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

Blogging is dead, Long live blogging

I had a mini blog-oriented convergence a while ago.

First I read this article:

Pomerantz, J. & Stutzman, F. (2006, May). Collaborative reference work in the blogosphere. Reference Services Review, 34(2), 200-212.

Pomerantz & Stutzman suggest that blogs might be of use in collaborative reference work, providing crowd-enriched transactions.

Then I read

this piece

at Confessions of a Science Librarian. Dupuis discusses the possibility of blogs replacing scholarly journals.

Had you heard that blogging is dead? I had. This Pew Internet report reported that fewer people were blogging, particularly among younger generations.  There’s some more talk about the death of blogging here.

Maybe blogging as a social platform is dying, but blogging for other purposes is still viable.  It’s still a way to push content out quickly, with not too much technical know-how required.  You can concentrate on the content, rather than creating the medium or following formalized processes.

You can create and disseminate data much more quickly and informally.  I use a blog format for Hiring Librarians; it lets me collect a number of librarian voices, and to share both individual insights and collective statistics.

These new uses for blogging are still alive and evolving.

Woman Working in a Mail Processing Center

**This was a draft in my drafts folder, which I’ve been cleaning out. The citation below was also part of this draft, but I’m not sure how I meant to work it in.

“Virtual reference services provide librarians with the opportunity to provide Information Literacy instruction to students while promoting the benefit of using proprietary databases versus the free Web”
1. Sachs, Diana. 2004. “Ask a Librarian: Florida’s Virtual Reference Service.” Community & Junior College Libraries 12, no. 4: 49-58

The Deep Mission of Public Libraries

Why do we have public libraries?

Many of today’s librarians like to talk about themselves as “information brokers” or “knowledge facilitators.”  We talk about our skill in finding and organizing information.  And sure, we’ve got those skills.

But what we really do is support literacy.  This is our deeper mission.

In the minds of our patrons, the most prevalent definition of a public library is “that place that has all the books.”

But why bother having all those books?  Those books allow our community to be more literate.  They provide a way for us to share and promote reading, at all levels, for all kinds of people.  The library provides a way for people who would not otherwise have access to books, to have access to books, and to connect people who have books, with different kinds of books. The library provides a wide range of books for a wide diversity of people.  It allows the community to practice and perfect our skill in understanding and appreciating the printed word.

miller avenue branch library

Books are becoming less central to our perception of literacy.  It’s not that physical books are dying, but they are no longer the only occupiers of their ecological niche.  Digital media, whether it be eBooks, or web pages, or apps, or texting, or whatever else you want to add to the list, is encroaching.  It is ubiquitous and consuming.

Libraries are not dying, but as books become less central, libraries too need to evolve, or we will be edged out.

What should public library evolution look like?


Talking about libraries as places for information, rather than books, is one way to think about it.  This model puts the librarian at the center of the library.  She is collecting, curating, and disseminating information.  She is a better-than-Google search ninja.

Another way to think about our future libraries is to expand our understanding of literacy.  Literacy has been a fluid concept, looking back through time.  We have defined literacy variously, as being able to recite, as being able to write one’s name, as reading, as reading and understanding.  As opportunities to read became more common, due in part to improved printing and communication technology, our definition of literacy became more sophisticated.

Our definition of literacy needs now to expand again in response to our culture of rapid technological innovation.

Public libraries need to embrace digital and technological skills as part of our deep mission to support literacy.

This model, where libraries support an expanded idea of literacy, puts the patron at the center of the library.  The library is about supporting and improving the patron’s life.  It is about allowing the patron to move from consumer to maker, breaker, creator and repairer.  I prefer this model, to the information broker model.  It’s messier.  It’s sexier.  It’s more interesting.  And it’s more necessary.


Our patrons need help with every level of technology literacy.  From those who come in who don’t know how to use a mouse, to those who’re interested in building a computer from scratch, the library could provide a wide range of resources for a wide diversity of people.  We can help our community to practice and perfect our skill in understanding, using, and appreciating technology and digital content.

We’re kind-of getting there.  We’ve got computers and the free internet for our patrons.  We’re doing some classes and programs to help people develop their skills.  And then of course we’ve got the maker movement.

It is in this context, of expanded literacy, that the maker fad starts to become something more important.  Maker Spaces are totally hot right now.  Everybody wants a 3D printer.

