In which I share the results of my library card survey.

September was Library Card Sign-Up Month so I decided to do a survey on social media about library cards. I queried my acquaintances on Facebook, set up a Twitter poll, and asked people who read my previous blog post to simply let me know if they had an active public library card. The results were very interesting and I will share them.

But first, I want to make it clear that this experiment was just for fun and my own curiosity. I’m aware that my method of surveying people was completely unscientific and can in no way be considered a random or unbiased sample of the actual population. (Several people on Twitter were very keen to tell me this, as if I didn’t already know.) So, if you want, you can take the results with a grain of salt. I still think it’s cool to see how people responded.

buzz

On my blog
Five people responded and 100% of them have active public library cards. 

On Facebook
103 people responded.
93% have active public library cards.
6% do not.
1% did not know.

I wonder if these results are skewed by the fact that Facebook responses are from people that I know, and I tend to know a lot of book-lovers who tend to also be library users. Also, I wonder if the non-anonymous nature of responding to my question means that people without library cards were less likely to respond for fear of being shamed somehow. (Let me be clear: there should be no shaming of people without library cards! Encouragement, maybe, but no shaming.)

On Twitter
55,132 people responded.
66% have active public library cards.
31% do not.
3% did not know.

This poll was anonymous and not limited to just people I’m friends with, so I suspect the results are a bit more representative of the American public as a whole (although the poll was certainly not limited to Americans.)

In fact, according to a 2017 American Libraries article, approximately 2/3 of Americans have a public library card. (Although I don’t know where the magazine got its data from, I assume it’s from a reputable source.)

What Else Did I Learn?
One of the things that pleased me most in looking at the survey responses was how dang proud public library card holders seem to be. Clearly, their library card is a valuable item. As a future librarian, it warms my heart to know that public libraries’ services are being used by so many people.

I also got a kick out of the fact that so many people do not just have one public library card, but multiples from different library systems. (I myself have 2 library cards – one from the MidYork Library System where I live and one from the Onondaga County Public Library System where I used to live and currently go to school.)

On Twitter, I learned that in Germany you have to pay 15-20€ per year to use the library, depending on the library’s size. And in some European countries, there’s no such thing as a separate library card, one just uses one’s national ID card to check out books instead.

So what do you think about these results? Is it what you expected? If you had to poll your own group of friends, what do you suspect the answer would be?

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In which I ask you to answer one easy question.

September is Library Card Sign-Up Month and it’s got me wondering how many people I know actually have library cards. So, I’ve decided to do a fun (and very unscientific) survey to find out.

If you’re reading this, please comment on whether or not you have an active public library card.

I will reveal the (completely anonymised) results in a future blog post at the end of the month.

library card sign up month

In which I must (sigh!) revise.

Last time you heard from me, I was happy that an article I wrote about library documentation was accepted for publication. What I didn’t mention at the time was that I had also written a paper about public libraries supporting health and wellness and sent it to a different online journal, hoping to be published there as well.

I was pretty proud of my paper and submitted it with no doubt of its being chosen for publication. However, over the summer I received word that although the paper “shows considerable promise” it would “require major revisions for acceptance.”

What do you mean, major revisions?!?!

Grunge Textured REVISE Stamp Seal with Ribbon
I’m the sort of person that likes to do everything perfectly the first time. When writing a paper, I’m used to the fact that minor revisions are always necessary. But when I submit a finished product, I secretly expect its excellence to be confirmed by all who view it. (What? That’s unreasonable, you say? Phooey!) “Major revisions” are not part of the plan.

Yes, I know I need to get over myself.

So instead of viewing the journal’s response as a sign of unacceptable failure (as I might have before I became a research assistant at the iSchool Public Libraries Initiative) and letting it affect my self esteem, I’m instead learning to embrace the research publication process and become more realistic. I’m taking the editors’ suggestions seriously and working on the difficult, sometimes painful, process of hard-core revision. It may not be fun, but it is necessary for my personal and professional growth.

Please wish me luck and fortitude. And please share any experience or advice you have on the topic of not getting what you want the first time around.

