In which I am aghast at the very idea!

Whilst looking at various library-related stories on Twitter, I happened upon this article which I thought, at first, must be a joke. You see, the piece details the decision, by a public library in Alabama, to begin enforcing an ordinance that could result in jail time for certain patrons with overdue library books.

Jail time?
For overdue library books?
What is this world coming to?
What kind of library director would countenance such a thing?
Is she insane?

To be fair, the full story is a bit more nuanced than its somewhat sensational title of:

Borrowed time: US library to enforce jail sentences for overdue books

After reading the article by The Guardian (my favorite news source from the UK), this story from the News Courier in Athens, Alabama, and this report from WAAY TV in Huntsville, Alabama, it seems that the facts are these:

  • Roughly $200,000 worth of books have not been returned to the Athens-Limestone Public Library.
  • Tossing patrons in jail is not the library’s initial response to overdue books. An email or text, followed by a certified letter giving the patron 10 days to settle the matter, are the library’s first attempts at a resolution.
  • Should those steps prove ineffective, a court summons comes next. An additional fine, and up to 30 days in jail, could be the result of ignoring the court summons.
  • The ordinance that allows for all this has been on the books for some time, but is only now being strictly enforced.
  • The measures above will not apply to children.

Woman's Hands Fettered With Handcuffs

On one hand, I sympathize with the library. $200,000 worth of non-returned books is serious business, and public libraries are not so well funded to be able to ignore the matter.

The library director herself is perhaps not such the hard-ass I first thought her. (And no, that’s not a very charitable thing for me to think about a fellow member of my profession. But I’m being honest… that was my initial assumption. This blog post is, in part, an attempt to see things from her point of view.) She’s quoted in the WAAY TV story as saying, “Our first step is to have a good relationship with our patrons and remind them to bring everything back.” And in the News Courier story, she makes it clear that she’s thinking of the taxpayers and about all of the patrons to whom library resources belong and the library’s responsibility to them.

However, after my first week of classes, in which my classmates and I discussed the Core Values of Librarianship, the idea of jail time for overdue books doesn’t sit comfortably in my mind with the American Library Association’s core value of Social Responsibility and the “contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society.”

I know that I’m not a proper, credentialed librarian yet. I’m just a student and willing to admit that I’m inexperienced, and maybe even naive, not yet having worked in the library trenches in a full-time, professional capacity. But surely the threat of jail time (even for a tiny segment of public library patrons) is going to cause more problems in the community than it solves. Will patrons still feel as free to borrow from the library knowing what could happen if they cannot pay their overdue fines?

I confess I have more questions than answers, so I’d like to know… what do you think? I’m interested to hear from everyone: library directors, my librarian friends, fellow students, library staff, or anyone who’s ever forgotten to return an overdue library book. Do you believe that jail time should be the final sanction for extreme cases of non-returned library items? If not, how would you address the problem of $200,000 in missing materials?

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In which I receive the gift of an entire library.

My youngest brother Jared has many talents, which include rocking his graduate coursework in applied linguistics, coaching runners, making tasty curry dishes from scratch, and living life as a hard-working, motivated, responsible member of the Millennial generation.* But perhaps my favorite of his qualities is his skill at, and penchant for, drawing imaginary cityscapes in his limited spare time.

He began a new creative project over the holidays and asked me if I’d like my own house in his latest utopia. “Yes, please,” I replied, “And may I have some trees in my yard? And could it be not too close to other houses, but still within easy walking distance of the library and other community spaces?” He promised me it would be, and when he finished, this was the result:

cityscape with arrows
Artwork by my brother Jared. (Arrows added by me.) Shared without asking permission first, because I’m the eldest sibling so I can do things like that. Bossy Big Sister Privilege is a little-known provision of copyright law, as long as you’re sure no one will mind.

The downward arrow points to my cozy house among a delightful copse of deciduous trees.
The rightward arrow points to the library of which I am now mistress. I adore it’s resemblance to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre while being thankful that it’s better protected from the elements. I’m delighted to see a free, public library in the midst of a city that looks so Renaissance-era European (where libraries were generally found at universities or abbeys, but not widely accessible to the general public… and almost never to women who weren’t among the clergy or nobility.)

I firmly believe that a library should be more than just an edifice full of books, and that a librarian’s mission reaches far beyond mere caretaking of printed artifacts. That being said, I’m inordinately charmed by the library building my brother drew for me. I confess that I do imagine it full of rare volumes and new publications, as well as spaces for learning, collaboration, and creativity.

As mistress of this city library, I don’t see myself remaining always within it’s physical confines, but happily venturing out into the community and becoming a person who improves society by facilitating knowledge creation with individuals, groups, and organizations. In the interest of accessibility, I may also advocate for more localized library services and spaces – perhaps a new branch? – for the citizens who live and work across the river. Mobilizing a corps of roving librarians to serve the homebound and residents of outlying areas is also part of my daydream.