We’re in a bubble of bandwagonism.  But after this settles down, I think we’ll be in a better place.  It will be more accepted to support digital literacy, from helping patrons understand where the url bar is to helping patrons understand how to build an app, wire a circuit, or repair their PC.  We won’t be so rabid about it, but we’ll have the foundations in place to really get down to work.

Photo: Miller Avenue Abandoned Library by Flickr User aaron.michaels, Creative Commons License

Photo: Evolution Des Wissens By Johanna Pun for Wikimedia Deutschland (Wikimedia Deutschland) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Floppy knows that feel, Cassette. From Obsolete Technology by paperbeatsscissors. Creative Commons License.

Passive Programs and Other Experiential Library Doings

In the books I loved to read as a kid, libraries are crazy old buildings full of secrets.  The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn sends Anthony Monday all over the library, following obscure clues to uncover something of great wealth.  I vividly remember the scene from Yobgorgle: Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario where Eugene Winkleman visits the Rochester Public Library and the children’s librarian tells him there is a secret room – which he must find for himself.

I think that it’s important that libraries find lots of different ways to interact with patrons.  Not only because our new post 2.0 world is participatory, but because it is important that libraries nurture discovery.  As I talked about here, the library allows us to conduct intellectual experiments.  The value of libraries is firmly rooted in self-directed learning and enjoyment.  To underscore that value, we need to keep patrons engaged, puzzled, and on their toes.**

Below is a round-up of a few of the passive programs and experiential stations I’ve set up in the past few months:

The Ball of String

 Started this size:
ball of string
And has grown to this size:

The Ball of String idea is lifted from AnyThink libraries.  AnyThink is doing some really innovative stuff!  They were a community where only 10% of people had library cards, and 63% were under 45 years old.  Part of their recipe for rejuvenating their relationship with the community was shifting to a more experiential model of library service.  There’s a good article about AnyThink here. I learned about their “experience zones” via Stacie Ledden in the ALATT FB group – one was simply a ball of string.

The Mystery Mystery

This was inspired by the “Blind Date with a Book” displays that were happening in libraries on Valentine’s day.  So far we’ve had five.  There is not currently a kid one, and the adult one has sat around for a while since we moved it off the main circ desk.  Our library uses Encore, and I tag the books in the catalog. 

Lucky Pick

After seeing the Mystery, Mystery, one of our 12 year old regular patrons had the idea to “take two books and package them together, and patrons don’t know which one they are getting.”  We have done 23 Lucky Picks.  Most of them were chosen by me, with the exception of the current ones, which were chosen by the patron and include picture books as well as chapter books (he chose one of the picture books because it was the first book he ever read at our library).  Circulation has also slowed down after moving them to the shelves from the circ desk.  At another branch in the system, the branch manager had the idea to wrap the lucky picks in some gift wrap she had.  Those seem to be moving quicker – everyone loves presents.

The Craft Station

One comment we recently received was the suggestion to “make an area for 8-12 year olds.”  The craft station provides more for this age to do in the library. We’ve gone through three crafts – a paper plate clover was up for a week, a paper plate Easter basket was up for two weeks, and a (non-paper plate) Garden craft just went up for April.  We now also have crayons and coloring sheets out on this station.  The coloring has been used, I’m not sure if the crafts have been done other than when the facilitator of one of our crafts programs didn’t show up.  The April craft may be more countable, as there is a place for the finished craft to be displayed in the library.

The Viewfinder Station

This is also less quantifiable.  I watched kids be amazed and delighted by the viewfinder, and some of them did write down what they saw on the sheet – “rockets” and “izrael.”

Type-spiration Station for Poetry Month

This will be up for April, so we’ll see how it went at the end of the month.  So far we’ve had one kid type away and then ask “hey, how do you print this out?”

Your Library Fortune


Reader’s advisory, 3rd grade style.  Fortunes are:

  • You will read a mystery
  • You will read a book with a red cover
  • There will be a talking animal in the book
  • Call number 821
  • Librarian’s choice
  • Author’s first name will be Jane
  • The title of your book will start with S
  • Something historical or hysterical

Pope Shelf


Books about the conclave, biographies of former popes, and the opportunity to make your own origami pope hat.

Book Crush
Book Crush
More 3rd grade style interaction. Are you a secret admirer of a book? Send it a valentine. Your crush responds on Facebook.

For example:

A sweet tale of requited love: Our director writes, “Dear Gone With the Wind, I’ve loved you since high school and will love you forever.” Our hearts are aflutter because Gone With the Wind has “always felt the same way!”


