Book Pusher

I’ve been thinking about the different ways that librarians push books.

Personally, I don’t ever want to be told what to read. In this way, my teen years still cling to me: if you tell me I should read a book, I say “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”  For example, it took me ages to crack open The Book Thief, because my sister told me it was a must-read. When I finally got around to it, I loved The Book Thief.  Such a powerful story, and a brilliant look at the way small things are really large things, and vice versa – really, you must read it.

We public librarians recommend books all the time.  We sit at a desk and people ask us killer questions like, “what’s a good book to read?” or “I just finished the new Michael Chabon, what should I read next?” Reader’s Advisory is kind of like match-making. You ask a series of questions, and then use your gut to try to match your reader client with her perfect book-date.

But I didn’t really think about a librarian’s function as a Book Pusher until a couple months ago, when I was working on a weeding project for a children’s librarian.  We were going through the books and getting rid of things which hadn’t been checked out in the last five years, which really is quite a while to sit on the shelf.  She rescued about a dozen books, saying “I don’t think I’ve been pushing these enough.”

Pushing books!  My own knee-jerk reaction against having books pushed at me, even in the most subtle and non-pushing of ways, had really kept me from thinking about what the Action Librarian should do.  An Action Librarian should push books. It’s not enough to create a great collection, you must find ways to entice people into taking them home.

This doesn’t mean you’ve got to run people down and tell them “You’ll love Gone Girl” or “If you don’t read The Passage of Power, baby’s going to be really unhappy.”  But it does mean you can’t just buy a pile of books to sit on.  You gotta lay them out real nice.  You need to create additional content, which showcases your books in their most attractive light.  You need to work your magic in order to really hook people in.  You need to create in a community where, if the reading don’t happen, people’s hands might start to shake a bit.

You gotta push the books.

drug clerk



Why Don’t We Cut Services?

Here’s something I don’t get about administrator-think.  When budgets are tight, they often look for ways to shrink budgets without  cutting services.

But really, we should cut services.

If the taxpayers are paying less, they should get less.

New York Public Library Central InformationLibraries need funding in order to provide all the wonderful things we do.  If we try to make the loss of funding painless for patrons, then it looks like the lower amount is all that we need. It puts us in a downward spiral of trying to do more with less, and ultimately providing poor service, and looking like we don’t know what we’re doing.

In order to advocate for libraries, we need to do our jobs well.  We need to create satisfied patrons.  There’s more to advocacy than just that of course, but the foundation of an argument for libraries is a valuable, valued service.  We need enough money and enough staff to make that happen.

It seems likely to me that the slow attrition of library jobs is a result of this desire to not cut services.

Please note that if there are efficiencies that can be found that would save the system money,we shouldn’t need to wait for a budget crisis to find them.  We should enact them.  We should respect taxpayers enough to give them full value for the dollar.

We should respect taxpayers enough to be transparent about what they get for their money.

I Used To Be a Teen Library Patron, Too

A week or so ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to this:

Lines from Shakespeare Mistaken for 1990s Hip Hop Lyrics

(It’s pretty funny, you should take a look).

Here’s what it made me think of:

I, myself, lived through the 1990s.  I was a teenager then, in fact.

In the suburbs in the early 90s, rap was still considered kind of a teen fad.  A lot of adults thought it wouldn’t last. Many adults also thought that it was “noisy” and “offensive.”

At that time, some librarian at my local public library put up a poster of Shakespeare, wearing those old school sunglasses (you know, the squarish Blues Brothers kind), with the caption “Shakespeare was the original rapper.”

As a young person, I was actually pretty into Shakespeare.  I did theater and had taken a few intensive summer classes at a local Shakespeare festival.  I knew and appreciated that he was brilliant, and his use of rhythm to signal meaning kinda blew my mind.

I thought that poster was the lamest thing I’d ever seen.

Today, as a librarian myself, I can appreciate where that poster-hanging librarian was coming from.  Teens can be inscrutable patrons, and the urge to find some way, any way, of relating to them is very strong.  Shakespeare may not have been the original rapper, but there are definitely some awesome connections between rap and his writing.

I always think of that poster when I work with, or for, teens at the library.

I think maybe the thing to remember, is to meet teens where they are, instead of where you want them to be. As patrons, teens deserve the library service they want, not the service we think they should have.  That means we should ask what they are interested in first, and let that drive purchasing and programming, rather than trying to pull them somewhere.

We don’t need to try to make Shakespeare cool.  Shakespeare is already cool.

We don’t need to try to be cool.  We can just be ourselves.  We’re already cool too.


Want to be a public librarian? Ask yourself these questions first.

Today is “go through the mess personal filing system and dump out old paper work day!”

I found a notebook from my first few weeks working as a real librarian, which included this list of questions:

Librarian Questions

Do you like to read and make lists?
When people ask you questions that don’t make sense, do you smile and say, “tell me more”?
Do you have an eye for color and a flair for display?
How are you with bureaucracy?
Do you like children?
Do you know where the bathroom is?
Do you mind telling that to people over and over?
Do you like thinking about which books are like other books?
Did you read Encyclopedia Brown or other detective novels as a child?
Do you find the same joy in online detective work?
Even though you prefer things organized neatly, do you gracefully accept the presence of relentless, ever-encroaching chaos in your life?