jobsEveryone in the world knows it’s hard out there for a librarian, especially one with no practical experience.  Jobs are hard to come by for the most qualified applicants, and despite my four years of varied library employment and internship experiences coming out of grad school, it still took me three years to reach the brass ring of full-time employment.  But I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and I knew I’d have to hustle.

These days, I feel like the ‘woe is me, I can’t get a library job’ spleen is just tired.  If you haven’t been able to find a job, you need to figure out why.  You need to examine what you’ve been doing, and change it.  Clearly, the plan is not working, and it’s time for reassessment.

I may have not necessarily have taken the most direct route to my dream job, but I have not stopped hustling since I decided that this was what I was going to do with my professional life.  If you want to be something, you have to make yourself something, and while distractions are lovely, if they don’t suit your end goal, you need to let them go (for the time being).

I gave a presentation at ALA a  couple years ago about working multiple jobs while trying to be a librarian, and I think it’s prudent to mention a couple of the points I made there.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I also have been working steadily in libraries since I decided I wanted to do that, so maybe I have a few of the answers.

1.  Figure out what you are good at

This is something that people probably don’t think about that often, though it seems mind-numbingly logical.  In terms of looking for  a job, you need to assess what you already know and what you are capable of and willing to learn.  Some people are not going to be a sysadmin, even if they try hard.  What are your interests and skills and how can you harness them to get you to your end goal?  How can you use what you already do/know to make yourself visible?

In my case, I’m good at writing.  I started this blog my first semester of grad school, and though it doesn’t get updated very often anymore, it got me some national attention over the years, and someone actually brought it up in a job interview once (I got the job).  Because I’m good at writing and I let that be known, I was selected to be the Co-Chair of the Communications Committee of the Rhode Island Library Association, which I’ve been doing since 2010, so every other month, I send an email newsletter to all the RILA members that has my name in it at least twice.  When people asked me to write things, I wrote them.  I found the time, and I made connections and I made myself the go-to person.  What are you already good at and how can that help you get a library job?

2.  Join Committees and Attend Conferences

Conferences can get expensive, but they are a good place to not only learn things, but to meet the people that can give you jobs.  Listing conference attendance on your resume shows that you’re still engaged with the library community, even if you may be working in a completely unrelated field to pay the bills.  If you’re just starting out in the profession, there are conference attendance scholarships, or else, in my mind, it’s worth it to sacrifice something else in order to attend and make the best of it.  No, I don’t love paying out of pocket to go to conferences, but if it gets you a job, it’s worth it.  If you meet a director, library manager, whatever at a conference and then they end up interviewing you later on–you’re going to stand out.  You have to prove you commitment to people.

Committees are free–they just cost you time, and they can be among the best ways to meet people and prove your worth.  Like conferences, being on committees also shows that you’re engaged in the community, but they are also a chance to learn and prove that you’re a leader.  I certainly never thought of myself as a leader when I was younger, but you know what the big secret about leadership is?  You don’t have to be the only leader or lead everything.  Plus, when you’re in charge, you get to be in charge.  Committees are also good in that they give you more face time with other library leaders.  I am not very good at the conference schmooze, and I’m pretty introverted, but after sitting on a committee with people for a few months, you get a lot more comfortable and it’s easier to shine.  Find a committee through your state library association or consortium and go to some meetings to see if it’s a good fit.

3. Ask Your Friends

Odds are good that you met people in  library school who are in the same or a similar (perhaps less leaky) boat.  In terms of saving money, you can carpool to conferences with friends, share a hotel room, etc.  In terms of professional development, friends can introduce you to people, critique your resume, brainstom ideas for getting your name and face in front of the people doing the hiring.  Friends can also help you stay sane; friends know what you’re going through much more than family, friends or spouses (unless they’re in the field as well).  It’s neither embarrassing to ask for help nor is it unexpected.  I love trying to help people that I think would be a good fit for a particular job, and you never know which personal connection is going to pay off.  Libraryland can be incestuous (for better or worse), might as well make that work for you.

4. Don’t Stop

If this is what you want, you have to keep on keeping on until you get it.  You can’t just throw your hands up after a few attempts and say “the universe won’t give me a job, what the hell?”  The world doesn’t owe you anything and while I don’t personally do hiring, I have gotten a LOT of jobs, and I know it’s because I have frequently worked in multiple libraries, been good at my job, gone to conferences, met people, joined committees, and learned how to sell myself.  It’s a buyer’s market out there and there are far too may librarians for how few jobs there are.

