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

Thinking about my birthday and book reviews

My birthday was yesterday and it was very low-key, considering it was a big one, the big 3-0. True, my 21st birthday was more fun to celebrate but slightly uneventful given my location, but going into a new decade of my life is pretty exciting even if the celebrations were not. It felt kind of lonely because once again, I am far away from my good friends, even though my hubby was there and I love being with him. I was surprised how many friends wished me happy birthday though and that made me smile. I went to work early and found some good kid's books to read, so that will keep me occupied. 

I am currently reading a book I randomly found while shelving called A Proud Taste of Scarlet and Miniver by author E.L. Konigsburg, which seems to be about a fantasy/historical fiction about Eleanor of Aquitaine, who happens to be one of my favorite historical figures. I have been busy reading all the Children's/YA books I can get my hands on, and have fallen in love with Margarita Engle's free verse novels. My next task is to read as many free verse novels as I can get my hands on. To break up the all the kid's books, I am also on a P.G. Wodehouse kick and like to listen to the the audiobooks of his Jeeves and Wooster short stories. 

Tsuba: The Little Snail 
by Carol Ann Williams 
Loved the story and the artwork in oils was exquisite. This Japanese folktale is the story of a poor rice farming family who desperately want a baby, any baby, and the wife prays to the Water God for one. He grants her request and sends her Tsubu, which means "Little Snail". The parents are so grateful and thank the Water God profusely for the blessing, raising the snail as their own son. Their son later marries the warlord's daughter. The story reminded me of the folktale, "Hans My Hedgehog" and my favorite part was probably when the snail is driving the rice tax to the warlord. It is well-worth a read for the story alone, not even including the amazing artwork. Highly recommended, 5 stars. 

Stand Straight, Ella Kate
by Kate Klise
I too had never heard of this woman until I picked up this book while shelving today at the library. The story looked interesting and I have always been fascinated with people who joined the side shows at circuses, so that is a good enough reason for me to read it. The book is based on the real life of the "Gentle Giantess," Ella Kate Ewing, who stood 8 ft 4 in tall! I liked it because it said that despite what she cried about as a child, being made fun of for being too tall, it allowed her freedom and a way to make money to support herself and her family. All in all a well done story. 4 stars. 

Children and Young Adult
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom
by Margarita Engle
I picked this book up based on a recommendation from a fellow librarian, and it did not disappoint. I was really impressed with the poetry of this short history of the Cuban Civil Wars, which started in 1868 and went through 1899, though the actual start of the book was a little bit before that in 1850/51. The wars are seen through the eyes of a slave nurse called Rosa and later by her husband Jose, as well as through the eyes of a slave hunter named Lieutenant Death, Captain General Weyler of the Spanish army and a young girl named Silvia. The poetry is beautifully written and really brings you into the time period, something I knew nothing about. I vaguely remember studying about the Spanish-American War in school, but for some reason I always thought it was in Panama or Mexico. I had no idea that America had requested to buy the island of Cuba, and had eventually only set the island free after occupation if they were allowed to set up the naval base of Guantanamo. 5 stars. 

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
by Margarita Engle

Another brilliant work from Margarita Engle, this verse novel documents the first half of the Poet Slave's, Juan Francisco Manzano, life as a slave for a rich Spanish female landowner in Cuba. Parts of it were very hard to read, as his punishments got more and more graphic, but somehow through all of it, Manzano managed to stay hopeful and be somewhat successful. Part of his autobiography and some of his poetry was eventually published.  Three excerpts of his actual poetry in Spanish/English are included in the back of the book. Further information about Manzano after his escape from slavery is also featured in the back of the book. 

I had never heard of this man before reading this novel, but after reading Engle's other beautifully written work, "The Surrender Tree," I was curious to see what else she had written about. This book won the Pura Belpre Author Award and was on the ALA Notable Children's Books and Best Books for Young Adults, so it seemed like the best one to read. I look forward to reading more of her books in the future. 5 stars. 

