40s at Work

Here is a transaction that happens at work that I like.

Patron: How many books can I check out?

Me: 40

Patron [ka-thunk jaw-drop]: 40?!

I want to say,

Yes my dear, the library is your oyster

I want to say,

And you only have 90 seconds! No bags or carts!  Go!

But I don’t generally say either of those.

Sometimes the patron says,

Who on earth would read 40 books!

I want to say,

You’re obviously not part of the club, ma’am.

Sometimes I say,

Imagine you have four small children and they each want ten picture books.

And sometimes I say,

Some people are really voracious readers.

And here’s the thing,

Go ahead.  Check out 40 books.  Just read the first page of each.  That’s only 40 pages.  Or don’t even crack them open.  Just lovingly stroke the covers, with your clean hands.  Put them under your pillow to see if osmosis works. Give yourself the luxury of 40 books, just for a few weeks.  You might like it.

I love giving people the possibility of 40 books.  40 books is a lot!

One time after I told a patron she could have 40 books, she said,

Has it always been 40 books? I feel like I didn’t get that many when I was a kid.

So I told her,

Sometimes I say,

You can have 40 books.

And Mom says,

You can have 2 books.

Sometimes Mom is the strictest librarian of all.

Woman with book and palm tree

**At the other library I work at, you can have unlimited books. But somehow it’s seldom as exciting as 40.

The Library is for Trying New Things.

Last week I wrote about Asanti’s Pick, a display gimmick where kid patrons can check out a wrapped book. They know from a sign that it is one of two titles, but not which of the two it is. These books circ! People take a chance on an unknown read. In the debate about whether or not to take the book, a lot of kids say something like “but what if I don’t like it?”

We then point to the fine print on the sign which says, “If you don’t like the book, you don’t have to finish it.”

This is often a revelation to an eight year old. “You mean I don’t have to read the whole thing?!” Nope. My boss says to kids, while recommending all kinds of books (not just wrapped up ones) “Take it home. Read the first chapter and the back cover, and if you’re not interested, bring it back. I don’t mind.” A long term co-worker of hers, another excellent children’s librarian, once finished a discussion with a child patron on the relative merits of two audiobooks by saying, “Take both. Test them out and just bring back the one you don’t like.”

Children’s librarians often talk about how libraries are often one of the first places that young people begin to practice autonomy. When they get their first card, they begin a process where they learn to choose, for themselves, what to read. They start to direct their own intellectual development. They can create an internal life that belongs solely to them. Due to privacy laws, here in California at least, their library records are their own – parents have no right to look at what their children are checking out, or when it is due. Their relationship with the library, and with reading, is their own private affair.

Trinidad and Tobago. 'A science master demonstartes primary distillation in the laboratory of the co-educational school for senior staff children at Pointe-a-Pierre'

In companionship to this self-direction, is the fact that the library makes it possible to conduct low-risk, low-commitment experiments in reading. If you don’t like a book, you’ve made no financial sacrifice (or no parent has made a financial sacrifice on your behalf), and you can just bring it back and try again.

You’ve got the freedom to experiment.

This is such an important library function, both to the development of children, and to the development of the kind of world I want to live in. In that world, people are open-minded. They are free to explore new interests, and to easily set them aside if they are not captivating. They are able to listen to different kinds of thinkers, without needing to invest in one particular school. They have choice.

They have intellectual options.

So there’s another reason why libraries are awesome; Libraries give you the freedom to try new things.

Mr Tulk and dog "Sausage" going fishing using flying fox he built onto other island - Solitary Island, c. 1935 / by Winifred Tulk

The Mystery of the Mystery Mystery

I as said in my last post about pushing books, I hate to be told what to read. This is not just due to my own obstinance, its also on account of, I’m fussy. I get in the mood for a certain kind of book, or a certain author, and that is the only thing I want to read. I accept no substitutes. I particularly like to discover an author that suits my tastes, greedily devour their whole catalog, and then mopily do research until I find a new writer and can feed my gluttony for reading all over again.

Which is why I don’t get why people would ever want to check out a surprise book.

Blind date with a hot read

Back around Valentine’s Day, libraries were doing this display gimmick called “Blind Date with a Hot Read.” This is a photo of one I did for one of the libraries where I work. Someone actually requested, via Twitter, that we do this! (Ours was a little unusual in that we made it easy on patrons and put the books in bags, so if you wanted to cheat and check out what your date looked like before taking it home, you could.) I can’t believe these displays worked! All over the country, people were checking out and taking home books, with no idea what they were.

So when I started at another library in late February, a library where the branch manager and I were heavily concentrating on devising ways to get the kids to at least browse the chapter books, I decided to see if this principle could be expanded, and created the Mystery Mystery. It’s just as it sounds. I wrapped a mystery in brown paper, drew a few question marks on the front, and waited to see if patrons would take home a book that they knew nothing about, other than the fact that it was a mystery. And they did! There was often much debate, but kids took a chance on the book. The one for adults met a similar reception (I did put a little note on the cover which said something like “best for ages 8-12” or “best for adults”).

mystery mystery

One of our 12 year old patrons saw the display and came up to me with his own suggestions. He said “why don’t you take two books and package them together, and then people don’t know which one they’ll get.” So I made it for him.

Asanti's Lucky Pick

In Asanti’s Lucky Pick, patrons can see a sign with the covers of each book. They know they will get one of the two, but the books are wrapped so they don’t know which one. This one seems to move even faster than the Mystery Mystery or the Blind Date books.

As foreign as it is to me, people actually seem to enjoy a little intrigue at the library. They like a little risk with their reading.