5. Think of a Plan B

If you’re finding that you’ve been doing everything right and the full time jobs still aren’t coming, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.  A friend of mine was struggling to get a full-time job.  She was working full-time hours in a library, but was between circulation and reference, and therefore wasn’t technically full-time.  So she became a certified yoga instructor so she wouldn’t need full-time.  She’s doing two things she loves, and that takes a lot of the pressure off.  Personally, I was kind of doing that in that I was looking for side hustle income while working part-time, but I also knew that I needed a full-time job, so chose to invest my extra income-seeking time in things I was already able to do.  If you’ve always wanted to learn something, you think you could use that as a way to generate side hustle income or to gain full-time employment, it’s worth investigating.

6.  Read Job Descriptions

Find out what employers are looking for and find a way to make yourself familiar with that.  A lot of the the skills that libraries want don’t have to be learned in a library.  Even just becoming familiar with what a word or product is can be helpful.  Notice a lot of institutions that are hiring want people to be familiar with Sakai?  Learn at least the basics of what it is or how it works so you can speak with authority.  Remember all that library 2.0 nonsense they kept talking about in library school?  Some of it is actually relevant.

7.  Maybe it Doesn’t Look Like You Thought it Would

I know two people who went to library school to be archivists who are now children’s librarians.  I wanted to be an academic librarian, but accepted a full-time position in a public library.  Another friend who wants to be an academic librarian is currently working in instructional design and my boss’s sister is commuting two hours a day because she owns a home in one place, and works in another state.  If you can’t be mobile, and you live in a area near a library school, it’s going to be harder.  Maybe you deviate from your original plan or maybe you have to struggle for a longer period of time.  You can always get your dream job somewhere and realize after starting that you and the director hate each other or that your actual job is not what you thought it would be.  It’s never going to be exactly what you thought anyway, so maybe try branching out a bit.  I hate kids, but I worked as a children’s librarian for almost a year just because I didn’t want to completely rule anything out without actually doing it first.  That experience still taught me about planning, presentation, PR, etc. Every experience is useful, even if you’re not quite sure how right away.

Libraryland is a ever-changing place and even though I’ve been in this field for seven years, I often feel like I don’t have a clue what is going on from place-to-place.  There is no one way to get a job, but I have to say, if you’ve been trying and failing, you probably need to re-think things.  People who have been full time for 20 years have no damn clue how hard it is, so that’s why you need to connect with other people in the trenches.  This is a people field as much as it is an information field.  I’ve been asked to weigh in on potential candidates for institutions that I don’t even work at, just because I know a lot of people.  You never know who is going to determine your fate so you need to put yourself out there as much as you can and stop expecting things to just happen on their own.

It’s a hard decision to make, leaving something behind that you love dearly.  So it’s not been easy for me to finally realize that leaving work in public libraries is the best thing I can do right now.

While that’s not a revolutionary statement on the surface, for me, it’s a very personal revelation that has been a long time coming.  A move to a city some fifty-five miles south of where I worked started my journey to understanding how I view libraries and librarians.  Knowing that I would be commuting two hours every day forced me to look at other library jobs and because I’ve spent my entire professional career in public libraries, that’s where I started my search.

Several months and several interviews in public libraries later, my understanding of how public libraries and their administrations and managers see “techies” was pretty well solidified.  Of course, not all public libraries view those with a good amount of technical skill as something to be held at arm’s length – The Librarian in Black, Sarah  Houghton, (now the Director of the San Rafael Public Library) is having her staff teach patrons how to use BitTorrent for legal file sharing.  I find that rather fracking awesome.

What happened was that I started to noticed a trend during the interviews at public libraries.  Even the places that touted their tech classes, virtual homework help, and text/chat/email reference services balked when I discussed technology literacy and its importance for children and families.  I even had one library director look at me as though I was either some strange new species he’d just run afoul of in the jungle, or plain crazy.  He then proceeded to ask me why I thought technology literacy was important, and after touting a few studies and articles, and my own observations, he said, “Well, we just don’t see much importance in that right now.  We are focused on literacy, the book kind.”  Understand that this was the director of a library that serves a population in the tens of thousands and includes several schools.

The “book kind” of literacy in libraries, if you aren’t familiar, revolves a lot around getting kids from an early age handling books, being read to, and helping parents help their children connect reading to fun.  It’s an applause-worthy goal, to be sure.  Hell, I learned to read at an early age because my mother, brother, and I were always going to the library and she was always reading to me.  Public libraries hold a very special place in my heart and always have.

Allow me to repeat that again, with extra special emphasis.

Public libraries hold a very special place in my heart and always have.

And so I was deeply dismayed when it came to my attention that these libraries, especially the ones that were trying so hard to appear “technology literate”, wanted nothing to do with teaching technology skills to children and families.

