Are you really a librarian?

Yes and no. The answer to the question “What do you do?” should not really be this complicated, but it is for me.  Yes, I am a librarian. No, I do not work in a library. This is usually when I get a blank look from whoever I am speaking to, and I start trying to explain: I’m a staff librarian at a book company. I’m one of the people, there are several of us, who help the real (more straightforward) librarians decide what books to buy.

A colleague of mine wrote about this very situation. He said,

“Here’s the thing. I don’t work at a library. Or maybe put in another way . . . I work at thousands of libraries. I work for a vendor that sells materials and services to school libraries across the country. My exact title is collection development specialist, and my primary task is to assist schools in finding the newest and best resources for their classrooms and media centers. In essence, I shop for books all day with other people’s money. Yeah, it’s a pretty sweet gig.”

Unlike my colleague, though, who says “But in my heart of hearts I know I’m not really a librarian,“ I argue that I am a librarian, and that the work that I do isn’t that far removed from what I did when I was in a public library.  It’s just a lot more specific.

In a library, I worked at a reference desk where I answered questions from library patrons about books or about whatever else they wanted to know.  There’s no reference desk at a book company, but the librarians in my department are to go-to people for anything book or library related.  I still spend a good portion of my work days answering questions, helping people, and finding information.  Just like a librarian.

The biggest part of my job is book promotion and collection development, just like it was when I was in a public library. I review and evaluate books.  I look for ways to connect them to readers or classrooms.  I might not be making displays or bulletin boards like I used to, but I am making book lists of all sorts for the librarians I speak with to use in their libraries.  As in the quote above, my primary task is helping librarian shop for books.  He’s right about one thing: it is a pretty sweet gig.

That all said, there’s a lot I miss about working in a library.  I definitely miss working with kids directly. One day I’d like to get back to that, and meanwhile I still look for opportunities to connect with young people whenever I can.  But the biggest thing I miss is the ease with which I could answer the question “What do you do?”

I do, however, answer the question “Are you really a librarian?” with a yes. Even if it does require a bit of explanation. ;)

6 Things I Wish I’d Known

Last year Minneapolis spoken word artist Guante posted his list of Six Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Getting Started as an Artist, and Minnesota Public Radio has taken the theme to several other career choices, like teachers, doctors, and journalism.  Now that I am over ten years into my career, I have a few ideas of things that I wish I’d known when I was a new librarian.  Here goes:

  1. Most people have no idea what librarians do or why they matter.  You will just have to get used to people saying different versions of “You need a Master’s degree to check out books?!”  Be ready to advocate for yourself politely.
  2. The library field draws book people, but it is a people job.  Learn to connect.
  3. It’s all about change.  The Internet didn’t kill libraries.  Ebooks aren’t going to do it either.  They just change things.  Be an early adopter when you can.
  4. Education matters, but experience is crucial.  Most people pursuing library science degrees have years of experience working as paraprofessionals in libraries behind them already.  Volunteer, if you have to, but get experience in a library before you graduate.
  5. The field is hugely varied.  People bring different backgrounds, skills, and interests to librarianship.  Get to know your colleagues, and learn from them when you can.
  6. Accept help when you need it, even if it’s from a vendor.  This is perhaps a somewhat self-serving comment since I currently work as a staff librarian at a library vendor, but when I was a public librarian I really didn’t know what kind of tools and support were available from book companies.  These services are often free, so take advantage of them.   We want to help. :)

Are you a librarian?  What would you add?

For library lovers…

houseattheendI picked up The House at the End of Hope Street with the wish to read something out of my ordinary.  In this novel, Alba is a studious young woman who is at a difficult spot in her life.  That’s when she finds a magical house at 11 Hope Street.  It’s a charming novel that will appeal to readers who don’t mind a bit of fantasy mixed with their contemporary issues, especially if you’ve got a soft spot for libraries.

“Also, she hasn’t been to the library in nearly a month and she’s starting to get withdrawal symptoms.  It’s not just books Alba craves, it’s standing inside a place that houses millions of them.  Libraries are Alba’s churches, and the university library, containing one edition of every book ever published in England, is her cathedral.”

If libraries are your churches, you might like this book.  :)

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of any purchases made from these links may benefit this blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

Books are just the beginning

Books are just the beginning.  They are one of many tools that your library offers in service to its larger mission: providing access to information and opportunities for education. The library is your classroom waiting to happen.

Public libraries, in particular, are committed to advancing knowledge through lifelong learning. Check out your library’s mission statement. It probably includes a sentence just like that or very similar.  Books are one tool, but there are many more.  Here’s a bit of what libraries offer:

  • Dragonfly's Box is a craft program for kids at the Hennepin County Library

    Dragonfly’s Box is a craft program for kids at the Hennepin County Library

    Early Literacy – We start with the very young with early literacy opportunities from story times (which are more than just stories—they are designed to help build school readiness skills of all sorts from reinforcing concepts to social skills like following directions), pretend play spaces, and other types of programming aimed at inspiring young learners. 

  • School Support – It might be just a quiet place to study for some, but for others a library means homework help centers, reference books, and other resources they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
  • Career Skills – With the job market the way it has been, many more people have been taking advantage of library assistance for job hunting, resume building, skill building.
  • Technology – Computer and Internet access are one thing, but most libraries also offer technology classes that may range from beginners web searching to introducing new software or hosting technology “petting zoos” for those looking to get beyond the tech they know.   I might also mention that there are all sorts of online research tools available through your library web site as well.  
  • Cultural Programming – Art exhibits?  Check.  Musical performances?  Check. Larger libraries might even have their own performance/exhibit space.  Part of this is the connection with the community that I wrote about yesterday, but it’s also about opening a cultural dialogue and facilitating access to the arts.

