Posted by: Dean | December 3, 2009

Lose the librarian tag?

What’s in a name?  Plenty, it turns out.  While libraries and librarians are being put to the test during this economic disaster, less money is coming their way to provide the assistance that the public needs.  Municipalities are closing library branches, laying off employees, slashing budgets.  Some state library agencies are facing elimination.  There are some elected officials who “think” that libraries aren’t essential.  Why is this?

Many of us in the profession, as well as millions of other Americans, think that the word “librarian” is pejorative, weak, worthy of little merit or attention.  We’ve all been through the teeth gnashing and hand wringing of what to call ourselves via countless letters to the editor in LJ and American Libraries

Librarians are to blame for the low status they are held in but not for reasons you might think.  Many people went into the profession because they couldn’t hack it as teachers.  Many of us become librarians to escape the ugly, dirty business world or to just escape, period.  Oh goody, I can just deal with books or AV materials and not people!  Some want to be able to fly their freak flags and few other professions will let them do that.  Great,  I’m so happy for you.

Well, that leaves some of us to hurl ourselves against the perception that libraries and librarians are nerds, introverts, misfits and not worthy of adequate public funding.  What do we do that’s meaningful for our communities?  Why do we deserve to be recognized as essential parts of our communities?

As most of us know, the answer is plenty but we need to change the vocabulary of who we are and what we do.  And that means entering the world of marketing, advertising, selling, public relations – all the things associated with the (yuck) business world.  Those librarians and library director who do so are very successful; their municipal leaders do not think they’re non-essential.  Some of these library administrators hold CEO (gasp!) titles.

How can the rest of us avoid budgetary neglect and obsolescence?  It’s time to ditch “librarian” for many of the things we do:  instructor, educator, information specialist, research specialist, teacher.  Isn’t at least 75% of what we do education?  Oh sure, we promote the love of books and reading but that’s only part of our function.  Booksellers do that too!

What’s a reference desk?  a circulation desk?  Isn’t it time to toss these terms onto the 19th century dust heap?  How about research assistance and customer service?  Yes, there’s the business world sticking it’s ugly head into our blessedly clean profession.  Libraries have been and are part of the process that all publicly funded agencies go through to stay in BUSINESS!

 Patrons?  We have patrons?  Unless your library is an athenaeum or private library, you have damn few patrons.  What we need are more customers coming through our doors who will tell other customers and elected officials just how wonderful our FREE  seminars, workshops, children’s classes, research, loans, education, instruction, and tutoring sessions are.  They are FREE because library directors, CEOs, presidents, and executives INVEST public tax dollars so well.

Perception may not always be reality but it is everything.  “Good words to you!”

Posted by: Dean | November 24, 2009

Workers of the World, Unite!

What work activity causes neck and shoulder pain, tendonitis, carpal tunnel, hemorrhoids, sciatica, headaches, and blurred vision?  Driving a truck?  Digging fence posts?  Working on an assembly line?

How about using a computer?  I think other than working at a  meat-packing plant or coal mining, computer use is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.  Those of us (not me) who get all squirmy about another Web 2.0 application or another new technology toy to play with may not think that using the Internet is an unhealthy habit but there are decided risks of doing so hour after hour, day after day.

I remember way back in the distant past of the 1990’s that one of the business journals ran a brief article on how people in larger companies were getting isolated from one another and the author suggested a pizza lunch every once in a while to provide face time with co-workers.  I chuckled at that brilliant idea for a few minutes before thinking about what was causing this fragmentation.

The use of computers is a very solitary task and  one may be “in touch” with many, if not hundreds, of people via the Internet or email.  But at what price?  Workers tend to mentally and/or physically withdraw from the workplace or co-workers, pick up repetitive motion ailments, are far too sedentary, and don’t get enough oxygen to the brain by moving around and checking in with their office mates (releases serotonin or large gobs of adrenaline).