Someone wrote “Dear Raskolnikov we are so alike ♥ Let’s go on a date?” Unfortunately, Crime and Punishment was on the holdshelf, so Raskolnikov is waiting for some one else.

**Librarians might wish to think of patrons as cats, as depicted in this Monty Python Sketch.

The Digital Divide, Part 3 of 3: The Digital Literacy Corps

Herein are some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately in regards to libraries and computers and digital literacy.  Some of this series will probably be “late pass” territory, but I’m trying to sort out what’s on my mind, and what I’ve been reading and experiencing.

This is part three of three. You should read part one  and part two first.  You know, if you want to.

So there was a big kerfuffle recently amongst library people, over this article in the New York Times:  Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era.  The gist of the article is this: Kids whose parents didn’t go to college spend 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than other kids (with the implication that these children come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds). We have done a good job providing digital devices, or access to devices, however because the parents of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are not digitally literate, they don’t know how to monitor their children’s screen time.

I agree that many parents of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds probably need digital literacy training.  I think I have seen some of them in the library, as I described in the first piece in this series.

I have two quibbles with the article. I am a little uncomfortable with the characterization of “exposure to media” as time-wasting.  This smacks a bit of moralizing to me, the kind that has been common when more educated, upper class people make pronouncements about what less educated, poorer people should be doing with their time.* I can also see, as my sister pointed out, that poorer parents may be less likely to have someone who solely acts as the child’s caregiver.  The parent or parents most likely work full-time.  In these cases, the kid may spend less time being monitored.  So it may not be a case of not knowing how, it might be a case of the parent making the choice that food on the table is more important than keeping the kid off Facebook.

The part in the article that got librarians REALLY mad was this bit:

The new divide is such a cause of concern for the Federal Communications Commission that it is considering a proposal to spend $200 million to create a digital literacy corps. This group of hundreds, even thousands, of trainers would fan out to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers.

Librarians, especially school librarians, thought “Aren’t We Already the Digital Literacy Corps?”  School librarians have been very hard hit by our economy.  Many have received pink slips, are now asked to cover two or more schools, have had their assistants taken away, etc.  School librarians consider it their mission to teach children digital literacy, but because of a lack of funding are severely limited in the kinds of programs they can create and enact.  $200 million could really do a lot of good.  The FCC seemed to be overlooking librarians and the extensive infrastructure already in place which could be activated for this mission. We have since learned that the NY Times piece didn’t provide a clear picture of library and ALA involvement with this as yet unfunded project.

As Ms. Bullington points out in her follow-up blog, the public does not have a clear understanding of what librarians do.  And as the NY Times piece points out, and as I’ve discussed in my two previous blogs, the Digital Divide is a skills-based divide.  Adults on the have-not side need a good deal of help to gain these skills.  It is vital now for so many life activities: taxes, employment, raising children, retiring, socializing, and even using the library resources of the future.

I love libraries.  I have such fond childhood memories of wandering through stacks of paper books. I think they are great equalizers and community builders.

But my experiences, and this utter lack understanding of what librarians are all about in the digital era, are making me think that maybe we need a severe rebranding.  Maybe librarians need to go, and Digital Literacy Corps need to appear in their place.  It kind of sounds like it would come with a neat uniform, maybe a marching band outfit, or a cape and unitard.

There are so many good things we could do, if only we had those capes.

*Did you know that people used to be opposed to FICTION in libraries?  They thought that it was a waste of time and would create loose morals.  The current understanding is that it doesn’t matter so much WHAT children read; as long as they pick something which is interesting to them, they will improve their reading skills and be more literate individuals.

The Digital Divide, Part 2 of 3: The Haves

Herein are some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately in regards to libraries and computers and digital literacy.  Some of this series will probably be “late pass” territory, but I’m trying to sort out what’s on my mind, and what I’ve been reading and experiencing.

This is part two of three. You should read part one first.  You know, if you want to.

I read this opinion piece about The Philly Free Library not serving 21st century patrons.  The author has a lot of complaints which contain a kernel of truth, and a lot of misunderstanding.  For example:

In 2012, citizens want answers to their basic technology questions, not to be walked over to a book shelf to thumb through a 400-page book that is not even relevant because it was published in 2002; meanwhile, the patron’s 40 minutes of computer time ticks away at the library computer terminal.

