Library Myths – BUSTED!

I grew up in libraries. I lived half a block from our town’s public library, and, when my parents deemed me old enough, I would walk up there first thing in the morning or in the closing minutes each night. I operated under some truths I learned from being a library brat, like you can check out tons of books for free (except fines, of course). But, like many members of the public, I had myths and misconceptions about libraries and librarians.

It wasn’t until I started library science graduate school, interning, volunteering, and networking with other library professionals that I realized none of the library myths I’d believed—the ones that held me back from asking a question or finding a book—are grounded in truth.

Well, maybe one is…

Leslie Knope’s “Punk-Ass Book Jockeys” might not be a myth after all…

We are kind of a (mostly cat-loving) cult of punk-ass book jockeys.

If you’ve had library fears holding you back from going to the library, this article is for you. Let’s go through some of the most well-known library myths and tease out what’s real and what’s fiction.

Myth #1: Libraries only lend out books

Many people are surprised at the extent of our circulation collection. Not just books anymore (although books are still surely quite awesome), libraries now check out other items, too, from museum passes to mobile hotspots, musical instruments to meeting space rooms. Hell, here in Philly we even have a “tiebrary” of ties people can rent for job interviews. If you can imagine it, there is a probably a library somewhere that circulates it. For instance, in my county system, like many others, you can check out iPads in the library and rent an eReader with the latest hot titles pre-loaded. Follow your library or county’s social media sites to hear more about exciting circulation opportunities.

Myth #2: You’re “bothering” a reference librarian with a question

Having worked at a reference desk before, I have been on the receiving end of many, “Sorry to bother you…” and “Is it okay if I ask you a question?” half-whispered openings. It’s totally okay to ask us a question. It’s what we’re here for! Reference librarians are the superheroes of information, and they live for quests like helping someone find genealogy records or research about obscure corners of history or science. That goes for online reference chat, too. Though we can’t diagnose your rash, counsel you on taxes, or give you legal advice, we will try our best to connect you with the information you need. (We can always go back to the tab with the cat memes—or the article on how to fight censorship and alternative facts—later.)

Myth #3: You can’t return a book if you haven’t read it

I have 52 books checked out right now, and, yes, of course I’ll never read them all! But there’s nothing stopping me from trying, or knowingly failing. I know many people don’t feel that way, though. A friend told me that he never borrowed many books because he felt like he could never return them unread, so he only checked out a few at a time. I don’t live with this shame, but I hope many patrons know that the library gods aren’t judging you for not finishing a book—they don’t even know! So go ahead, check out twenty books and return them guilt free. Borrowing a book is not a binding contract that you must read and finish it. The library is here to help you experiment with reading new genres or give you free access to a book your budget does not allow for. So if you read 4, 40, 400 or no pages at all, you are entitled to charge the most valuable plastic in your wallet with no pressure (just keep track of due dates!). And, by the way, you’re helping your library drive up circulation, which is important for getting funding and justifying important services and positions.

Myth #4: If it’s not in the catalog or on the shelves, you can’t borrow it

Are you a power user of Interlibrary Loan (ILL) and the wider library consortium? Next time you can’t find a book on the shelves or in the library catalog, don’t despair. Get in touch with the library staff to see what your options are for borrowing beyond the library’s holdings. Sometimes it’s as easy as getting on the catalog, finding an available copy at another library in the system, clicking a few buttons, and indicating your desired pick-up location. Boom! In some cases, you might get the item faster than through Prime. (And if you really want to feel empowered to unleash your hold/request powers, check out my Book Riot article, “5 Reasons to Binge-Request Books from the Library.”) I’ve borrowed a ton of books through ILL over the years, and it’s pretty cool to see where some of them are from, not just from my home state of Pennsylvania but Chicago and even as far as Canada! These books travel with a passport that’s meant to be stamped (er, read). Admittedly, there are some titles that are harder to get, like new releases or books that have serious hold lists within your own system. But librarians have a bloodhound focus for tracking down an item for patrons. Even if they can’t find it, they’ll pull out all stops to connect borrowers with the best information they can.

