Talking to the Library Board

For some reason, I have a real thing for, well, this kind of thing:

The library asks a question, and tries to get people to write and post their answers.

Here are some of the ones I’ve done:

Books and Robots

books v tech

We’re currently asking a question based on the theme of Silicon Valley Reads (a one city, one book program, only with multiple cities. More like a one region, one book really.) The question is “Books and technlogy, friends or foes?’ Patrons can choose to write on a book or robot, which were cut out of colored paper using the children’s department’s die cutter. While the robots are disappearing frequently, they’re not reappearing on the discussion board. I think people just like robots. It is Silicon Valley, after all.

What Would You Grow?


Shortly after I started our seed library, I cut out some leaves with the question, “If you could grow anything, what would you grow?” I put some by the gardening books and some by the reference desk, with instructions to drop in a box near the seed library (my secret trick to get people to figure out we had a seed library). This one actually got a decent number of responses. This year I finally got around to putting them up. My favorites:





Patron Driven Collection Development (aka What’s Your Favorite Book?)

what is your favorite book

At my other library, we prompted patrons for purchasing suggestions using post-it notes and an easel. We had a series of questions over a few months, and didn’t just look for collection suggestions, we also wanted their input on the use of some discretionary funding earmarked for furniture, etc. We got a lot of responses! This library has a single point service desk, and the question was displayed there, so there was a lot of foot traffic, by people who were thinking about the library’s collection (because they had just picked out books or movies), and it was something to do while waiting.  Transcription here: Whats your favorite book answers August 2013.

Here are some other people’s takes on this kind of thing:

Gratitude Trees

Cafe Catz Gratitude Tree by Flickr User eekim

People add tags describing or drawing something they’re grateful for.  A bit saccharine maybe, but I think they look really awesome.

Draw the Bay


The Exploratorium, a crazy-cool very hands-on museum in San Francisco, had this prompt to draw the bay.  They scan the results and rotate them through a digital display.

Crowd-Sourced Christmas Tree


Isn’t that a beautiful tree?


It’s actually decorated with paper cranes, folded from wishes for peace from people all around the world. The project is called the World Tree of Hope, and it’s a gift from the Rainbow World Fund.

Voting with Your Dollars

more tips in the jar

Tip jars in cafes prompt customers to vote with their money.  This one is a trivia question, but opinion questions (e.g. Android or iPhone, Tupac or Biggie) also work.

Photos in order of appearance

SVR Board Photo by Me

Seed Library/Leaves Photos by Me

What’s Your Favorite Book by Me

Photo: Cafe Catz Gratitude Tree by Flickr User eekim

Draw the Bay Card Photo by Me

Photos: World Tree of Hope by World Rainbow Fund

Photo: Birch Cafe, via What’s Your System on Tumblr

Getting Hired is Your Choice

One of the more awful things about job hunting is the lack of control we feel in the process. We send out application packets, then we wait, then maybe we interview, and we wait again, our references are contacted, and then we wait some more.

In a tight market, which will continue to be the state of the library job market for the foreseeable future, our choices seem even more limited. We seem to be competing against an endless sea of librarians for a few choice positions. In this atmosphere, people start saying things like, “in a tight market, you need to do this” or “you can’t afford to do that.”

Don’t ever let someone tell you what you “must” do to find a job.

Because whatever that person is saying simply isn’t true. Or rather, it will never always be true. There are enough different kinds of jobs, and different kinds of people hiring, that one person’s “must” is another’s “never should you ever.”

Even if there are fewer positions, there is still diversity in what libraries are looking for. What one hiring manager wants may be diametrically opposed to what another wants. And there are ways to create your own opportunities and positions, especially if you’re interested in LIS work outside of libraries.

Using someone else’s formula to grasp desperately at every possibility you see, no matter how ill-fitting, is not necessary. And it can’t be particularly nice for you either.

Applying to every job, regardless of how well it fits you, isn’t worth your time.

Stifling bits of yourself in order to squeeze into a position that doesn’t fit isn’t a positive job search strategy.

Being comfortable with yourself will go much further than wearing a beautiful suit that turns you into a squirmy robot. Finding a position that you could be passionate about, and describing clearly and positively to the committee what you would contribute there, will go much further than sending out 50 generic cover letters.

Getting hired is not a numbers game. It’s not a series of hoops you must jump through. It’s not a column of boxes to check off. There’s no formula. There’s no secret manual.

Don’t ever let someone tell you what you “must” do to find a job. Getting hired is your choice, as much as it’s anyone else’s. Job hunting is soul-suckingly difficult enough on its own, so don’t ever let someone take away the autonomy you have within the process.

By photo self-taken by Rainer Theuer (de:Benutzer:Calzinide) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been trying to write this post for a little while now. After nearly two years of collecting perspectives of both people who hire librarians, and librarians who want to be hired, I’m convinced that the above is true. That part was no problem.

It’s this next part that I don’t know how to talk about.

The truth of the matter is, even though there is diversity in our profession, and there are a range of acceptable ways to be “professional,” (get ready for the shocker) discrimination exists. And because it’s now, and not the 50s, it exists within ourselves, in ways that are sometimes hard to recognize.

I had a discussion with Cecily Walker on Twitter about three questions on the Hiring Librarians “What Should Candidates Wear” survey, questions that asked about bare arms, make-up and skirts. Her Tweet that resonated most for me was:

I asked those questions expecting that some hiring managers would say yes, and some would say no, and then we could all go away feeling better about our choice to wear or not wear make-up. I didn’t even think about the fact that the question itself does assume that female librarians are at least considering make-up and/or a skirt.