Can we pull the plug on the Internet one day a week other than a weekend (although for some the weekend is even more focused on a computer than a work day)?  What would happen?  Yeah, your in-box would be full the next time you logged into your email account and someone might be getting impatient about your response to something.

I’ve found that I respond far too quickly and efficiently to emails – people always are complimenting me on my speedy reply.  However, that’s because I’m locked onto the computer like a heat-seeking missile. 

No email, blogging, tweets, Flickr, iPhone or Blackberry, Internet shopping and surfing for one full day. Can you do it?  Do you have things in your life or at work that can take the place of your keyboard and screen?  What would happen?  Would you remember how to live or work?  What’s your name again?

Posted by: Dean | November 23, 2009

Give It To Them

That’s the philosophy of the outgoing president of the New York Public Library, Paul LeClerc – “find out what people want and give it to them.”  Of course with a $254 million, the NYPL can do a lot of things that other libraries cannot.  It spent just over $1,000,000,000 on library renovations at the main library and branches during the 16 years that LeClerc was  president.  And, yes, the 9 zeroes are correct.  LeClerc also doubled the size of NYPL’s endowment during his tenure.

The NYPL has a very large endowment estimated at over $700,000,000 and Mr. LeClerc is paid over $800,000 a year.  I’m having great difficulties finding information more current than 2006. 

Was he worth his salary?  I think he was when one considers the amount of money he’s raised and all the capital projects he initiated.  Hours have been increased and more patrons visit the NYPL system than at any time in its history.

However, the salaries of the librarians working for the NYPL were among the lowest in the region and professionals moved out whenever they could.  Many librarians can’t afford to live in the city in which they work.  Many have acquired jobs in the suburbs or at private libraries at salaries far above those paid at NYPL.  When the last big news story about librarian salaries at NYPL, some staff were making $40,000 a year after 14 years on the job or less than $35,000 after 5 years on the job.  Many librarians complained that they were paid less than garbage collectors.

Hey, Paul, give it to them!

Posted by: Dean | November 13, 2009

Author! Author!

Barbara Kingsolver gave a shout out to booksellers and librarians at he the Miami Book Fair International: “The real beating heart of democracy is the place people love books.  I salute you for your love of reading.”  Many immigrants to the U.S. are stunned when shown public libraries.  Not only do many countries not have libraries but books themselves are not readily available and often suppressed.  Americans are very blase about their libraries – would they miss them if they disappeared?

Sandra Brown is a best-selling author of suspense and romance pot boilers.  Her latest novel, Rainwater, is being advertised with a prominent photo of the author.  What’s up with her hair?  It looks like a rare egret decided to take up residence on the top of her head.  Somebody’s should tell her.

Posted by: Dean | November 12, 2009

Survey Says

New York Magazine reported in a random sample of 100 SoHo pedestrians that 90% did not have an e-reader.  90 out of 100 random people do not have e-readers?  Is the emperor still naked?

Interestingly, 48% of those sampled spend anywhere from $50-$250 per year on books.   Only 10% did not purchase books at all.  What does this say about the book as book?  Still alive, baby, still alive.

Posted by: Dean | April 1, 2009

Maine Answers Tough Times

Libraries across the country are responding to double digit increases in circulation and visits.  Library users are requesting everything from resume writing, improving job skills, filing for unemployment insurance, getting health insurance or heating oil assistance, to starting a home-based business.

Many librarians, as well as the public,  have trouble navigating government web sites to find specific departments that will answer a patron’s question.  Maine State Library reference librarians have familiarity with Maine state government and decided to put that to good use.  The  State Library created its new web feature Maine Answers Tough Times to provide libraries and individuals with a one-stop-shopping resource for state government and non-profit agencies that provide assistance to those effected by the economic collapse.  The State Library is also including a form on each page of Maine Answers Tough Times  for suggestions of other links that people have found helpful or for help with topics that the State Library has not addressed.