Myth #5: Librarians are super repressed / Librarians are super kinky

Who knows where this idea first originated. Perhaps the earliest librarians at the Library of Alexandria cried out to be sexually liberated, and their passion ignited the fire that burned it to the ground. Certainly, the media hasn’t always helped. Ron’s wife, librarian Tammy II, from Parks and Recreation fed right into that stereotype…

Tammy, Pawnee librarian and Ron’s hypersexed second wife

And maybe there is a universal truth here: plenty of librarians love their cardigans. But please don’t lure us into a dark corner and expect a fiery moment of unbridled, cardigan-popping heat. We’ve got other fires to put out—printer jams, finding missing items, providing shelter, and other ways to generally save the universe. We are happy to point you towards the romance section, though (and not judge you for checking out erotica).

So visit your library, in person or online. Place a hold. Browse around. Use your card to the full extent of its powers. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. We’ve got one for you: “How can we help?”

(A version of this article was originally posted on BookRiot.com)

How can (should) libraries remain neutral in the era of Trump?

When I was beginning to design my research proposal for my MLIS thesis in the fall, I was in the same boat as millions of other people, including the “experts.” We weren’t expecting Trump to be elected. But elected he was—narrowly. At the time, November 9, much of America woke up wondering if they had just awoken from a dream. It was a feeling of numbness, and the library community online and off debated the question of “Should libraries be neutral?”.

Fast forward to January 2017. Within days of Trump taking office, a wave of polarizing executive orders were issued, such as one banning refugees from entering the country. Meanwhile, Congress seemed all but sure to eliminate Obamacare. For people like me who are on Obamacare, it was extremely anxiety-inducing, and for others who seemed to be swept up in Trump’s all-out war on human rights and other liberties in his crosshair, we lived minute-to-minute in fear of what would happen next.

I have pretty much free reign to post as much and as often and about whatever I see fit on our library’s Facebook page as the Social Media Manager, but once Trump took office I felt paralyzed. On the one hand, it felt not-neutral to post about current events. Even just a link to resources about Obamacare felt explosive. At the same time, silly posts with book memes and reader speak felt tone deaf. People were angry. People were confused. People were hurting. What was the library to do?

On January 31st, I asked fellow library communications people on the public Facebook group, Libraries & Social Media:

How can/should libraries remain neutral on social media during times like this? Are you posting anything related to the political climate? Or opting for completely neutral content? I guess I feel nervous to publish, say, an article about refugee authors if someone argues that that is not neutral, but at the same time it feels kind of tone deaf to post book quizzes, silly memes, and the like. Anyone else struggling with this?

People had all kinds of responses. (You can see the discussion here.)

Library social media professionals were split: should the library remain neutral? The bottom line?

It seems that people fell under two camps that were both rooted in patron needs:

  1. Libraries should remain neutral because the library is supposed to serve its community, funded by tax dollars that represent all kinds of viewpoints and political positions, even with those we do not agree.
  2. Libraries should not remain neutral because their patrons are targeted and/or vulnerable individuals who need our support, even just by posting resources and information.

To me, both of these positions are correct, and yet, they seem mutually exclusive.

There are no easy answers. There is no one right answer. Since libraries are seen as resources for the community, perhaps displays and fact sheets you can access within the library are less offensive, if that’s the right word. Anyone on Facebook can see a library’s post with a link to an article on how to discern what is and what is not fake news when it comes through their newsfeed. Coming into the library, though, a patron could stumble across timely books. That does not quite “fix” the problem (non-problem?), but at least the patron is not confronted with any partisan (quasi-partison) information or posts from the library that they could have seen come across their news feed. I’m not sure there is a right answer for this topic, especially because every library is different and serves the needs of their community. I favor the Operation 451 initiative headed up by two librarians who argue for libraries and their duty to resist censorship of ideas (all ideas), libraries should not discriminate against any and all patrons, defend the freedom of speech.

Sound radical?

I think one thing we can all agree on is that libraries are inherently radical, by providing services to all patrons no matter their political affiliations. To provide equal access to resources. To protect and defend free speech. To offer the best, most accurate information (truth is often radical itself).

That I can get behind.

I plan on incorporating this tricky debate into my thesis survey about user-focused social media strategies. I’m interested to see how users react in my small, quite liberal (politically, socially a little more traditional) hometown, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Expect more updates to come in this rapidly evolving world of library science, neutrality, and a full-on assault on civil liberties and freedoms (and facts).

tumblr_n5p1o4ojrb1tnrtpjo1_1280

Two Apps I Recommend for Libraries

 

Today I’d like to talk about two apps that are great for libraries to get involved in. I use both of these in my life as a reader, blogger, and fiction author.