Traditional literacy is so important, but so is understanding how to use a computer, how to search online and in databases, and how to encompass technology into your everyday life.  I grew up using computers, went to a computer camp when I was in sixth grade, and find enjoyment in using technology.  For me, computers and technology are fun and easy to use.  This isn’t the case with everyone; some people need a little encouragement or be shown how technology can affect their everyday lives.  Public libraries can help with that.

I also know that learning and understanding why Google isn’t the end of searching for information can play a vital role in a student’s education.  This isn’t just about computers or using the vast and wild internet.  It’s about communication, discovery, and quite honestly, learning that librarians are not scary.  I’m serious.

Allow me to pose this to you:  How many high school kids do you know who could put together a clean, easy to understand slideshow on a topic with proper sources cited? (Wikipedia does not count.)  Of the kids I’ve seen using the computers in the library, very few.  And fewer are interested in learning how to search or format, they are just interested in the final result.  As Sharon A. Weiner’s states in  her article for Educause Quarterly, kids  “should develop information literacy as a ‘habit of mind’ that enables them to be sophisticated information finders and users by the time they reach college and then the working world” (2010).  President Obama declared October 2009 as National Information Literacy Awareness Month (link originally found in Weiner’s article).

Public libraries could do a lot to help stem the tide of students who go from Point A to Point B without pausing to investigate where their information is coming from and whether it’s the best source.  Public libraries could teach kids how to search in a way that means something to them now and will help them as they advance to a job and/or college.  It’s not (just) about cool new sites or apps – it’s about understanding how technology can enhance lives.  It could be a class on how to root your old smartphone, learning HTML, building online resumes, or getting some database searching under your belt.  Public libraries could be teaching classes to parents and caregivers on online scrapbooking, family blogging, great websites to share with your child… public libraries could be playing a truly vital role in helping children and families learn to access technology in a meaningful way.  Information and technology literacy is more than just doing and seeing, it’s a way of thinking.  And I fully believe that anyone can be taught to change how they see the world in order to include technology and how to use it.

Some libraries  are doing amazing things with technology in their communities, and I personally think they should be commended.  But what do you make of a public library system that is okay with just sitting idly by and being part of the dying “community warehouse” model?

I finally had to accept the fact that the libraries and librarians I was talking to were okay with complacency.  And since I’m not a complacent person, I started to look elsewhere.  What I found was a job that lets me teach those very skills that I’ve been hammering on about to college students.  I’ve been given the freedom teach technology literacy to adults in a college setting and help them prepare not just for their classes, but for their lives after college.  And yes, I’m excited.  If I can help these students in any way, you can bet technology is going to play a part because it has to.  Those kids who are being ignored by public libraries when it comes to technology literacy and education are no better off than the adults that are coming in my doors and asking for help on slideshows, citing, and resumes.  Here’s the difference:  the adults I’ll be teaching very likely didn’t have much, if any, chance to learn about technology because there was no one to teach them as children and so they aren’t sure about how technology can be beneficial.  But public libraries have a real chance to change the outlook for so many kids and families, but yet many of them aren’t taking it.

Weiner, Sharon A. (2010.) “Information Literacy:  A Neglected Core Competency.” Educause Quarterly, 33(1).


The Swiss Army Librarian often does a “Reference Question of the Week” post that I always think is really interesting.  Then I get jealous because I feel like he gets more interesting reference questions that I do.  Thankfully, I do occasionally get those gems that really make you realize that you need a good librarian and that google can’t tell you everything, or if it does, you may need a second opinion.

I got a phone call recently from a frantic-sounding mom who asked me “Can you tell me where the WPA plaques are in Providence?”

Honestly, at first, I thought she was looking for some kind of trophy supply store, but after asking a few questions, it because clear that the WPA, or Works Progress Administration, which was a New Deal public works program, created a number of public spaces and marked them with a WPA plaque.  This frantic mom’s kid had to locate one as part of a history assignment.

Luckily for me, one of the local news organizations had compiled a list of locations, and a bit of history about the organization in Rhode Island.

The WPA gave a lot of people work in the Ocean State during the Depression.

Over its first five years, from 1935 through the end of 1940, the WPA was employing more than 10,000 people in Rhode Island – including 17,144 people at its peak, in the summer of 1938.

That would be roughly equivalent to employing 25,000 people today, considering that Rhode Island’s population was 713,346 in 1940, compared with about 1 million now.

The article also mentioned that there was a WPA plaque at the end of Blackstone Boulevard.

“Which end!?!” the frantic mother demanded?