This is not the first time in my life that libraries have mobilized to help the communities they serve.  It is also not the first time that they’ve been asked to do much while having their budgets cut.  A recent Boston Globe (March 2009, but can’t remember the date) quoted a library director saying “if we were a business we’d be booming.”  Um….exactly.  A library is somewhat like a business and if any business you knew was as productive as most libraries in this country, would you reduce its funding?

Oh, sure, I know all about spreading the financial pain and sharing the financial burdens of municipal governments.  Although libraries may not be as important as food stamps, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, or job agencies, they should be viewed as essential as these social services at this time.

Posted by: Dean | March 20, 2009

Is The Bible Top Shelf ?

By that I mean, should the Bible, Koran, Torah, Book of Mormon, et al be shelved on the top shelves of library book stacks?  Leave it to the Brits to come up with the most insane library policy I’ve ever heard about.

The Museum, Libraries and Archives Council issued a guidance which suggested placing all “holy books” on the top shelves after a Muslim group complained that the Koran was often found on the bottom shelves of libraries (what, they did a survey?).  Works about Islam are cataloged by the Dewey classification system in 297 which puts it at the end of the 200s (religion) but that doesn’t mean they’re always on the bottom shelves.  That depends on how many materials fit on a shelf, how many shelves per unit, etc.

If all “holy books” are on the top shelves, how are people shorter that 5’7″ supposed to reach them?What does someone do after searching the catalog and finding the Good News Bible catalog number 220.5?  She goes to the shelves and it’s not with the other 220s.  Is there a neon sign pointing the way to salvation?  Many libraries without space problems (all 34 of them) do not use the bottom and/or top shelves as a way of accommodating short people and/or those who cannot bend down without pain.

According to Muslims there is no greater book than the Koran because it is the word of “God.”  As are all the other “holy books.”  Some Muslims want the Koran placed higher than all other books!  Placing them all together on the top shelves flies in the face of logical library order.  Libraries, great places as they are, are not places of worship.  If they were, I’d demand that Shakespeare have a separate room all to himself. 

It is also very troubling that the views of one group determine how a library will operate.  That flies in the face of the principles of librarianship.  Such insidious decisions based on supposed respect for others weasel their way into libraries at their peril.

Posted by: Dean | March 16, 2009

The Real Reason Americans Don’t Read

Justyn Dillingham, the opinions editor of the Arizona University Daily Wildcat, wrote a terrific editorial based on the latest National Endowment for the Arts survey of American reading habits. 

The report found that there was a slight drop since 2002 in the number of people reporting that they read books for pleasure.  (I have had my disagreements with how the survey is conducted and still think it under-represents the reading public.).  Dillingham zeroes in on reading as a solitary habit, a personal experience rather than a public one.

Reading is not like attending a movie, a sporting event, or having a few beers with friends – all things that I like to do.  However, finding the leisure time to do these, let alone read, is a growing frustration for me.  Being surrounded by books because I work in a library only adds to that frustration.

Life seems to be a series of unconnected distractions.  It’s much more difficult to have not only the time but the quiet necessary to read.  I love to travel by air since that gives me a block of time just to read.  But the distractions and noise!

Dillingham states that America finds reading frivolous even though nearly 70% of college graduates read for pleasure, according to the NEA  survey.  He says that you probably surf the Web at work but would think twice before you read books at your desk.  It’s ok to have the TV on during dinner but it’s certainly taboo to read at the dinner table. 

I once saw a man reading a book while eating alone at a restaurant.  He certainly seemed quite content and very absorbed in his book.  He did not rush through his meal.  I find it very difficult to eat alone in public unless I have something to read.  I guess that means that if you have a book or a magazine, you’ll never eat alone. 

Dillingham really hits his stride when he quotes Harold Bloom’s dictum that reading requires us to “look inward” and we often find that difficult, painful. or unimaginable.  Reading fiction, especially, forces us to examine ourselves, our family, our relationships, the world.  The fractured time of life and the noise associated with it aren’t conducive to reading for self-examination, says Dillingham.

Take a walk on the wild side for a change.  Read a book, think about it, and discuss it with your friends.    Hope you still have friends after that advice.

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