A 400 page manual from 2002, no.  But a lot of people looking to improve their basic computer skills are more comfortable learning things via print, after all this is what they have done for the majority of their lives. This quote also illustrates an essential disconnect between providing reference (in which librarians are told to focus on instruction) and patron questions (in which a patron just wants an answer already). The author also says:

Instead of the library system hauling the majority of its materials across town from one branch to another, as is currently done (with gas at $4 per gallon), digitizing the library collection is eco-friendly, the wave of the future.

There are at least two problems with this, the first of course being a complete misunderstanding of the library’s ability to digitize it’s collection (in case you don’t know – 1. it would be illegal, due to that pesky little thing called copyright, to scan and make freely available most of a library’s collection.  Particularly a public library’s collection, which would not have a lot of older works that have passed into public domain. If you’re interested, look up the Google Book Search lawsuit to see what a morass this kind of thing is. And – 2. It takes a lot of time, money, fancy equipment, and staff time.  A LOT.  Really, really, a lot. Many libraries, being government funded, are running way under-staffed.  And of course have very tight budgets.  Even if we could legally do it, we couldn’t do it practically).

The second problem is these citizens who have the “basic technology questions” referred to in the first quote.  If a person doesn’t have the skills to use a mouse, how will they be able to use this digital collection?  Reducing access to a library’s physical books removes another basic life activity from people on the other side of the divide.

I think this article, with all it’s misunderstandings, does bring up some good points that many libraries struggle with:

  1. Outdated collections not only give patrons bad information, they really make libraries look like backwards institutions
  2. Libraries could do more to serve digital “haves,” they’d love access to a wider variety of software programs, better user interfaces (including mobile apps, etc.), and more digital content.
  3. Patrons really don’t understand what reference is.  We need to be better about providing service that satisfies both the patron’s question and the library’s mission to promote literacy skills.
  4. Patrons don’t understand what libraries and librarians do in general.  (At my last job, at a very special library, an employee from another department asked me “So what do you guys do here in the library?  Just kind of tidy up?”)
  5. Patrons view many of the restrictions placed on us (e.g. copyright, or limitations on ebooks) as our fault. These are seen as LIBRARY FAIL.

But the biggest misunderstanding in this article is misunderstanding what it means to be on the other side of the digital divide.  It’s not just “oh these people need someone to tell them once how to attach something to an email,” it’s that these people need comprehensive, intensive, and extensive HELP.  Maybe more than a library’s current staffing, materials, and infrastructure can provide.

The Digital Divide, Part 1 of 3: The Have Nots

Herein are some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately in regards to libraries and computers and digital literacy.  Some of this series will probably be “late pass” territory, but I’m trying to sort out what’s on my mind, and what I’ve been reading and experiencing.

In library school, we talked about the Digital Divide.  This is what I got out of our discussions:

A certain percentage of people, both here in America and in developing countries, don’t have computers or the internet, so they are left out and behind. We need to give them computers and the internet, or make sure they can have them through the library, in order for them to have the same advantages and experiences the rest of society has.

– Me, in library school

But I think maybe the best way to understand what The Digital Divide really means, is to hang out in an urban public library.  Here are some of the people I’ve encountered over the past few months:

  • A 70 year old kindergarten teacher, still working, who was told to check her pension fund online.  She navigated through most of the webform in about 20 minutes, and then called me over when it asked for an email address.  She didn’t know what to put because she didn’t have one.
  • A man who came in looking for tax forms.  When I said “I’m sorry, we don’t have them – the government is moving everything online,” he replied, “I’m an 80 year old man, I’m not going to waste time learning how to use a computer.”  (We printed out some forms for him).
  • A woman who called me over because her computer wasn’t working.  It turns out she was clicking both sides of the mouse multiple times – the computer behaved normally when I suggested she just click the left side, and not more than twice in rapid succession.
  • A couple looking for a tenant on Craigslist called me over because after they clicked a link, they didn’t know how to navigate back to the original post.
  • A man trying to reply to a Craigslist ad for someone to help put Ikea furniture together.  When he clicked the reply-to address, outlook popped up.  He didn’t understand why it wouldn’t let him email. He did have a yahoo address, which he typed into the url field when I suggested he needed to go through his email account in the browser instead.  After we got to his inbox I said “Now just cut and paste the craigslist address”  He looked at me blankly.  So I walked him through how to cut and paste.
  • A man trying to format a Word resume for a custodial position, who didn’t know how to hit backspace to get rid of an unintentional carriage return, nor how to use the line spacing feature.
  • A woman trying to print out resumes for herself and her friend, who didn’t know how to use spell check.
  • A woman who was upset because our computer rearranged her list of documents, which she had painstakingly put in alphabetical order.  I showed her how to change the folder to list view and sort by name.  We then had a very long and frustrating discussion about the difference between doc and docx.