It was only then that I remembered that I’ve actually seen that plaque dozens of times.  It’s mounted in a big rock at one end of the running/walking path.  I’d run by it more times than I can count, and actually thought once or twice wonder what that it, but obviously stopping and reading it would cause me to drop my heart rate, so I kept on going.  Thankfully, my running habit allowed me to reassure the frantic mom that the plaque is there, and tell her specifically to look for it next to the bench.

This reminded me of another fun reference question from my first year of library school.  I was working at a fancy membership library in circulation when a group of teenage girls came in and told the reference librarian they were looking for Mr. Potato head.  Since this was a rather austere library, teenage girls had never come in in packs before, and certainly none of the regular members had ever asked such a strange reference question.

It turned out that Hasbro, which is based in Rhode Island, had launched a campaign in 2000 to distribute large Mr. Potato Head statues around the state.  Other states I’ve lived in have had similar campaigns, but apparently this one was not as successful as others, and most of the potatoheads were relegated to dark corners in random businesses or stolen or vandalized.  These teenage girls were on a field trip to Newport where they were charged with finding the potatoheads.potsurfer

Unfortunately, we could mostly tell them where the potatoheads had been rather than where they moved, but another library staffer remembered where one of the statues had been moved, just not if it was still there.

This is a great example of where the human element of librarianship comes into play.  Librarians know that a meager fraction of the world’s knowledge is online, but patrons forget that all the time.  Sure, we started both of these searches with google, but it was only when the librarians started thinking about the questions that they actually got (mostly) answered.

ebooks2Is this what it felt like to those librarians in the profession when the internet came about?  When I started this blog in 2008, I felt like I would never run out of things to write about.  This profession is so varied and vast, how could we possibly cover it all?  Now, all I read is more and more about eBooks.  Certainly, this is something we all need to talk about, because libraries are getting royally screwed, but I also feel like being so singularly focused on one thing that’s not really working out, is talking the wind out of my sails.

Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I don’t think I am.

My state library consortium recently reallocated half of the state database budget to buy eBooks. Now reference librarians are being asked, “what databases do you absolutely need to do your job?”  Of course, that’s not a guarantee that we’ll get to keep them, it’s just important to have all the facts before doing the chopping.  I realize that the role of the public library is shifting away from reference as we knew it, but do we really want to just become an eBook borrowing website?

The funny thing is, eBooks only make up tiny part of my day-to-day, but I think about them constantly.  Lately, I’ve been spending the bulk of my time weeding, shifting and buying physical books.  Patrons keep me busy requesting books, locating books and asking for recommendations but only a very small number ask me about downloading.

A recent New York Times article about eBooks included this line, which actually made me laugh out loud, “How about the immensely popular novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. James? Thirty-three people were waiting for the e-book on the Seattle Public Library’s site.”  In my library system, there are over 500 holds for the physical copy, and less than 100 for the four eBooks.

This blog has been lying fallow for a while, because it seems like as a profession, we are only having one conversation these days, and I’m just as much to blame as everyone else.  I’m challenging myself, and you, gentle reader, to bring something else to the table.  We can still fret over eBooks, that’s certainly not going away, but lets focus on something else as well–something positive.

part timeI’ve been working part-time since graduating in May 2009.  If we’re being completely honest, I’ve actually been working part-time my whole life since I’ve never had a full-time job (long story, mostly about grad school), but since becoming a Professional Librarian, I’ve noticed something very odd about this part-timeness that I’ve never encountered before.

My first ever library job was as a library associate working in circulation.  Even though I was there for less than a year, I quickly assumed a lot of responsibilities and was working 40 hours a week.  After that, I started grad school and got a job at a special library where again, I had a lot of interesting responsibilities, or at least, if not interesting, I always had something to do.  Since then I’ve had various other part-time positions at libraries around the state while I was working on my MLIS.  It was always the fact that I was in library school that seemed to assure employers that I could handle more responsibilities than most, but now that I’m officially being hired as a professional librarian, it seems like I’ve almost been reduced in the level of trust placed on me.

My first professional position as a reference librarian was actually three months before I graduated.  I was hired as a part-time temporary employee replacing someone who was in China for six months.  I was incredibly excited to have my first “real” library job, but that excitement quickly faded as I realized that, apart from being on the desk, I had no real responsibilities and therefore nothing to really do.  Sure, it took some time to learn the ropes, remember people’s names, get familiar with the layout, but there’s only so much time you can spend just acclimating.  All of the other part-time employees (who had been there for years) had actual responsibilities like ILL and collection development, and though I kept insisting, “please, give me something to do, I like to keep busy and feel useful.” I got the occasional annotated booklist to work on and nothing more.