App #1

Litsy logo

The first app that I would recommend is Litsy, which is a social reading app. Currently it is only available for iPhone and iOS users, but they are in beta testing for Android users. The app lets you interact with other readers or sometimes companies, like Out of Print, a literary-themed apparel site. You can post “Pick”s, which is books you recommend, “Quotes,” excerpting quotes from books you are reading or that are relevant, “Reviews” of books, and “Blurbs” of books.

Here are some examples from my own account:

 

Example of a "Quote" on Litsy.
Example of a “Quote” on Litsy.

 

And:

 

Example of a Blurb on Litsy
Example of a Blurb on Litsy

 

Currently, there do not appear to be any libraries using Litsy that I can tell from searching “Library” on the user search within the app. This app is cutting edge, and readers are flocking to it. I believe that if libraries were to use this app, it would stand in the face of the idea that libraries are obsolete. This would show that libraries are at the forefront of where literary culture is headed.

App #2

Wattpad

 

Wattpad is pretty well known by now among the writing crowd. This website lets writers publish stories, novels, poems, basically any kind of writing for free to try to gain a following that will hopefully transfer over to publication.

I think this app could work well for libraries. Libraries could feature writers within their community, could host mini contests for local writers, and perhaps even start a reading/book club. The site is very popular among teen and young adult/new adult readers.

The use of this app would demonstrate that libraries are cutting-edge by listening to the needs of their consumers. Their consumers–patrons–are looking to engage with fiction and to a lesser extent, nonfiction, in a more immediate way where they can vote things up or down, rate them, and engage directly with the author. Partnering with Wattpad or using Wattpad within teen services would show that the library is not obsolete but instead goes where the patron goes and tailors programming to them.

 

My Top 5 Reasons to Binge-Request Books from the Library

I have a confession.

I’m a serial binge-requester at my library.

Sometimes I’ll get going on a requesting spree. If I’m researching a topic or fleshing out a niche, there’s no limit to how many books I might request at once. One? One is child’s play. Five? Ha. Ten? That’s more like it.

I wasn’t always like this. Now a library science graduate student, it wasn’t until the last few years that I realized you even could request books from other libraries in the system, or beyond through interlibrary loan. Once I found out I didn’t have to travel to the far reaches of the county to get the single copy of that YA fantasy novel I was obsessed with, the flood gates opened wide. The era of binge requesting had begun.

And I don’t even feel bad about it. Going to the library with three empty tote bags (I recommend those from the Book Riot store), has made me an expert of shoving as much as 6-8 hold requests into the corners of the bags. Furthermore, requesting books from other libraries has so many benefits.

Here are my top 5 justifications for placing library holds.

  • It saves you money. This is perhaps the most obvious. For me, someone who is budget-conscious and an impoverished grad student, there’s no way I could afford to buy every book I want to read. With my lean wallet, placing holds on library books means I can save money and still consume books at a steady pace. Many libraries now print the monetary value of your savings through borrowing materials right on your receipt from circulation.
  • It is environmentally-friendly. Think how much gas you save each year by requesting books from other libraries rather than driving across the county to get just one book. Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t go and visit other libraries. In fact, I play a sort of library bingo trying to see what all the libraries look like in my suburban Philadelphia system. But still, when I’m too broke to fill up the gas tank in my 2003 Subaru, especially when the air conditioning is broken (like now), I thank god the county-wide van stops by my library five days a week. And it is a way to reduce gas emissions. Requesting books from other libraries is a way to be friendly to your wallet, your aging car, and the ozone layer.
  • Free shipping and great delivery times. I used to be lured in by Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping speed, and admittedly I’m still a member. But suddenly the old gears in my brain started turning last year when I realized the library often had two-day if not one or same-day shipping speed—without the $99 Prime price tag. If you’re requesting a book that doesn’t have other holds and it’s a weekday, you can all but guarantee that you’ll get the book or other material fast, maybe even before Amazon or other online retailers would deliver it to your door.
  • It drives up circulation numbers. Once I read in Philadelphia magazine that our small-but-mighty library had the highest circulation in the county. Every time I go to pick up 8 holds that have come in for me, I try not to look at it as a manifestation of my bipolar mania but rather a way to increase our circulation numbers and, if the gods are good, help us get more money allotted for a bigger budget.
  • You can try before you buy. Sometimes I’ll be on the fence about the latest “it” book. With the price of books going up, it’s hard for me to justify dropping $20 on a new release, especially if it’s got mixed reviews or if the author is on my iffy-list. Requesting books from the library, however, lets me see if this is a book I really want to read, much less add to my personal collection or my near-sagging bookshelves. So many times I’ve requested a book and gotten through the first chapter thinking, dear god, I’m glad I didn’t buy this. Of course the inverse of that is sometimes you discover books that you have wouldn’t have bought, but definitely decide is going in the all-star upper echelon of your personal faves. Then you can purchase the book later on. This is one reason why requesting books is my jam.