So you can see that it’s not just “oh, let’s give them access to a computer and they’ll figure it out.”  They won’t. It takes more than a one hour reservation on a public computer to gain these skills. And as more and more essential life activities move into the digital realm, the disadvantages of being on the wrong side of the divide get more and more serious.  You need to be computer savvy to do your taxes, to get a job (even if that job will never require you to use a computer), to find housing, and to get your benefits.

So now I would say:

The digital divide is not just “oh Suzy doesn’t have a home computer so she can’t go on Facebook to socialize with her friends/children/grandchildren.”  The digital divide is “Suzy doesn’t know how to use a mouse so Suzy can’t get a job.”

– Me, a year after graduating library school

The 21st Century Voice

Dog and soldiers listen to a grampphone

Photo: National Library of Scotland via Flickr Common

I’m intrigued by the idea of “voice.”  In feminist theory, we talk about voice in terms of being able to know who we are, and to speak our minds even though the patriarchy tries to repress us.  There’s also the idea of a scholarly voice, which is being able to speak in the formal language and conventions of your discipline in order for other scholars to respect your work.  And when I managed the grocery store I would train people to find their customer service voice through the analogy of the way they might speak to their grandmother, versus the way they would speak to their friends.

In my job search, I use my professional voice to try to convince people that I would be a sane and valuable asset to their organization.  I think this idea of a professional voice is becoming increasingly blurred.  And I blame social media.  I’m in the middle of reading several articles which present research on whether students want to interact with libraries via Facebook.  The findings so far indicate that in 2007 most college students felt that being friended by a librarian would be “awkward.” Students regarded Facebook as their territory and felt confused and suspicious when librarians or faculty appeared on the scene.

But that was 2007. Facebook was first developed in 2004, opened to high school kids in 2005, and then opened to the public in 2006. So in 2007 it was still largely the domain of college students.  Now however, there are more Facebook users who are over the age of 26, than those who are under.  All these older people have friends who are business or professional contacts, in addition to a younger person’s friendbase of childhood chums and fellow students. And they buy in to the idea that marketing is necessary and worthwhile, enough that the idea of a library or business having a Facebook page is also now more of a norm than an anomaly.  To ice that cake, some of those people over 26 are actually the grandmas of the younger people on Facebook.

So when these people with personal and professional friends, and these businesses and libraries, and these grandmas, all interact on the same social platform the lines between how we speak to different people get blurred.  The voices that we use for work, for family, and for friends become one voice.

Today I polled my Facebook friends to ask them if they used Facebook for a) for fun only b) professionally/for work and also for fun c) professionally/for work.  Of my 19 respondees, 10 said they used it for fun only, 6 said fun and work, 2 said work only, and one was a smartass (that makes a very low smartass coefficient which indicates that this is a very accurate poll).

Of my 19 respondees, 7 were personal contacts (family, friends from childhood or my undergrad degree, and othersuch), 8 were former coworkers, and 4 were from my graduate degree.  So even though the majority are using Facebook for fun, the majority of respondees were also actually professional contacts (albeit professional contacts who are also fun or friends or both).  They brought up some great points too, about how work actually is fun for some of us, how work acts as a Facebook conscience, and how many people only friend ex-coworkers in order to preserve the Facebook fun zone.

I can’t wait to see what these blurred lines look like in another ten years.


Bietila, D., C. Bloechl, and E. Edwards. (2009). Beyond the buzz: Planning library Facebook initiatives grounded in user needs. Paper presented at the ACRL National Conference, Seattle, WA.

Chu, M., & Meulemans, Y. N. (2008). The Problems and Potential of MySpace and Facebook Usage in Academic Libraries. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13(1), 69-85. doi:10.1300/J136v13n01_04

Connell, R. S. (2009). Academic libraries, Facebook and MySpace, and student outreach: a survey of student opinion. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 9(1), 25–36.