The second part-time professional position I got was much the same.  This is a position I currently hold and have for the past two years.  Initially, I thought that my boss was just letting me learn the ropes and didn’t want to overwhelm me with new tasks; but it quickly became apparent that aside from being a warm body on the desk, I had no responsibilities.  Eventually, I was put in charge (with two other people) of library displays which is fun, but not terribly time-consuming, and after a while, I just starting making up things to do.  My co-workers were constantly bogged down with this and that, so I insisted on lightening their load every chance I could; I started creating new, interactive displays; and I volunteered for every menial task I could just for a slight change of pace.

Prior to working in libraries, I’ve worked in very busy coffee shops and bookstores, and also live television.  I want to be busy and have things to do, but I also recognize that from the employer’s perspective, it’s tricky to place a lot of responsibility on someone who isn’t allowed to work more than nineteen hours a week.*

Here are just a few suggestions I have for supervisors of part-time librarians to help everyone get the most out of our time together.

  1. Take advantage of our enthusiasm.  Most part-timers are probably recent graduates who are eager to learn as much as they can about the profession and try new things.  They also, often, have tech skills that can certainly come in handy, or technological capabilities that make them able to learn things faster than you might think.
  2. Teaching isn’t a huge time commitment.  There are times when I feel like my part-time experience almost makes me less qualified for a full-time position simply because I’ve been at a position for 2+ years, and haven’t accomplished a whole lot.  I often can’t attend conferences because I can’t afford to, or work won’t let me have the time off; and I can’t be given critical, time-sensitive tasks because I’m not around that much.  I also don’t get invited to participate in library committees or attend meetings.  Taking a few moments every now and then to remind your part-timers that they are an important part of the organization and show them a little bit more about how something in the library works will make them feel more invested and happy.
  3. Ask us questions.  Just because we work part-time doesn’t mean we don’t care about the library or the library users as much as a full-timer; if you’re collecting feedback about a change that’s coming, a new product to try, or anything–include the part-time staff in the discussion.
  4. It takes a while to get comfortable.  What I fear is occasionally seen as lack of ambition in me is actually a reluctance to step on toes.  I’ve encountered some very territorial librarians in my time, and even though I have 6+ years experience in the field, it takes me a while to settle in and figure out how each individual organization works.  Obviously, it takes even longer if you’re only there part-time.
  5. Give us a stake in the library. Give us an area of the collection to call our own.  Give us an ongoing task so we can feel like we’re contributing to the library as a whole.
  6. Use our talents.  Everyone has something that they’re good at that isn’t necessarily librarianship.  If you have someone on staff who is a good knitter, see if the patrons are interested in a knitting group; part-timers can run book groups as well as a full-timer; at one library, I was encouraged to develop a screenwriting workshop for teens that I’ve since carried out at two other libraries.  Even though I was only part-time at that library, my boss asked, “what are you good at?” and let me just run with it.
  7. Give us professional development opportunities.  I’m on two statewide committees, but I’ve had to tun down invitations to two others because I just am not able to go to meetings. Committees can be a big time commitment, but they’re a really good way for new-to-the-profession librarians to meet other librarians, and create positive PR for your library among others nearby.  One or two-day conferences are also a great way to meet new people and get new ideas to keep your library evolving and cutting-edge.
  8. Know that we may leave.  Certainly the two libraries that I work for know that I want a full-time position, I haven’t been shy about expressing my desire to go to the dentist. It may seem like a waste to put a lot of time and effort into training a part-timer just to have that person jump ship a few months later, but that is the nature of part-time work, and, in the current economy, part-timers may stick around longer than you’d think either because there is no other work, or because they’re hoping to move up within your organization.  Don’t assume you know what everyone wants to do, and don’t assume that things won’t change later on.  Full-timers can leave their jobs too.

In every organization, all employees need to feel valued, but it can be the ones you don’t see as much that get overlooked.  Some employees may relish flying under the radar, but most of us are there to work and learn.  Give us something to do, after all, today’s part-timers are tomorrow’s library directors.

*I need to mention that my other part-time jobs gives me plenty to do🙂

Note: Two days after I wrote this post, I accepted a full-time position in the town where I live.

I read an interesting, if depressing article the other day about how many people are now going to bookstores to browse the shelves, making a note of what they see and then buying that book from an online retailer for a cheaper price.  It’s become such a ubiquitous practice that it’s got its own name: showcasing, and booksellers (rightly) hate it.  Admittedly, I’ve done a similar thing, but it’s so that I could then go to the library and check it out for free.

