Libraries aren’t just for books, or even e-books, anymore. They are for checking out cake pans (North Haven, Conn.), snowshoes (Biddeford, Me.), telescopes and microscopes (Ann Arbor, Mich.), American Girl dolls (Lewiston, Me.), fishing rods (Grand Rapids, Minn.), Frisbees and Wiffle balls (Mesa, Ariz.) and mobile hot spot devices (New York and Chicago).

Here in Sacramento, where people can check out sewing machines, ukuleles, GoPro cameras and board games, the new service is called the Library of Things.

“The move toward electronic content has given us an opportunity to re-evaluate our physical spaces and enhance our role as a community hub,” said Larry Neal, the president of the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association, which represents 9,000 public libraries. “The web is swell,” he added, “but it can feel impersonal.


On the fifth floor of South Korea’s sprawling National Library is a place far more fascinating than its name suggests: The North Korea Information Center.

Here you can read every edition of North Korea’s national newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, dating to its first publication in the 1970s. Or peruse a collection of 100,000 North Korean books and videos — fiction, nonfiction and the complete teachings of the autocratic dynasty that runs the country.

In addition to political propaganda, there is also a North Korean children’s book section. And there are textbooks. (Calculus problems are exactly the same in North Korea, but the textbooks have much less color.)

“There are very few places worldwide where you can get most of this stuff that is surrounding us,” says Christopher Green, a North Korea scholar from University of Leiden, who spends a lot of his time here doing research.

Researchers know about this place, which opened in the late 1980s during a thaw in inter-Korean relations. But the library isn’t advertised. Most South Koreans have never heard of it, and they can face jail time for having these materials out in the wild.

In The Heart of Seoul, A Trove Of North Korean Propaganda

Photos: Elise Hu/NPR

Sister, Big

Yesterday, a stroller containing twin infant boys was being pushed around the children’s area by their six-year-old sister. One of the boys started fussing a bit and the other one soon joined in.

Sister [to twin one]: “Oh no you don’t! Don’t encourage him. You can cry but don’t get him started!”
[to twin two]: “Don’t pay him any attention, okay? Now let’s get on with our lives and find some books.”

And they rolled away.

I’m speaking today on behalf of the children’s services at our libraries. When my daughter, who has Asperger’s syndrome, participated in a reading group last summer, the other children were completely mystified by her behavior. Two young librarians in particular, [Names], made every effort to include her using the same activities. They read the same books. Each question, no matter how off-topic or randomly thrown, was answered with true compassion. The kids began to see her enjoyment for Frozen, her sadness over any dog who passed away in any chapter book, and how much she loves the color blue. At the beginning, she was called a Freak, Retarded, Stupid. At the end the words were Funny. Loves the movies. Has a cute dog. For the first time, my daughter wrote letters about making friends while she was at the program in the library. Sirs and madam, this is a woman who will grow up in your community. It is because of your public librarians that the people who will be her neighbors, her high school classmates, and her co-workers are beginning to know and like her… just as she is. Why do you want to cut funding for public libraries in our community? These are the people who are helping create our community.
—  When a librarian has to take out the tissues at one young mother’s speech during the referendum on closing two suburban branches of the public library.
Wonder of wonders, a homeless individual can own a two-year-old smart phone and carry a briefcase and print resumes and ask about tax forms and read Jackie Collins, and still remain without a permanent place of residence.
—  When a librarian argues with a supervisory board about why the homeless library support programs exist when no one in the library appears to be homeless
Public Libraries Support Refugees
In the midst of the ongoing international migration crisis, libraries worldwide are finding ways to support newly arriving refugees. Libraries across Europe are assisting the wave of newly arriving Syrian refugees, as illustrated by recent articles from Public Libraries Online and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). And they’re not alone: as cities in the US and Canada receive an influx of Middle Eastern refugees seeking asylum, libraries are using both traditional and innovative services to reach out and connect with these populations in crisis.

Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL), KY, welcomes Syrian refugees
Photo credit: Michelle Wong

The impossibility of library statistics

I process reference desk statistics at the library I work part time. Every month, I work hard to make sure the data is valid, that there’s nothing wrong, no unintended duplications, etc. Most of the time I nail it, occasionally I screw things up (and then fix them).

But this month I realized something: it’s impossible to fully track what libraries and librarians do.

How do you quantify recommending someone what becomes their favorite book? How do you quantify the gratitude of someone who can open up email attachment pictures of their grandchildren? The patron you helped land a job? The one you laughed with when technology screwed up and there was nothing you could do? The new skills gained by someone leaving a computer class?

You can’t quantify the exact benefit of libraries. Numbers don’t do the community service libraries offer justice.

Giveaway, Holiday Book

Greetings, all! To kick off the holiday gift-giving season, I have four copies of I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks to give away!

All you have to do is “like” or “reblog” this post to enter. I will randomly choose four winners from the list and contact them via Tumblr. (So make sure your Tumblr is able to receive “asks” or “fan mail” messages, and make sure you check your messages).

I’m happy to make the book out to whomever you choose–you, your boss, a librarian you love, or your favorite library patron. :)

Or, if you don’t want to leave it to fate, purchase a copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite indie book store. The book is now also available as an ebook. 

75% of the stories in the book have never been published on this site–that means more laughs and library heartwarminess all around. 

Fine print:
1) winner must be age 18+ with a United States address
2) each winner will receive one book (shipping is included)
3) this contest is not administered, endorsed, or sponsored by Tumblr
4) winners will be contacted on or after Monday, December 1, 2014.

Happy Holidays!
What happens when libraries are asked to help the homeless find shelter
And librarians are totally unsure how to handle the influx of low-income people with special needs.

In 2008, the San Francisco Public Library considered a very unusual question. How, they asked the city’s homeless, can our library better serve you?

Officials weren’t looking for book club ideas. Over the past decade, the shrinking social safety net has turned many libraries into major care providers for the underprivileged. The homeless, in particular, rely on libraries for daytime shelter. It’s a big job, one that libraries — perpetually cash-strapped and understaffed — aren’t sure they’re equipped to handle.