In which I am accepted for publication.

There’s an article I’ve been working on for a while about how libraries do (or sometimes don’t) document their programs and services. A few weeks ago, after lots of good suggestions from my colleagues, I finally whipped the article into shape and submitted it to an online journal, hoping that they might want to publish it.

Last week, I got an email informing me that my article has, in fact, been accepted for publication. Hurrah!

accepted
I don’t know all of the details yet, like exactly when it will be published, though I will be sure to share that information once I do know. Part of me still feels I will jinx myself if I talk about it too much, that the editors will change their mind and decide that the article is no good, and that they don’t want it after all. (That is my Impostor Syndrome talking. Shut up, Impostor Syndrome!)

But I do want to share my good news in this short post. It’s a nice feeling, knowing that one’s writing has been deemed acceptable by total strangers (as opposed to friends and family who are likely to be overly complimentary in their feedback.)

I will share more about the article once it has been published. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for me. I’ve submitted a different article to a different journal and am still waiting to hear whether or not that one is accepted, too.

In which I get some good news.

So, I want to do a thing. But I needed to get permission to do the thing. And yesterday I got permission to do the thing!

The thing I want to do is interview some public librarians about innovative public library programs that happen outside the library building and don’t have to do with books.

“Haven’t you already done this, Heather?” I hear you ask, “I remember you writing about this last semester.”

Yes, I have done some exploring on the topic of innovative non-book-related public library programs outside the library building. But when I researched it last time, I didn’t have permission to do proper interviews with the librarians overseeing the particular programs and services. All I could do was ask them for documentation and basic details.

interview-1018333_640

Now what I want to do is find out about even more of these kinds of programs and services. I’d like to have longer conversations with these librarians to learn more about how they run their programs and what makes them successful. (I have a list of 13 questions.) I plan to combine the interviews into an article that I will submit to a library professional journal or share through the iSchool Public Libraries Initiative (IPLI).

Before I could do any of this, however, I needed to run this by my school’s Office of Research and Integrity Protections, which oversees research compliance. I filled out a not-too-long and not-too-scary form called the “Application for Research Designated as Exempt” – for projects that don’t fall under the oversight of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) – and described my proposed plan.

And yesterday they sent me an email saying that my proposal “does not meet the definition of human subjects research… and does not require IRB oversight.” So many negatives in a sentence may sound bad, but it’s actually very good. It basically means that even though I’m doing research and talking to human beings, it doesn’t really count as “official” research on human beings, so the IRB doesn’t need to be involved.

Long story short: I can go ahead with my project.

My next step is to revisit the library programs and services I’ve already investigated to see if the librarians involved are interested in being interviewed. I’m also on the hunt to locate new innovative programs and services.

I can’t wait to see what I find!

In which the answer cannot be “everything”

I’m a lucky girl. In addition to going to library school, I get to work with the iSchool Public Libraries Initiative (IPLI), which was launched last fall at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. IPLI is described very well in this article as “a discovery zone for public library innovation, a hub for student inquiry on librarianship topics, and a means to circulate new ideas and research findings to public library professionals.”

So what does this mean for me? Well, it means that I get to participate in research surrounding public libraries. What’s even better is that I get to choose the sorts of projects I work on. Pretty sweet, right?

But therein lies the problem.

When asked by my faculty mentor what I’m interested in working on, the answer is very often, “I don’t know.” Not because I don’t have any ideas but because I have too many.

ideas

“What are you interested in?” she asks me, “What do you want to learn?”

“Everything!” is my frequent response during these conversations, and then my faculty mentor exhibits great restraint by not rolling her eyes at me.

Unfortunately, “everything” is not really a reasonable topic when doing public library research. Of course, librarians of all types are doing research about all sorts of things, so almost anything you can think of is probably being researched by one person or another. But for the individual graduate student hoping to make a contribution in the field of public librarianship, “everything” is not an achievable goal.