This go me thinking though, why is it so much more appealing to most people to go to a bookstore to browse than it is to come to a library?  At a library, we encourage you to browse and then buy from whomever you want later, if you want to buy at all.  That certainly won’t put us out of business, but even as a librarian, I would never really think of the space in the same way that I would  bookstore.  Similarly, when I was working at Barnes & Noble, most of the regular customers treated the place exactly like a library.  They brought in their own books and did homework, held meetings, even occasionally shushed people.  Why is it so much more appealing to hang out at B&N than the library?  It can’t all be about the comfy chairs and the cafe.

Kind of along the same line of thinking, I’ve had library marketing on the brain a lot lately.  This has happened a bit organically as I meet people, tell them what I do and then gauge their reaction.  People who have positive associations of the library, usually from childhood, get excited and enthusiastic; other people really don’t understand what it is that I or the library does these days.  If that’s the reaction I’m getting half the time now, wait until ebooks grab an even bigger toehold.  This is the time when libraries need to market themselves more than ever.

The first library I worked at, had a full time marketing person.  She wasn’t a librarian, she was trained in marketing. She wrote grants and did all manner of other things that I probably didn’t even know about, but in the less than a year that I worked there, the library got a $1,000,000 donation from an individual to build a new state-of-the-art branch, and the city approved a bond measure to finish that state-of-the-art branch library and expand and rebuild the main library.  One could argue that maybe this is just a community that loves its libraries, but you could also make the argument that the people in this community have the chance to love their libraries because they’re more aware of what we do.

The state that I currently work in, is in financial shambles (as are many). We have a statewide library consortium, and in order to maintain membership in that consortium, each library has to keep up a maintenance of effort.  This dictates how many professional librarians the library has to have on staff, building regulations, etc., but if libraries fail to meet it, their patrons could lose their borrowing and internet privileges for the rest of the 48 libraries in the system.  This is something that most patrons and local officials do not know.  It could be something as simple as cutting the position of the children’s assistant to save money, and suddenly, that library loses access to the rest of the state.  When city budgets are in trouble, the library often bears the brunt of the cuts rather than more essential services, but sometimes a little cut has a far greater impact that people realize.

A friend who works at a private college recently told me that her library is adding a video recording studio for students to use.  From what she described, it sounds like something that would fall under the purview of the Audio Visual Department rather than the library, and I wondered why they would take on all of the extra work that will certainly be involved, without a real benefit to the library.  The benefit is increased visibility and challenging people’s notions of what the library does and can do.  Yes, it’s extra work, but forging relationships can often be a far greater benefit in the long run.

It’s certainly difficult to keep on doing more with less like we have been for the past few years, but marketing and promotion is essential for our survival.  We should be the place where people go to browse books, and people shouldn’t be completely shocked when I tell them that libraries lend DVDs and downloadable audio books.  Perhaps too, we need to be more open to asking other people for help–people who know marketing.  I love the gung-ho learn on the fly/ teach yourself how to do everything you need to do attitude of librarianship, but if our strength was marketing we probably wouldn’t have ended up in librarianship.

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague (who is, coincidentally, my manager as well) the other day.  We were discussing the differences in how the generations view “need vs. want” and how “going without” now is a rather different concept compared to what it was a few decades ago.  If you really compare the idea of “going without” to how people lived during the Depression Era, you will see a stark contrast in views about material goods vs. what we need to sustain ourselves on a day – to – day basis.  She had commented to me that her mother, who grew up during the Depression, once lived in a home with twelve other people (family and renters) in order to scrape enough money together so everyone could eat.  Imagine doing that now, she said…most people can’t.

Unless you are struggling to make ends meet.  And no, I don’t mean you are simply without disposable income.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 46 million people in this country live in poverty.  (The income for a family of four living in poverty in 2010 was $22,314.)  And of those 46 million people, over 11 million of them are children.  That’s 22% of the children in this country.  If those numbers don’t make you sick, maybe this will.

According to an article on, a Toronto library board member by the name of Stephen Dulmage believes that “[p]eople don’t need a warm place to read a book so long as there are Tim Hortons in the world” (McGrath, 2011).  While the humanitarian in me sputters at this, the librarian in me is even more furious.  The issue of the poor and homeless in libraries has long been a contentious one but the core values of librarianship include the idea of serving everyone – poor, rich, old, young, any race, creed, orientation or background.  Libraries are one of those few free, open, public spaces left where anyone can plop down in a chair with a book and stay.  As one savvy commenter on the openfile article pointed out, you can’t do this at Tim Hortons and not buy anything.  The employees at Tim Hortons can and will kick you out if you treat the establishment like a public library, i.e. you can overstay your welcome if you don’t spend money.