But of course there are those for whom make-up and a skirt would be totally wrong, instead of merely uncomfortable.

Getting hired is your choice though, right?

It’s easy for me to say that because I am the very model of a modern librarian. But what if you’re not a white, cis-, straight female?

Cecily Walker also wrote, in On Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Librarian Image:

Regardless of what I wear or how I act around some members of the community I serve, my race will always place me outside of the norm. When we place the burden of of being the exception on those who fall outside of the norm, we are furthering an agenda that supports the idea that whiteness is the highest standard, indeed, the only standard that should be used to measure suitability.

We can have conversations about purple hair and tattoos and whether they don’t represent a professional image, but we shouldn’t have them without drawing parallels between these superficial differences and the (in some cases) immutable differences that we are born with, or that are central to our identity.

My takeaway from nearly two years of writing this blog has been that there are all kinds of libraries out there, and that job hunters who are comfortable with who they are and “true” to themselves are much more likely to find work. This is my takeaway as a white, cis-gender woman. If you are going to be “true” to yourself within the same demographic parameters, this is the only job hunting advice you will ever need.

I’m not sure that this is always the case for non-white, non-cis, non-women librarians. I want it to be equally true. I want non-white, non-cis, non-women librarians to be able to always find that when they are comfortable with who they are and “true” to themselves that they are more likely to find work. But when I read through the Hiring Librarians surveys, I can’t stop seeing how they are peppered with phrases like “if you live in a vanilla world, neapolitan won’t fit.

That’s a fucked up attitude.

It’s fucked up because not only does that apply to more superficial differences, like purple hair and tattoos, it applies to gender expression, and race, and sexuality, and all that other stuff that is intrinsic to our beings.

I guess it’s not that hard to write that bit. It’s just, I don’t know how to fix it. That’s the bit I can’t write. Cause I don’t know. Duh.


Non-Library Librarian Jobs, and Dividing LIS Work

As the number of people enrolled in library school continues to increase, and as the amount of funding for libraries stagnates or shrinks, and as our culture of information and technology changes and evolves, more and more “library school” students are turning to non-library jobs.

Are these non-library librarian jobs inferior? Are they second class jobs?

Yes and no.

People go to library school because they want to work in libraries. When these people arrive at library school and begin to hear a push for non-traditional career paths, they are being given a bait and switch. It is tough to get a library job. If you’re a library school administrator, and you want people to persist at your library school, when they realize that the money they are shelling out is really very possibly not going to result in a full-time-with-benefits-and-decent-pay librarian job, you’ve get to sell them on some palatable alternative. If you want to keep your full-time-with-benefits-and-decent-pay library school administrator job, you’ve got to help your school keep the hope of employment alive. Because as much as learning theory is fun, library school is about getting a job. The ubiquitous “MLIS from an ALA accredited school required” ensures that people who want to work in libraries, as librarians, will continue to go to ALA accredited library schools. To get work. In libraries.

That being said, people who want to work outside of libraries also go to library school. Library school attendees include people who want to do data management or knowledge management or information architecture, etc. They want to build databases or write indexes or massage information tidbits with their bare hands. They think they’d enjoy working for library vendors or software developers or even making whole new careers and spaces for themselves, in some weird industry that doesn’t even know it needs library skills. And sometimes people who go to library school* intending to work in a library find a non-library librarian job that they fall in LOVE with, or just end up liking ok.

This is a manifestation of our current information shift. To use a phrase that’s trite at this point, “information doesn’t all live in libraries anymore”, if it ever did, and some people are more interested in information than in libraries. For those people, non-library jobs are not second class jobs, they are the whole point of the thing in and of themselves. When these people get a non-library librarian job, that’s an opportunity to rejoice.

But this focus on non-library librarian jobs is also a manifestation of our lack of library jobs. There are fewer opportunities to work in libraries while non-library opportunities are still growing**. It’s as though it’s easier to build a single new position, or to shift the path of an opportunity, than it is to rebuild depleted library staffing.

This second reason, is why I continue to make the distinction between non-library librarian jobs, and library librarian jobs.

Because we don’t want to obscure the loss of opportunities in libraries, pretending it’s ok.  It isn’t.

Abandoned Basement area

*It’s not really library school anymore either. A recent respondent to a Hiring Librarians survey took me to task for saying using this term – calling it old fashioned. And it is, I guess. Most of us more recent grads have an I for information secreted somewhere in there amongst our letters.

**At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “But what about that seven percent growth rate that we’re going to experience over the next ten years?  Slower than average, but still growing!”

Well, I’m skeptical.  Read the BLS’ page on job outlook for librarians, and you’ll find the sentences: “later in the decade, prospects should be better as older library workers retire and population growth generates openings” and “the increased availability of electronic information is also expected to increase the demand for librarians in research and special libraries, where they will be needed to help sort through the large amount of available information”, both sentiments which have moved into the “hollow promise” category.  You’ll also find:

Budget limitations, especially in local government and educational services, may slow demand for librarians. Some libraries may close, reduce the size of their staff, or focus on hiring library technicians and assistants, who can fulfill some librarian duties at a lower cost.

Call me a pessimist, but that last one rings true.

Photo: Abandoned Basement Area by Jessamyn West via Flickr and Creative Commons License