What does this flight of fancy have to do with modern-day librarianship in the real world? Only that it’s important (as librarians, librarians-in-training, library staff, and/or library members) as often as we can, and by whatever means necessary, to widen our view beyond a specific library building, to see our larger community with fresh eyes, and to consider how we can serve it better. An imaginary library in an imaginary city can also be a visual reminder to share our mission with others and to discover the interests and talents that community members may wish to share enthusiastically with us.

* I often read and hear criticism of Millennials for being lazy and entitled. While I don’t doubt that this has been some people’s experience with the younger generation, I’m very fortunate that the Millennials I know are focused, productive, thoughtful, and generally society-improving people.

In which I ask what you think about “librarian”.

Recently, I started following a blog called Ditch the Bun, which is written by a public Reference & Information Services librarian from Sydney, Australia. I appreciate Ditch the Bun’s strong, humorous voice and creative ideas. One idea I liked so much that I asked permission to borrow it for my own blog. libraries

Back in October, Ditch the Bun wrote a post called What do Libraries mean to you? in which she asked her readers to share a word or words about “what libraries mean to you or words that remind you of libraries and what you can do there.” She used the submitted terms to create a beautiful word cloud. Check it out here.

My idea is similar, but I’d like to explore a different facet of the question. I think most people conjure up positive words when they ponder “libraries”. However, associations around the word “librarian” are often mixed. These associations include many favorable adjectives but some negative, old-school stereotypes as well. I’m interested in how the thoughts we connect to libraries will compare to those we attach to librarians.

So, reader, please tell me what comes to mind when you think “librarian”? What words remind you of librarians, the ways you interact with them, and the role they play in your life? Like Ditch the Bun, I’ll use your input to make a word cloud and share it in a future post… although I can’t promise mine will be as good-looking as hers.

librarian

To get us started, I’ll list the three words that pop into my mind when I think “librarian”, though it’s OK if yours are different:

  • helpful
  • enthusiastic
  • superhero

You may submit as many words as you like, within reason. Please be honest, there’s no judgement here, only curiosity. I can’t wait to find out what your words are!

Project LISten: In which we meet Sandy D.

Click here for an explanation of Project LISten.

sandyd1
Sandy D at the iSchool. Photograph by Lauren Stevens.
  1. I always wanted to be an elementary teacher for as long as I could remember.
  2. The possibility of being a librarian came after working as a clerk in the local library.
  3. My children went to sleep with books as I have tried to instill a love of books in them.
  4. I never would have imagined that I would be attending Syracuse University as it is such a highly esteemed and expensive school.  I am very thankful for my husband’s GI Bill that he shared with me.
  5. My favorite book series is Anne of Green Gables.
  6. I want to help others grow in all areas of their lives.
  7. I have moved 14 times in 15 years of marriage.
  8. God is everything to me.  He has blessed me with everything and everyone I have in this life.
  9. My mom does not see the need for libraries so it is my job to win her over.
  10. Growing up I was labeled a perfectionist…as an adult I am one of those people who couldn’t care less about perfection.

[Heather’s note: Sandy is the first fellow LIS student I met on the morning of orientation. After talking with her for about 10 minutes, I decided she was interesting and that I wanted to be her friend. I’m not sure I gave her much choice in the matter.]

In which I introduce Project LISten.

In my IST 511 class (Introduction to the Library & Information Profession) we’ve talked about how good librarians use the resources of their communities to facilitate knowledge creation. Since leaving the bookstore world and starting grad school, my “community” has changed significantly. The people with whom I used to spend 40+ hours a week, at work or socially, are now almost 50 miles away from Syracuse, where I’ve spent most of my time since September. While doing my best to stay in touch with old friends, it’s been important for me to get to know my new companions at the iSchool.

Pondering ideas of community, resources, knowledge, and creativity – and wanting this blog to be about more than just my library journey – gave me the idea for a series of posts featuring my LIS classmates. Inspired by Humans of New York, I first thought of calling it Humans of Library School. But I wanted to incorporate the idea of listening to what one’s community is passionate about (based on a class exercise where we each talked for 2 minutes on a topic of interest to us). Finally, after asking for feedback, as wise librarians do, I’ve settled on Project LISten.Project Listen Logo 2

Each Project LISten post will feature a picture of a fellow student along with 10 sentences, questions, or interesting facts about them. In this way, I’ll learn more about my grad school cohort and be able to foster connections between them and my wider, social media community. Granted, I’ll be making these connections on a small scale since this blog doesn’t have a huge readership (yet). But it’s a start at putting into practice the ideas I’m learning in theory.