The public library doesn’t ask anyone to spend money when they come in the doors.  Tim Hortons, as a business, is completely within their rights to ask people to leave if they aren’t reaching for their wallets.  So why does Mr. Dulmage think there is any inkling of comparison between a public library and a coffee shop?  He also conveniently forgot about all those people who depend on the library – remember those statistics I spouted off?  Granted, those were for the U.S.and this incident concerns Toronto, Canada.  But according to the CIA Factbook’s website, roughly 9.4% of people inCanada live in what we would equate to poverty.  Imagine if a board member in the States had said this – would someone have pointed out to him that the 46 million people in poverty (including the 11 million of them who are children) can’t read a book in a warm Tim Hortons because they likely don’t have the money for a cup of coffee or a pastry?

This kind of thing truly aggravates me simply because it shows a thoughtlessness and a heartlessness toward one’s fellow man, but also a complete ignorance of how important libraries are to the general populations they are centered in.  Now, as a librarian, I can say, “Of course libraries are important!” and get on my soapbox for ten minutes about all of the wonderful things libraries provide and stand for.  That’s easy but it doesn’t do much to educate those who don’t know about what libraries do and the services they provide if they aren’t willing to listen.  And it’s clear that people like Mr. Dulmage are frighteningly clueless and not afraid to show their ignorance.  And even more terrifying – he’s a library board member.

Is the appointing of library board members taken seriously or done more like a game of “Eenie Meenie Minee Moe?”  There should be a rigorous application and interview process to become a board member of a library.  You should have to know about the organization in general, be an avid library supporter AND user, and honestly…you should really have some kind of clue about the library’s place and purpose in your community.  Clearly, Mr. Dulmage is lacking.  And don’t me started on the other board member, Michael Foderick, who thinks firing 60 full-time employees (many of them likely professional librarians) from the Toronto Public Library will solve budget woes.

And actually, I’d like to add another requirement to the list of knowledge you should have before becoming a library board member.  You should know what librarians do, how we are educated, and why we believe so strongly in our abilities to help people.  It’s not that hard, really – I’m sure we could come up with a primer book for these sad excuses for library board members.  The people of Toronto, you have my sympathies.  The librarians who work at the Toronto Public Library, you need to push for new, intelligent, educated board members who actually care.

(Thanks to for turning me onto the original Toronto openfile article!)

computer-serverYes, I think I’ve finally found my niche in Library Science. I want to be a Systems Librarian! I’d honestly never heard the term before I started taking Systems Analysis when classes started back last week, but it fits so perfectly – not only with what my passions are, but also with the job I’m already doing, in a non-library setting.
Systems Librarians are largely responsible for the technology used in a library (or whatever setting they are in). It can be as simple as hardware (computers, printers, copiers, and scanners) or as complex as website maintenance, social media, cataloging software, or any other electronic service/device used in your library/office. The Systems Librarian not only has to understand how all of these things work, the Systems Librarian also must have a working knowledge of each area of the library in order to best understand how each service is used by staff and patrons. You’ve heard the phrase “Jack of all Trades, but Master of none”? Well the Systems Librarian is a Jack of all Trades, but is a Master of technology.
In the position I currently hold at NC State University, I work in an office (not the library) but I perform these job functions. I am the department LanTech, which means I am responsible for the hardware and software needs of the department, and I am the first point of contact for technical support. I am our database administrator. I routinely test new systems from our database vendor to determine if they meet the needs of our department. And I am working towards turning our office into a paperless one.
Once I started the SLIS program last fall, I was surprised to learn that my job had some library science applications (information retrieval being the major one), but I didn’t realize just how many until I discovered what a Systems Librarian is. Now I feel as if I have a focus in my studies – a direction and goal to work towards. This is huge because I’d felt I was floundering in the program, picking and choosing what I liked with no clear end result. It turns out that all of my geeky techie passions have a career path after all – Systems Librarian.

On July 1, 2011, The Central Falls Free Public Library closed for an indefinite amount of time.  Twelve staffers–six part-time and six full-time were laid off. Central Falls is a 1.5 mile square city with 18,000 residents in the state of Rhode Island, and it is often referred to as the poorest city in the state.  Central Falls has also been in the national news lately for firing all of its public school teachers.  Now that that drama is (mostly) resolved, the city is in receivership, looking at probable bankruptcy and has now lost its library.

Because Central Falls no longer has a library, they are automatically disqualified from being a part of the Ocean State Libraries consortium, which means that Central Falls residents do not have access to any library services.  The neighboring city, Pawtucket, has extended temporary borrowing privileges to CF residents, but Pawtucket is in a budget crisis of its own, has already cut hours and lost staff.

Thankfully, the board of trustees are determined to find a way to reopen the library in the fall, but there may not be funds to re-hire the library staff, which would continue to make Central Falls ineligible to re-join Ocean State Libraries consortium.

