We Want to Be Loved But Not This Way

When a librarian has to tell the senior city manager’s assistant that the brochure shouldn’t tout the libraries about alternatives to major services – public transit, daycare programs – that were recently cut from the city’s budget (”when in doubt, ask your city librarian about other options”).

Libraries in many big cities often serve as de facto homeless shelters – a place for people living on the streets to find quiet and warmth – and it can make others, there to just check out books or videos, uncomfortable.

KQED’s Scott Shafer reports that’s why the San Francisco Public Library has hired a full-time social worker. She spends her days roaming the library floors, keeping an eye out for regulars who look like they could use her help. And sometimes she hires the formerly homeless patrons she’s helped, like Joe Bank, to do outreach under her supervision.

Public Libraries Are Better Than Congress, Baseball, and Apple Pie, Say Americans

Every so often, a grave and concerned person will ask (as, in fact, the New York Times asked last year): “Do We Still Need Libraries?” Hasn’t the Internet kind of, you know, ended all that? Aren’t libraries falling behind?

Tellingly, the Times could find no one to argue against libraries, and that mirrors American sentiment pretty much exactly. A new Pew study finds that not only do Americans adore libraries, but a majority of us think they’re adjusting to new technology just fine. 

As my colleague Svati Narula reported, some 94 percent of Americans say that having a public library improves a community and that the local library is a “welcoming, friendly place.” 91 percent said they had never had “a negative experience using a public library, either in person or online.”

These sound like incredible approval ratings for any U.S. public institution. So I wondered: Just how incredible are they? How do other icons of Americana compare? 

Using exclusive and highly accurate statistical analysis techniques, I endeavored to find out. Here are the results.

Read more. [Image: studioVin/Svetlana Foote]

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.

Thank goodness! I didn’t know if anyone was coming! Are you OK? Did you have trouble getting here? I baked these for your staff. You are always so nice to me when I have a question. I hope they don’t make you stay open long. I will check the new mystery shelves and then head home myself. Oh, dear, sweet boy! You remind me of my grandson. Try to stay warm. Yes, let’s go in.
—  When a librarian struggles through storm and snow to open the building, and sees the seventy-two year old patron standing outside with fresh-baked cookies, and thinks to himself, you’re the reason why I tried.
See you next tuesday

I usually work at the library on Tuesday nights.

Recently, a family started coming in during this shift. Mom, Dad, little girl, little boy.

The first time I saw them, they asked if they could go out to the porch and eat their dinner. The food was in big Dunkin Donuts bags, so I’m not sure if it was actually Dunkin Donuts or if it was leftovers or what. We said, sure that was no problem, and my co-worker and I exchanged a puzzled and… slightly judgy look.

Tonight they were back and asked if we had a craft or something for the kids to do. 
The mom explained that their old library had a craft station set up all the time in the children’s department, with materials and directions for a simple craft that the kids could take and do with parental help, as well as a space to display their work when they were done.

We don’t have anything like that, so I fetched some paper and crayons. The mom pulled a discarded test print of a flyer from our recycling bin and asked for scissors so they could cut out the owls on it. Again, I found myself surprised, a little judgy and increasingly annoyed at the things I was being asked to collect so they could do a craft that wasn’t on the plan for tonight and why didn’t they just come to programs like other people?

While the mom helped the kids, and they laughed and talked about their day, the dad sat an entire table away and played on his phone. He didn’t once interact with the kids. This annoyed me even more because of reasons.

Then they left to step outside for a snack and she asked if I could watch their things, that they’d be right back.

My internal monologue said, “it’s almost 7:00pm, why are you snacking? Have you eaten dinner? Why can’t you snack once you’re done?” My annoyance grew.

After they came back, the mom said something about “next tuesday night” and I realized that I had seen them pretty regularly on the tuesday nights I’d worked.

And I just… decided to not be annoyed.

I decided that it was actually pretty awesome that in the midst of what I can pretty safely assume is a crazy week, this family takes Tuesday nights to GO TO THE PUBLIC LIBRARY. They go to the library to make some pretty stuff, look at some books, and be together.

And I thought, maybe the mom works a couple jobs and can’t bring them to most of our programs. Maybe they can’t afford craft supplies, or they live with their grandma who doesn’t like messes, or a million other reasons.

Or maybe none of those reasons matter because we should be here to serve everyone and that doesn’t just mean the stay-at-home moms who come to story time every week.

I realized I should be freaking happy that out of the many choices of things to do, this family chooses week after week to come to the library.

So I offered to try and have a simple craft prepared for them to do next week, since I’m usually here anyway. Because, is it really that much of a bother to print out some templates and cut some construction paper? Is it really that big of a deal for me to gather some supplies to have for a family to make things together? And even if it was, it doesn’t matter because I’m here to serve our patrons. All our patrons.

When I mentioned to the mom that I’d try to have something for them to do the next week, she stopped and she looked at me and she smiled and said, “Wow, that would be so cool. Thank you so much.”

While I was busy being annoyed that she was annoyed that we didn’t do everything exactly like her old library, I forgot that she was communicating a need, that she was telling me something they’d like and they’d do if we offered it and that probably other people would too. She has a right to want services from her library. Even though I can’t create a craft station or change the rule about putting art on the walls, what I can do is spend 15 minutes at the beginning of my night putting together something for them to make. With that offer she was immediately willing to meet me halfway. In an instant I became an ally and not an obstacle.

Because I decided to stop being annoyed with them.

She wrangled the kids into their coats. The dad (or boyfriend maybe, he didn’t look much like the kids) finally looked up from his phone.

She gathered their things and told the kids to say “Bye.”

“See you next Tuesday!”

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!

One day I’m going to be….. a pirate. Or a librarian. They both run around, like, doing strange things that nobody else can see, until suddenly [screams and flails arms wildly] AHA!!!!….. and then you know. Either a pirate or a librarian has been here, and it’s good. So good. Better. I like that. That’s what I want to be.
—  When a librarian overhears a rather innocent question from a parent to a child, which evolves into a complete validation of his career choice

A public library can mean different things to different people. For me, the library offers our best example of the public commons. For many, the library upholds the nineteenth-century belief that the future of democracy is contingent upon an educated citizenry. For others, the library simply means free access to the Internet, or a warm place to take shelter, a chance for an education, or the endless possibilities that jump to life in your imagination the moment you open the cover of a book.  -  Robert Dawson

A man, his camera and the library: Robert Dawson and the American Commons

Hell, What the

Me [answering telephone]: “Thanks for calling the library, may I help you?”

Woman [upset]: “Yeah, there is a charge on my bill that absolutely is not mine!”

Me: “Oh? What’s your library card number please?”

Woman: “What the. Library card? Did I call the library?! I meant to call Mastercard. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME.”