Tofu Quilt
by Ching Yeung Russell
An interesting view of a young girl's life, through free verse poetry, in mainland China and Hong Kong in the 1950s-60s. The author goes from thinking she is not worth much (as the emphasis is always on boys) to deciding she wants to be a writer, and learning that she not only loves doing it but is good at it. I enjoyed her fascination with eating dan lai. I also liked reading her biographical summary in the back of the book about what happened to her after sixth grade. 4 stars. 

Young Adult
The Lost Hero
by Rick Riordan

Ok, I was honestly skeptical about Rick Riordan trying his hand again at the world of Olympus after the great job he did with the Percy Jackson series. I kept thinking, could it really be a good book? Yes, despite the annoying memory loss thing in the beginning of the book which I think took a bit away from the story, I think he did a good job. I liked that the 3 main characters were older, unclaimed by their god parent and had some ethnic diversity. The story is basically Jason (who has lost his memory) is your typical blond hair/blue eyed hero who joins the story with Piper (half Cherokee/half white) girl and Hispanic Leo. They find out they are demigods and end up at Camp Half-Blood, but somehow Jason doesn't belong. They end up going on a quest to free Hera from the clutches of the mysterious enemy (though i figured it out about 200 pages in or so). Overall the villains were surprising and had some interesting twists. I can't wait for the next book! 4 stars. 


I thought Riordan was super clever to extend the series by dividing up the demigods into Greek and Roman. I figured out the SPQR and the 12 lines right away, but maybe that's how the Roman camp is organized by legions. I had figured that Percy was abducted by Gaea's group, but then when they mentioned that he was in the Roman camp, I was like "oh yeah, that makes total sense, since Jason is at Camp Half-Blood." Now I am really curious to learn more about the Roman camp and see who this other girl is (Jason's possible love interest), especially after I really liked getting to know Piper. 

The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy
by P.G. Wodehouse, Narrated by Alexander Spencer
My version was on three audio CDs, and included 4 short stories. I thought the narrator was absolutely brilliant and I loved these short stories, especially the last one where the narrator played Jeeves instead of Wooster and talked about how he "handled his manager" by ultimately convincing him that taking care of little girls was no fun at all, and being a bachelor was his best option. One of the things I love about P.G. Wodehouse is his brilliant, witty way of telling the story and Wooster eventually achieving his goal, like when Bertie breaks into his friends house to steal his friend's wife's manuscript (to save his friend from embarrassment) and gets caught by the police and eventually escapes by climbing out an open window and running for his life. 5 stars. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Confirmations of why I want to work in a library

So there are days, as I've been working as a shelver, that I forget why I want to work in a public library in the children's department in the first place. This is usually because I have a very low paying job which can be pretty hard work at times and makes me exhausted. However, there are days like Monday that I remember why I like working there. I got to meet a really cool and nice teenage volunteer who was half Turkish/half Sudanese, which to me is a very interesting combination all by itself, and we ended up talking for most of the 3 hours that I was working on Monday. Work always seems to go faster when you have someone cool to talk to. At another point in the night, I was straightening the board book displays and this little girl, probably 4 or 5 starts talking to me about the books she likes, "shadow books" she calls them. They are the black and white books, the kind that author Tana Hoban likes to do. I always am amazed when children will just come up and start talking to me in the library. The same thing happened last week when I was trying to find something to do at the end of last week and was going around the room, picking up books left on tables and shelving them. I went up to this one table where a brother and sister were sitting with a giant pile of books and asked them if they were finished with them. They still needed them, so I went to go sort some Easy Reader books when the little boy who I has spoken to, he looked about 9 or 10, came over and started talking to me. He told me about how he and his sister were doing book reports on birds, and he had picked the bald eagle and his sister had picked the ruby-throated hummingbird. I asked him if he had ever seen a hummingbird and he said yes, that they had all kinds of bird feeders in their lawn and were avid bird watchers. He was so precious with his earnestness and little glasses that I wanted to adopt him. The other thing that happened on Monday was a young girl, couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 was with her parents at a table next to the Easy Readers and came right up to me and hugged me and then kissed my stomach (because she was eye level with it). Her parents were horrified and apologized, but I simply said, "It's fine, it's better than being kicked." Being that I want to be a Youth Services Librarian, it is good that I am able to talk and interact with children like this.