Rhode Island is in a budgetary crisis, and its poorest residents are the ones who suffer the most.  Central Falls residents have a per capita income of $15,094 and 25% of families are below poverty level.  This is a city that needs its library, and the fact that they’ve lost it is heartbreaking.  I used to live in a very low-income neighborhood in nearby Providence, RI, and the small branch of the library there was teeming with kids every day after school.  This was a neighborhood with high gang violence, and parents who couldn’t afford to be home when their kids got out of school.  The library was the only place these kids had to go.

We talk about breaking down the digital divide and extending opportunities to all people, but the second money gets a little tight, that all falls apart.  With their school already in chaos, and their library now closed, the children of Central Falls have  lost all opportunities to rise out of the cycle of poverty.  School librarian positions around the country are being cut, which adds that pressure to public librarians.  Public libraries get cut, staff are stretched thin and already don’t have the time to teach students how to do research as thoroughly as they need, and then it’s pretty much game over for these kids.

I was in New Orleans this past month for ALA, and heard a lot of librarians patting themselves on the back for hosting the conference in New Orleans so soon after the flood, but nothing about our closing libraries.  I got a lot of strange looks when I explained my multiple library jobs, because most of the people who can afford to go to ALA have full-time positions and are oblivious to the struggle for employment that our newer librarians are facing.  I heard from New Orleans residents how grateful they were that the ALA conference came back to the city as it struggled to rebuild, but that was usually followed up with a remark like “what do librarians do anyway?”

We need to do better.

We cannot save our libraries if people don’t understand the value.  We need to get louder as a profession, or we won’t have a profession anymore.  And we need to realize that it’s not about us, but the people who need us.

Odeliriumf the many hats I wear at work, my primary one (which I imagine to look like this should anyone wish to help a poor librarian out), is that of a cataloger.  I am responsible for cataloging fiction, YA, music, biography, travel and reference books and other assorted material that comes my way.  Initially I was relieved that my supervisor had the bulk of the non-fiction and I figured my work would be a breeze.  Little did I know just how much I would come to detest and growl at materials that defied or danced between genres.

We are in the practice, as are many libraries, of genre labeling and organizing our collection.  We sort by Mystery, Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy.  I occasionally slap on Historical Fiction or Western stickers, but since they remain in with the general fiction, I’ll ignore those for the purposes of this post.

I understand and appreciate the point of the stickers and I know that our patrons like them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked where the mysteries, sci-fi, etc. are and it does help circulation of these materials.  There are some basic ground rules for labeling books, and most libraries add their own rules to keep labeling and cataloging consistent.  The classic example is that when a book has a detective, it is a mystery.  Other rules that we follow include 1. vampires, zombies, werewolves, witches, etc. make a book horror 2. Fairies and magic are fantasy and 3. things futuristic, advanced technology are science fiction.

Easy right?  But what about these books that are all vampire romances?  Books about fashonista werewolves shopping on 5th avenue?  Books that are set in the future, but this setting is merely a backdrop for its real nature, which is romantic?  WiIl true horror readers want to read about vampires who sit around and knit?  Or are these books perhaps more suited for a general collection?  Are readers of general fiction who would perhaps enjoy these bit more being scared off by the horror/sci-fi/mystery sticker?

Oftentimes I take home and read a book that I’ve placed a genre sticker on and thought it doesn’t belong in genre XYZ because of the feel of the book.  I followed our rule and placed A Discovery of Witches in horror because it had vampires, witches and demons.  After taking it home and reading it I felt it didn’t belong in horror because it was about history, mystery, romance and the main characters just happened to be supernatural creatures.  It just wasn’t a scary book, which is what I instinctively think of as horror.

Another sketchy area is this new trend of dystopian literature that is very predominant in YA.  Some of these novels can legitimately get a science fiction sticker because the science fiction aspect is part of the story, not just the stage.  Novels like Maze Runner or the Hunger Games I would give science fiction stickers.  A novel like Delirium, which does have science fiction aspects to it, I ultimately didn’t give the sticker to because it was more a self-discovery, love story, questioning the world story.  It didn’t have that “feel,” if you will.  Of course I had to read it to make that call (which wasn’t a bad thing at all because I was dying to read it).

Often times, we compromise and slip the book into both science fiction and general fiction.  While our “rules” or “guidelines” may be a bit rigid and allow in books that are perhaps not true to the genre, the fact of the matter is, I cannot read every book that passes by my desk.  I really believe that the feel and intent of the book equally as important as the characters and their traits, supernatural or otherwise, but until I’ve mastered super speed reading, I’ll have to stick to my guidelines.  Rather than worrying that I’m scaring off readers, I think I will tell myself I am finding a book readers and a home.


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