In the spirit of marshaling the resources of my new community, I’ve accepted the help of my classmate Lauren, who’s a generous, exuberant person and a wonderful photographer. Whenever possible, Lauren will take the photo that accompanies each Project LISten post using her creative knowledge and a professional-quality camera, an improvement on anything I could produce with my cell phone. I hope that over the course of the project I’ll find ways to incorporate the expertise of other classmates, and volunteer my skills and knowledge in return.

I hope you’ll all enjoy meeting these librarians-in-training as much I have. Look for the first official post tomorrow.

In which I throw a pity party in 350 words.

For the past three weeks I’ve been feeling really unwell. I alluded to this in my post In which I do not over-share but haven’t provided many details*. Because this is a library blog, I’m still committed to a no-TMI, library-thoughts-only policy.

But illness relates to my library adventures in three ways:

  1. Everyone’s having fun without me.
    In the past three weeks, I’ve spent far too little time enjoying myself by learning new, exciting, librarian-ish things. And far too much time in doctors’ offices or curled up in a ball of pain at home.
  2. My professors & classmates are awesome. That almost makes it worse.
    My school friends have been taking notes for me and keeping me apprised of goings-on that I’ve missed. Several have sent personalized versions of “Miss you! Feel better!” messages. My instructors are no less understanding and reassuring, reminding me that my health is more important that school right now. Which is why it’s rotten not being able to hang out and learn from/with these helpful people as much as I’d like.
  3. It started so well. I’m frustrated that this semester, which began promisingly, feels like it’s being derailed. If I hated school and were doing poorly, I might take this latest difficulty as a sign that I’d chosen the wrong path. Instead, I adore school and have been doing great. I hate this random hurdle that’s appeared without warning and can’t be overcome by being clever, studying harder, or exerting willpower.

I’m trying to be positive and serene. But today I’m grumpy and discouraged. I want everything to go back to the way it was three weeks ago when I was rocking grad school and spending the majority of my time with cool LIS people. Medical exams, blood-work, sonograms, and CT scans are all very interesting when happening to someone else. They are not, however, my idea of a good time when there is librarianship to be learned.

*Details I will share: I’m obviously not dying, otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging. My malady is of a physical rather than emotional/mental health nature. It hurts a lot.

In which I present a Top 5 list.

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love My Classmates at the Syracuse iSchool:

Rooners Toy Photography https://www.flickr.com/photos/rooners
TARDIS

1. More Whovians than you can point a sonic screwdriver at.
Seriously, I have never met so many other fans of Doctor Who in one place. I can mention the TARDIS or say “Spoilers, sweetie.” and people know what I mean.

2. “Works well with others.”
In school, I hated group projects. Getting stuck with apathetic classmates meant I always did all the work. Fortunately, my library school teammates are enthusiastic and conscientious about what we’re learning and producing together.

3. Creativity abounds.
My peers include a published fiction author, numerous musicians, accomplished (and beginning) knitters, a professional photographer, some graphic designers, and other artists of all types. I’m a little envious sometimes, but mostly inspired by the presence of so many creative people.

4. It’s better to be kind than clever. (But why not be both?)
LIS students at the iSchool are bright and insanely talented. They’re also friendly, generous with their knowledge, and genuinely helpful.

5. Like Super-Grover, only better!

We may not be “faster than lightning.” We may not be able to fly (or crash-land as spectacularly as my favorite blue superhero), but iSchool library students are just as passionate about serving our communities. We’re learning the skills to make us capable facilitators of knowledge creation. And we are cute, too.

In which I shadow a (really cool) reference librarian.

Her official job title is Director of Innovative Family Services and it may well be the best job ever. Margaret Portier is the name of this fortunate librarian. I’m the lucky library student who got to shadow her at the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL) for three hours on Saturday as part of my IST 605: Reference and Information Literacy Services class.

Margaret Portier from the Fayetteville Free Library. Photo shared with permission.

During my observation, Margaret was nominally stationed at the library’s main Information desk, but assisting library members took us to several other areas of the library building, including a small, staff-only back office to reboot a server. The question-askers represented a range of ages and Margaret assisted them with everything from basic information (“Do you have this book?”) to more complicated technology issues (“Minecraft is lagging. Can you fix it?”) I could likely write a 10-page essay relating what I saw to the concepts I’m learning in class, but for this post I’ll limit myself to three areas:

Reference skills are customer service skills.
Although my textbook refers to them as reference skills, Margaret used what I – because of my retail background – call good customer service skills. She demonstrated approachability by making eye contact and smiling, greeting the library members (very often by name), and displaying relaxed but attentive body language. I witnessed examples of verbal acknowledgement (rephrasing what a person said to ensure understanding) as well as open questions meant to clarify the information being sought.