St. Paul Public Library director Kit Hadley shares her thoughts that the library has “always been in the learning business” in this video about the library’s role in the community.  She looks forward to a future in which libraries play a vital role in a network of formal and non-formal learning.  I can’t help but cheer her on.   I guess I’m probably biased, being a librarian and all, but I think libraries are pretty great–and they have books too.

Tomorrow: What do librarians do?  Mysteries revealed!

Community Matters at your library

communitiesmatter

No two libraries are alike.  I learned this young.  My family moved around a lot for my dad’s job when I was young, so we criss-crossed the country collecting library cards along the way–thanks to my mom’s deep love of reading combined with her frugal nature.

We mostly lived in smaller towns where the local public libraries had to do the best they could with small spaces. Even in a small building, it always felt like the library was the heart of the community.  It was where you could get a sense of a town.  Huge, new children’s area?  The town must have lots of young families.  Foreign language collections?  Immigrant population.  Look at what’s on display.  Those aren’t random choices.  The librarians pull out the books they think you’ll want to read.  We always visited our new library first–to see what we were getting into.  :)

Later we moved to the Chicago area, where the local library was much, much bigger than any I’d seen before.  I remember telling my out-of-town family about the library’s size with real awe in my voice.  There I discovered the real potential of a library to engage the community to a level I hadn’t realized possible.  In addition to the rows and rows of books that I had come to expect of a library, there were computer classes, children’s programs, book clubs, and all sorts of other opportunities to come together.

Here in Minneapolis, we are lucky to have a library system via Hennepin County that provides a gathering space for everyone–it’s one of the only places you can spend time without having to spend money–and a learning space that includes books and technology.  You can connect with local history via the library’s Tumblr or connect with readers via Bookspace.  Or you can get to know the librarian at your local branch.  He or she will be happy to tell you how they support the community.

Here are some cool stuff I’ve seen and done at the Hennepin County Library recently:shadowpuppets

  • Twice Told Tales – a family program about American legends brought to life by a local theater company
  • Nalah and the Pink Tiger – an interactive puppet show for kids a local puppeteer
  • Celebrate Minnesota Libraries – this event launched a library related book and featured local children’s writers speaking about their connection to libraries growing up
  • Wonderland Week – a week-long Alice in Wonderland celebration featured events for kids, families, and adults.

These events were more than fun things to do on a weekend afternoon.  They were opportunities to get to know my community.  We have writers, artists, and scholars in our area, and one of the main venues for them is the library–at least that’s how I usually find out about them and their work.

The library isn’t just about books.  It’s about us.

keeplib

Tomorrow: Education & Libraries

All week long: National Library Week

National Library Week

For most people, libraries equal books—shelf after shelf of books and maybe a computer or two off in the corner. I would like to challenge that perception. Not because I don’t love books. I do. As much as I love books and stories of all sorts, I also strongly believe that they aren’t what libraries are about. It’s National Library Week, and I am going to be posting about what libraries are about all week long. My hope is to open the equation about libraries that you have in your head to more than books, to show you that libraries matter—perhaps in ways you haven’t considered.

Libraries are about community and education. Librarians are your guide to the world of resources out there from books, to technology, to people. We want to connect with you.

The official theme of National Library Week 2013 is Communities Matter, so I’ll start with that tomorrow.

communitiesmatter

Friday Finds: Green Gifts, Fashion, and M83

What to do with your Twin Cities weekend:

In the (library) news:

And now for music:

“There are some shows that are so good that they can’t possibly be bound by the typical constraints of time and place, where each person who witnesses it carries a part of the performance with them for quite some time to come. Wednesday night’s sold-out show by M83 at First Avenue was precisely one of those types of transcendent gigs, as the dynamic electro-pop quartet transformed the Mainroom into a roiling French discothèque during their euphoric 80-minute set.”

I’ll have to catch them next time.  Until then, here’s a selection from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming:

 

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Love our Libraries

“If democracy were a religion, libraries would be its churches.”  Will Weaver was the first of the contributing authors of Libraries of Minnesota to relate his library love.  He spoke of the way libraries fit into our history and culture while others spoke of family and stories.  Marsha Wilson Chall spoke of “library eyes and library ears.”  David LaRochelle remembered his childhood library’s Summer Reading Club with fondness.  Pete Hautman recalled that “librarians scared the bejesus out of me.”  But my favorite story was from John Coy.  He spoke of growing up in a library family.  They were such a library family that when he eventually published his first children’s book, his mother was so proud of him that she told everyone to get her son’s book from the library.

Libraries of MinnesotaPhotographer Doug Ohman, who has photographed several books for the Minnesota Byways series, said that he has the best job: “I get paid to drive around Minnesota taking pictures.”  He spoke a bit of the interesting stories he gleaned from the librarians and community members as he photographed the libraries.  The most interesting of which was from the cover of the book.  The mural on the outside of the library in Houston, Minnesota was sketched out by a local artist then colored in by the community paint-by-numbers style.  What a great way to create a feeling of local pride in the library!

I am obviously a library person.  I imagine everyone in the audience tonight had a library story.  Maybe we could trace our love of reading back to a library or our career choice.  Maybe it was our home away from home.  Libraries can be anything, really.  Here are a few of the comments that Hennepin County Library received during National Library Week.  Just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to library love in Minneapolis, I’m sure.