Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ten misperceptions about public libraries

A guy I know from library school posted this list of Ten Misperceptions About Public Libraries About on Facebook this morning and I thought it was interesting enough to repost and comment about. 

1.    You will be yelled at if you don't whisper.  These days, some of the noisiest people in the library are the members of the staff.  While library staff members may still look askance at loud, extended cell phone use, libraries today are a lot less quiet than they used to be. - This is very true, and I've actually heard a patron complain about it being too noisy and say "Whatever happened to the quiet library?"; I actually agree with him, but that is really hard to do nowadays, esp in the children's room
2.    It takes a long time for libraries to get newly released books, movies and CDs processed and on their shelves.    Any library worth its salt will have books, music and  DVDs processed and ready for the shelves in time for the items' release dates. - It really depends on the library and how many copies in total they have bought, i.e. if it is a big release like one of Rick Riordan's books, they more than likely will have 20+ copies so you should get one in a couple of weeks; for other less well-known books it can take up to 2+ months; this year with all the budget crises that libraries have been having, the book budgets are being cut so no idea how long things will take 
3.     Libraries love it when people donate the old books they have stored away in boxes in their basement or garage; the library's patrons are anxiously awaiting the  acquisition of your forty year old set of the World Book Encyclopedia and poli sci textbooks from 1977.   Nobody likes to throw out books, especially ones that cost a lot of money when new, but most textbooks become dated very quickly and almost no one coming into a public library is looking to check them out.  When old sets of encyclopedias are left abandoned at the library's door (yes, this happens more than you realize), all it does is create additional work for the library's maintenance staff.  Please resist the temptation to drop off boxes of  old books  at the library under cover of darkest night.   Please. -However, this still happens, hence why you have library book sales ever 3 months or so
4.    Everyone who works in a library is a librarian.  The standard in the United States is for a professional librarian  to have a master's degree in library or information science in addition to holding a  bachelor's degree in just about anything.   Librarians are the people staffing the reference desk, selecting items for the collection,  arranging and running programs, designing web pages and other online content, or working in an administrative/executive capacity.   The people who work  at the circulation desk are frequently referred to by the public as librarians but they are not.   This is often a very sticky subject, especially since it is the case more often than not that library employees, professional or otherwise, are underpaid relative to their counterparts in other branches of municipal or county government.   Unfortunately, when the term "librarian" is used to designate anyone who works in a library regardless of their level of education and training, it makes it easier for uninformed politicians to justify keeping all library salaries low; it also plays into the hands of those who think that libraries can be staffed entirely by volunteers.  The accuracy of job titles is important, but so is  the notion of respect and  equity for all library employees regardless of their job titles.  If compensation for library workers were better, the tensions surrounding the distinctions between professional and non-professional employees would be greatly diminished. -Within the system, they try to differentiate between professional librarians and paraprofessionals, but this line is blurred a lot, especially with job titles; you would be surprised how many  "librarians" don't have a MLIS
5.    All female librarians are sexually repressed, cranky spinsters who take out their unhappiness on the people who come  to use the library.  Those who are still young enough can be transformed into the male fantasy "sexy librarian," but only if they can be convinced to take off their glasses and let down their hair; think Marian the librarian from The Music Man.  I would be lying if I did not acknowledge my own youthful encounters with female library staff members who were unfriendly and punitive, but those days are long over.   The vast majority of people I know who currently work as librarians are very friendly and customer service oriented.  They are also certainly no more or less attractive than people working in just about any other profession, save super model.  That old stereotype really needs to go. - True, some female librarians are single but most are married with or without kids, at least in the Children's Room
6.    All male librarians chose this particular field because they  have personality issues and can  not make it in any other profession.  There are many negative depictions of male library  workers in literature - Goodbye, Columbus  andSophie's Choice  are two that come readily to mind.   To the contrary,  men going into the field today see librarianship as a way to combine their interest in technology and literature.  The male librarians I know are extremely cool  and interesting people. - I would say that this is mostly true, with a few exceptions
7.    Reference librarians are no longer necessary since everyone knows how to find what they need with google.   I first received training to search the web back in 1995 and I've lost track of the number of times I've located information for a patron in a matter of seconds, after having had that person tell me that they had been searching unsuccessfully for that information for hours, if not days.  Additionally, librarians are good at finding information on the "hidden web," proprietory databases for which the library has paid  subscription fees and which the average person is not aware of. - Most patrons think they know everything via Google, however as I discovered with my basic reference class, they definitely still need us; if for nothing else, then to navigate through the different databases, which are confusing to use
8.    No one would notice the difference if you fired all the library staff and ran it with volunteers.  With municipal and county budgets taking huge hits in many parts of the country, it is inevitable that some politicians will try to use this tired old argument.   Volunteers have good intentions, but good intentions alone do not bring with them the specialized expertise that librarians and paraprofessional staff bring to their job through education, training and work experience.  Most volunteers are looking to contribute a relatively small number of hours per week; today's library circulation systems are sufficiently complex that even the most intelligent volunteer would be hard pressed to develop proficiency  working only a few hours a week at the circulation desk.  The years of acquired knowledge stored away by a seasoned reference librarian cannot automatically be duplicated by someone with no formal training or experience. - This statement I most vehemently disagree with, as the author says "Volunteers have good intentions, but these alone do not bring with them the specialized expertise that librarians and paraprofessional staff bring to their job through education, training and work experience." Having worked as a volunteer and paraprofessional, I can say that these two positions are totally different in their experience and expertise
9.    The librarian determines what items should be added to the library's collection by reading each book and viewing each DVD before making a final decision.   Ironically, even if I quit my job, I wouldn't be able to accomplish this task. -They mostly try to get good professional reviews in order to decide what to have in the collection; only with the children's department have I seen something like this done and most of the time, the item is skimmed as the librarians don't have time to read every single page or view everything they way they would want to
10.    The library does not provide materials in digitized format for people with e-readers and other devices.  Not true, as libraries have already begun to provide e-books as well as downloadable audio and video.   If this is what you want and it is not already happening at your library, you need to speak up. -As E-readers such as the Nook and Kindle become more prevalent, more libraries are joining on the digitization platform; I know my library system alone has over 250,000 titles for its patrons to use

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