Are you a binge-requester? What was the most amount of holds you’ve ever requested or picked up at once?

[A version of this article was originally published on BookRiot.com]

Five Books That Made Me Want to Become a Librarian

Now that I’m in my final semester of my graduate program in library science, I look back to the start of the journey. I had wanted to go to get my MLIS for several years before I finally applied. What put me over the edge? A few life-changing reads. The following books pushed me to apply to library school and embark on a different path in life. These books shaped my career direction, each in a different way.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” – Audrey Niffenegger

"The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffinegger
“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffinegger

This was one of the first books I read for pleasure after graduating from college in 2011. My English degree had prepared me well in my field of concentration, Victorian and early Twentieth Century literature, but I had spent roughly four years inside that bubble. “The Time Traveler’s Wife” not only introduced me to current literature, it got me back in the stacks as it was one of the first books I borrowed from my hometown library after returning to live with my parents after graduation. Some of my friends had read it, too, and I felt like I was able to talk about literature with them again, sparking an interest in discussing contemporary literature. And let’s face it, Henry the hot librarian protagonist does wonders for the imagination. I couldn’t help but think I’d meet some handsome librarian with a tortured past if I were to ever attend library school (spoiler alert: I didn’t).

“The Fault in Our Stars” – John Green

"The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green
“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

Reading “The Fault in Our Stars” ushered in a new level of bookish nerd. I read it the winter it came out, in 2012, and at that point it was pretty under the radar among readers I knew, especially the adult readers I knew. After I finished the novel I went online and was ushered deeper into bookish culture, including visiting teen librarian blogs and learning more about youth services and YA in general. I bonded with my teen niece over the novel, which inspired me to consider becoming a young adult services librarian and encourage reading more amazing books. Nothing gets you more excited about embarking on a bookish career path than having energizing and enthusiastic conversations about books with youth.

“Gone Girl” – Gillian Flynn

"Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

I read “Gone Girl” over my summer vacation in 2013. I didn’t have a lot of bookish friends at work at the time, so I didn’t feel like I had a real nurturing environment. I tore through this novel that was then the buzz book of the season (and year, really). After I finished “Gone Girl” I went to the library and checked out books that I felt were similar to “Gone Girl.” I also read some reader’s advisory literature online for “Gone Girl” fans. I started to absorb how librarians talk about and recommend books. Being a part of the conversation about a book that was very much at the top of the zeitgeist at the moment was exciting. I wanted to be working in a place where we talked about the biggest publishing events of the day, not just with staff, but sharing it with readers everywhere.

“The Buddha in the Attic” – Julie Otsuka

"The Buddha in the Attic" by Julie Otsuka
“The Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka

Julie Otsuka’s novel, “The Buddha in the Attic,” was something I checked out from the library on the recommendation of a friend. I didn’t know much about the novel, but I decided to give it a try. I found “The Buddha in the Attic” to be absolutely captivating. A small book, it is nevertheless a powerful one. This was such a positive library experience for me because it was a book that, after I read it, I just couldn’t shut up about it. I requested many books that I thought might capture Otsuka’s bewitching prose style. This book also made me want to be in a book club or at least lead one because I found the book overflowing with discussion points and provocative questions. This point actually leads me to the final book blow, “The Secret History.”

“The Secret History” – Donna Tartt

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt
“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

“The Secret History” is quite simply one of the best books I’ve ever read and certainly one of my all-time favorites. Testing the waters of my potential future as a librarian, I started a “Cult Classics” book club in my area. “The Secret History” was one of our best discussions with people of all ages contributing to the dialogue. Our group usually met in a community room in borough hall, which also housed the library, and after we wrapped up I often went to the library and felt dizzy with excitement and high off the buzz of leading a book discussion. I walked around the library thinking, this is where I belong.

 

 

 

 

[A version of this article first appeared on BookRiot.com]