Harriet Tubman’s Toes

So when I was a kid, a time so long ago it can be measured in multiple decades, I read a book about Harriet Tubman. The only part of the book that has stuck with me all these years is a passage about how because Harriet Tubman never wore shoes, her toes were long and straight. Immediately, Harriet Tubman became my foot role model.  I eschewed shoes (when socially acceptable) in order to cultivate the long toes of a Harriet Tubman.  Nowadays I will sometimes look at my grown-up toes, which have gotten a bit curly and bumpy with age, and feel I have let her memory down.

Harriet Tubman photo by H. B. Lindsley via the Library of Congress

I am sure the author did not intend the sort of fixation I developed, so why was this detail included? Was it an attempt to reclaim the hideous and oppressive poverty she grew up in? To say “it was awful to be a slave but at least she had nice feet”? And really, can this even be a historical fact? Is there a journal or oral history which recounts the beautiful toes of the woman who led them north?

You know what’s really amazing about being alive right now? Finally seeking to assuage my curiosity, tonight I Googled “Harriet Tubman Straight Toes.” I was wondering if there really was some sort of significance to this fact, the sort of significance that could be found by idle internet browsing. I did not find any unifying theory. However, my first listed result was in fact the Google preview  of the very passage in the very book I read.  It says:

She was accustomed to the scratchy feel of the tow-linen shirt she wore.  Because she went barefooted, the soles of her feet were calloused, but the toes were straight, never having known the pinch of new shoes or any kind of foot covering.

So I suppose it was really just the effort to use sense details to make Tubman’s experience more accessible for children.  To set the stage for a woman who did truly extraordinarily good things in spite of an extraordinarily deprived and abusive childhood.

This book was  written in 1955!  The copyright was renewed in 1983, just in time for me to enjoy, and the edition digitized on Google Books was printed in 1996.  Generations of children have had the opportunity to learn about the toes of Harriet Tubman.  And now we can reconnect with this resource, via our friends at Google.

What a wonderful world.

On Walden Cassette Tape. For teens.

One of the big things that reading about non-print materials has got me thinking about is the level of transience of resources being purchased.  With audiovisual items, not only does the library have to deal with the transience of the content, but also with the ever more swiftly outdated nature of the format.  In my textbook for my class on Materials for Young Adults, written in 2004, Anderson advises to “purchase on tape or compact disc” (p.191).  I cringed a little.

Books seem to me more constant.  One of my favorites is Alan Mendelsohn the Boy from Mars.  It was written in 1978, which was the year I was born, and by the time I found it, was the ripe old age of 13.  And I still loved it, and found it relevant, and I could see people who are teenagers now still reading it.  Granted, it is not an extremely popular book (and wasn’t even back when I was 13) but it has an Amazon sales rank of #144,605, so someone is buying it.  In contrast, the main musical act that was popular when I was 13 was New Kids on the Block.  They do have a reunion tour this year, and people are attending, but I don’t think they are being overrun with screaming teenage fans.  In fact I think their initial popularity lasted about four years, and they went swiftly downhill after that.  If a library is “plac[ing] more emphasis on popularity” for its non-print collection, it may be stuck with a lot of obsolete material quite quickly (Anderson, p.192, 2004).

So the challenge then, is to find materials which teens will like, which will not blow through the budget.  I think the increasingly digitized nature of information will bring up some interesting solutions.  One which has already been implemented is to use Netflix , which “supplements the collection and also can be used to screen potential library purchases”  (Blumenstein, 2008).  If Netflix works for libraries, there is also a business called Gamefly which offers a similar service for video games.  Granted this is not necessarily using the service exactly as intended, but “no one has seen any kind of ‘reminder’ from Netflix the corporate entity banning libraries from using this service” (Burchfield, 2009).

I’m not sure of all the parameters with adding digital music to the collection, I have a feeling there may be copyright issues, and I’m not sure lending would work.  The SFPL has databases which allow music to be streamed over the internet, but it seems as though most of its easily findable music is on CD.  Perhaps highlighting the digital music the library does have might be a good way to get teens to notice it.  I also think that providing MP3s (integrated into the collection) might be a draw to get teens to look at the other electronic resources the library offers (like the journals).

The other non-print format that I think is a great idea: board games.  Although how you would keep the pieces all in one place, I have no idea.

Anderson, S.  (2004). Serving older teens.  Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Blumenstein, L. (2008).  Small libraries start using Netflix.  Library Journal.  Retrieved July, 9, 2009 from

Burchfield, N. (2009, April 15).  Netflix has a long tail. It’s true, I saw it in the library.  Librarian, Interrupted.   Retrieved July, 9, 2009 from