books to a wider audience. Children's librarians especially focus on getting kids excited about reading so that they become life-long readers. Librarians don't do this job for any kind of profit (except, you know, a salary). There's no commission earned when kids read more books. We don't get special prizes for doing storytime. We do it because we love books and reading and we want kids to grow up loving books and reading. Call me a sap, but it's really that simple.

We also do it because we recognize how libraries fit in to the greater picture of kids' lives. We know that libraries fill a gap that might be left open because of ecnonomic  hardships or educational deficiencies. Literacy is quickly getting edged out as a priority in this country, and that is wrong. We in the book business should be making it EASIER for people to read books, not more difficult.

Libraries strive to make it easier. That's why this whole Penguin kerfuffle makes me (and many other librarians, by the looks of Twitter and other library-related blogs) confused and sad, especially coming on the heels of the Harper Collins controversy. We WANT kids, teens, and adults to read books and buy books and borrow them from the library. Reading is the one of the only things I can think of that is both intensely personal and ideal for sharing. It seems counterintuative to prevent the sharing of books by focusing solely on potential sales.

As of today, Penguin has restored Kindle lending, but it still isn't allowing the lending of new titles. I sense that this is only the beginning of problems that libraries will face as we move forward into the digital age. My advice to all publishers? Make this your motto: get the librarians on your side. Not only will your books be read, but you will be contributing to the advancement of literacy for new generations of readers. Isn't that what publishing is supposed to be all about in the first place? 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How I Beat My "Evil" Name Twin

I'm not saying anything new when I say that being a librarian is a tough job. Yes, I realize it's not rocket science or brain surgery or some other hard work-related cliché, but to anyone who says that being a librarian is easy: I challenge you to a duel. That's right, a duel. Like, with gloves and swords and horses and other duel-y stuff. (Okay, I don't really know how a duel works.)

The job is difficult for numerous reasons, but sometimes it all boils down to the fact that certain people can be outright MEAN. This clip from "Ghostbusters II" (one of the greatest sequels of all time and if you disagree, see my previous comment about dueling) rings a little too close to home sometimes. I'm sure any of you other librarians could insert the name of your city and it would still be applicable.

Don't get me wrong, librarians can handle it. Difficult patrons are part of the job, and difficult people in general are part of the charm of living and working in a busy and diverse city like my beloved Brooklyn. To me, providing good customer service is ultimately what being a librarian is all about. You can't choose your customers, but you can choose how you react to them. (And let's be honest, sometimes librarians are the mean ones. Remember this sad graffiti?)

And of course, here's my favorite mean movie librarian:

This is how I feel when people ask me for the bathroom key.

The challenge of a difficult patron can be invigorating, but also very trying. I like to face the situation as if I'm a doctor making a diagnosis: what is going on with this person? It's almost never personal, so what is the REAL reason he or she is acting in this manner? And most importantly, what can I do to remedy the situation and have he or she be on his or her merry way??

The other day, an elderly-ish woman on a computer waved me over for help. Although I hadn't interacted with her that much as I am usually on the children's desk, I recognized her as being one of the more "unfriendly" patrons - the type of person who thinks that the whole world is plotting against her at all times.

Combine that with the fact that she was in a hurry, had a broken flash drive, needed to revise a cover letter and the fact that she didn't really know how to use a computer in the first place, and we had a DIFFICULT PATRON situation on our hands. Here's a rough depiction of what I saw when I approached her computer:


I calmly tried to guide her in writing the cover letter. I explained each step I took, each cut & paste, each bullet point. She didn't get it. Everything I said was wrong. Everything I did was a source of frustration. She argued, she sighed, she shook her head. "Why does EVERYTHING have to be so difficult?" she finally shouted, throwing her hands up in the air.

Aw. There it was. I know how maddening technology can be when you don't know what you're doing. (Watch me try to use an iPhone sometime. You'd be amazed at the things I click on that shouldn't be clicked on.) But even when I tried to commiserate with her, she was having none of it. To her, I was only trying to make life more difficult. I was one of THEM. 

Honestly, I wasn't having the greatest day either, but I didn't want to lose my cool. That would be unlibrarianish of me, after all. Feeling desperate, I decided to break the cardinal rule of not acknowledging a patron's personal information during a reference transaction. I pointed to her resume on the computer screen, saying "Hey, my name is Rita too."
That was all it took.

Her hands dropped to her lap. Her eyes softened.

"It IS?" She almost smiled.

"Yup!" I replied, showing her my work ID. "There aren't too many of us around, right?"

"That's because we're special," she said, with a hint of what appeared to be wistfulness. 

Then, to my surprise, she put her arm around me and said "You're such a nice person." (And this might sound weird, but it almost made me cry because MAN, sometimes you just need someone to be nice to you.)

I don't know what this lady's story is or what life did to her to make her the way she is, but I'm going to try to use this other Rita as inspiration - to be more patient with patrons and loved ones, to have more compassion for people who may be struggling, and to appreciate the nice things that are done for me.

And by God, I am going to learn how to use a damn iPhone.

(BONUS: just to show you how special "Ritas" really are, above is a clever Venn Diagram that was created by one of my Twitter friends. I don't know about anyone else, but I am proud that my name was featured in an R. Kelly song.)

Be nice to each other.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Back to the Library of the Future

UPDATE! So, some of you might remember my post from several months ago about a "Library of the Future" essay contest I helped to judge. In the post, I gave a few examples from some of the essays, in which kids discussed their views on the future of libraries - with relatively hilarious results.

Last week, a staff member of the councilman who sponsored the essay contest very belatedly-but-kindly emailed me an contest entry that didn't make the final cut, but that he thought I might want to read anyway. He was correct. The essay is kind of amazing.

With permission, I've included the entire essay here, omitting the kid's name and the name of his high school. I'm not going to analyze it or speculate on what it means for the actual future of libraries or make any of my usual cynical remarks. I just want you to read it and draw your own conclusions.

Okay, I'll make ONE cynical remark: with statements like "The library of the future will be a hellish place and should be abandoned," I hope this kid grows up to be an award-winning horror writer and not, for example, a library director. Alls I'm sayin'.