For example, a man wanted to find a book for his wife similar to one she had just read. Margaret began, before consulting a reference resource or dashing away to the shelves, by asking, “What about this [first] book did your wife like best?” Instead of making an assumption, she took pains to understand the user’s need more fully, and this was a perfect way to handle an imposed query. This may seem like a very basic skill in a simple transaction. You might take it for granted because it’s the sort of proficiency that’s not always noticeable until it’s absent. However, if you’ve ever felt frustrated by getting a not-quite-right answer, or suspected the person who’s “helping” you wasn’t paying attention to the specifics of your need, you quickly begin to value the good follow-up question.

Non-traditional reference: the coolest part.
Although Margaret does plenty of traditional reference, answering questions in-person at the Information Desk and over the phone, by far the most unusual (and fascinating) aspect of her job is her role as the library’s Minecraft specialist. In response to the needs of their tween/teen patrons, the FFL has installed MinecraftEdu (the classroom version of the popular game) on their server. Margaret has assumed responsibility for learning the ins and outs of the game from scratch (i.e. she didn’t come to the library an expert but learned it on the job) and serves as the players’ source of assistance in the library. She provides this help not only in person but also from within the game through the player chat feature.

MindcraftEdu image used with permission. TeacherGaming LLC 2015
MindcraftEdu image used with permission. TeacherGaming LLC 2015

Let me repeat: she is providing virtual reference services for library members through Minecraft as part of her job! [I don’t play Minecraft myself, but my nephews do, so I fully comprehend the marvelousness of this service.] I asked what reference resources she found most helpful for her non-traditional reference work and she pointed me towards the Minecraft Wiki and the MinecraftEdu Resources. However, she sometimes facilitates learning by connecting newer players who have questions with more experienced players who know how to get things done in the game. Minecraft wikis and local teens as reference resources? This is innovative librarianship!

They keep coming back.
We didn’t specifically discuss, at this shadowing session, how Margaret evaluates the reference services she provides. However, I took note of evidence that suggests library members value her assistance highly:

  1. At least 4 adult patrons made a beeline for her desk as soon as they walked into the library, and knew her by name. Previous good service clearly made them feel comfortable returning to her for future assistance.
  2. A woman looking for an audiobook recommendation went out of her way to tell me that “Margaret is great. She has never steered me wrong.”
  3. Margaret was the most popular person in the library with the Minecraft gamers. Granted, maybe it’s because they have no other choice of librarian with that specific knowledge, but I doubt it. It was obvious to me that the younger patrons had no hesitation about approaching her for help. She is clearly valuable to their library experience.

As you can tell, I enjoyed my Saturday morning at the main Information desk with Margaret. I’ll have the chance to shadow her for another three hours next month (at the desk in the teen space) and observe a one-on-one instruction session. In the meantime, I’ve signed up for a library card so I can use the computer lab, develop some Minecraft skills, and seriously impress my nephews. I also know which FFL librarian I’ll ask if I need help.

In which it’s all about you. Yes, you!

Last night, in my IST511 class (Introduction to the Library and Information Profession) we did an activity that I enjoyed far too much. Dividing up into pairs, we each spent two minutes talking to our partner about something we were passionate about. I devoted 120 delicious, uninterrupted seconds to geeking out over opera. In return, I was treated to an enthusiastic description of crochet and its increasing popularity.

The purpose of the exercise was to teach/remind us that community conversations are easier when you discover what excites people. A great way to learn what a library members want or need is to ask “What do you love? What can’t you get enough of?”

My desire to serve my community, to connect people with resources, is what drew me to librarianship. Blogging about my journey is a pleasure, but sometimes feels a bit narcissistic. So that’s why this post is now dedicated to YOU. Really!

Word You and single person standing

Instead of writing anymore about myself today, let’s talk about you. Whoever you are, librarian or non-librarian, friend or stranger… what are you most passionate about?

What ideas could you spend two minutes, or two hours, discussing non-stop? Sea creatures? Gourmet cooking? Aboriginal art?

What are the really nerdy things that you wish other people were as giddy over? What topic makes you jump for joy when you hear or read about it in the media?

Please share your enthusiasm in the comments below, whether in just one word, or several paragraphs on your favorite hobby. I’m sincerely curious and I promise to read every word.

P.S. Want to see two good examples of public libraries asking these sorts of questions? The Fayetteville Free Library has a first-rate Community Engagement Survey. Simple but effective, the form allows them to gauge their members’ interests and contact those who might have skills and information to share. The Geek the Library campaign (in the village of Hamilton and many other participating libraries) achieves a similar goal, giving the public a chance to express what motivates and inspires them to learn. How are other libraries initiating these conversations?