So I have to narrow things down, and I’ve gotten better at it. Instead of focusing on “everything,” I have instead:

  • worked with IPLI colleagues to learn more about public library funding models across the U.S.
  • investigated innovative public library programs that happen outside the library building and don’t have to do with books (see previous blog posts here and here)
  • explored how public libraries are promoting health and wellness in their communities (see here, here, and here)
  • written an article about the aforementioned topic and submitted it to an academic journal (fingers crossed that it will be accepted)
  • begun the process of getting permission from my university’s Office of Research Integrity and Protections to conduct interviews about one of my topics of interest
  • started learning more about emotional labor, burnout, and self-care in the library profession

There are still other things I am interested in when it comes to public librarianship — I have a whole nerdy spreadsheet full of possibilities to delve into when the time is right — but it seems wiser to concentrate on just a few at a time instead of fruitlessly trying to tackle all of them at once.

I’m really grateful to be working as part of the IPLI team. Having the opportunity to research public libraries is fascinating and incredibly rewarding. Now, if only I can remember that important life lesson “You can do anything but not everything.”

You can do anything but not everything.

In which I discover libraries supporting health and wellness – Part 3.

In Part 1 and Part 2, we’ve heard about numerous ways that libraries support the well-being of their communities. But one of the biggest ways that libraries encourage health and wellness among their patrons is through the programs they offer. In this post, I’d like to offer just a sample of what I’ve found in terms of health-themed programming at public libraries.

Libraries are known for their commitment to literacy, whether of the reading-and-writing variety, or information and digital literacy. However, some librarians also feel that kinetic or physical literacy and food/nutrition literacy can and should be supported in their library community.

Because-FamilyHealthy_Twitter-cover

In a study of movement-based programs in American and Canadian public libraries, Noah Lenstra discussed the popularity of these programs for all age groups. In the sample of 1,157 public libraries that participated in the “Let’s Move in Libraries” survey, it was found that yoga classes were the most frequent program offering, followed by movement-based early literacy programs, gardening, dancing, and StoryWalks, as well as outdoor activities and fitness challenges.

In a 2016 article on fitness in public libraries, Public Libraries Online reported on the Sonoma County Libraries in California, which received federal grant money to offer programs like cardio kickboxing, yoga, meditation, and healthy cooking. Also in California, a branch of the Sacramento Public Library provided Punk Rock Aerobics and Zombie Survival Fitness classes to their patrons. In 2018, the same publication highlighted the success of a Couch-to-5K Runners Group organized by the public library in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts in partnership with a local running store.

A bit more recently, and closer to home, I can report that my local public library in central New York has offered Dance Exercise classes for adults. The nearby Hamilton Public Library offered Chair Yoga and a meditation class in October. And it’s not just in the United States. Last month, British libraries celebrated their annual Libraries Week focused on the theme of wellbeing with some libraries taking part by offering yoga, Tai Chi, belly dancing, and a Smoothy Bike (which is a bike that, when pedaled, powers a blender that makes healthy fruit-based beverages.)

28863045 - diverse hands holding the word wellbeing

Speaking of healthy foods, culinary literacy is another way that public libraries are promoting wellness in their communities, often using mobile kitchens to help teach about nutrition, safe food preparation, and more. The Free Library of Philadelphia has opened a Culinary Literary Center, a “commercial-grade kitchen that serves as a classroom and dining space” and helps teach “skills that help parents make recipes fit their families’ needs and emphasize nutrition and health literacy to help with disease prevention.” But it’s not necessary to have expensive equipment to provide these types of programs. Right here in central New York, the small but charming Smyrna Public Library has partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County to offer healthy home-cooking classes which demonstrate easy-to-make vegetable-based recipes.

Whether supporting health and wellness by means of physical fitness or food literacy, thousands of public libraries — large and small — are now providing health-based programs to support community wellness. Their aim is not to replace other fitness or healthcare providers, but to offer the community free access to opportunities that might lead to better health.

What about your local library? Does it offer yoga, Tai Chi, or other fitness classes? How about programs on nutrition or healthy cooking? If not, what sorts of healthy programs would encourage you to visit your public library?

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?

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!