May 12th, 2011 / 8:53 am
Random

Interview of a Librarian

Last week I had a slight buzz and randomly phoned 10 public libraries in 10 random states and asked to talk to a librarian. I asked the librarian if they would give me an email interview. Two hung up directly after the question. One woman coughed, and I heard her ask someone a question, and then she hung up. One said, “Quit calling me, Steven.” My name is not Steven. Six graciously said yes, and gave me their email addresses. Then, of the six, only one responded in full to the email interview questions. I have no idea why. These answers are from B. David. He manages a library in Mississippi.

The library seems to be one of the last places in America where no one tries to sell you anything. You can just hang out. Do you have an opinion on the library as a public space?


Absolutely. One of the great things about the library is that it is a place you can go and your privacy is yours. You can read what you want, learn about what you want, talk about what you want and know that your freedoms are not being tampered with. We hold these kind of rights pretty high. One thing that really scared the bejesus out of us library’s was the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was basically trying to compel libraries to give up information about their patrons while at the same time preventing us from telling the patrons that this was going on. The libraries countered by deleting all patrons loan records so that there was nothing there for the government to look at. What does this have to do with public space? A public space is just that: a place where the public can gather and express their mind and their views. Most libraries come equipped with meeting rooms for this exact reason. Unless you are trying to sell something, or hold a closed meeting, we will allow most anyone to come in and use our room to peddle their silly views.

Does your library have a glory hole?

No. Now, in college, there was this bathroom that had a pretty large hole between two stalls. What that hole was used for, I will never know. I read a book once about this guy who would go to the mall bathrooms and bring a large shopping back with him. His “Jerry,” as tricks were called in this book, would stand in the bag as he did whatever he needed to do to him. When a security guard or someone would do the ole’ stall check, he would just see one pair of feet and a shopping bag! That always struck me as clever.

Have you seen a major shift lately in reader tastes and the types of books they read?

This is impossible to answer. I mean, one thing that moves like hotcakes are Harlequin Novels. These are sex books for ladies basically. “The Cabin Boy from Denver,” “Putting Baby On a Ship to Morocco,” and “The Sailor’s Apprentice” are just some examples of  the Harlequin novels we push. We don’t even catalog these books. We just give them away. When people finish using them, they bring them back. Every community has its own needs though. I mean, you travel to one library, and paranormal fiction is their thing. You drive to a little town filled with Yuppies, and they got tons of books on how to shop at Whole Foods and buy J.Crew. It really just depends. So, no…No major shift.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?

Honestly, and it sounds corny, but I like helping folks. I like helping the patron that is mad as hell because we are being strict about not letting her check out anymore books because she has  enormous fines and 20 or so books out. I like helping THAT person because that to me is what the library is all about. Its about serving those that have a need. I look at that person griping and realize they probably have a ton of shit going on in their life and this huge library fine is just another grain in a sack of groceries. But I work with them, I explain why we have fines, I tell them that we are trying to be fair to all users. Treat them equal, etc. You get TONS of crazy folks walking up in a library, and every last one of them has a story if you stop and listen.

A library in Rhode Island actually removed all of the books. You go there to download books. What do you think about electronic books and how they affect the library?

Ok, first of all, Kindle is about allow their devices to be used with Overdrive, which is a giant ebook vendor that tons of libraries are using. So, right there, libaries are anticipating the whole Ebook deal and making strides to lining themselves up directly in front of it. But, I think removing all the books from a library is sorta ridiculous. I guess they are straight up saying, “Sorry folks who are too poor, too poorly educated, or just don’t care about the digital divide. We are going to eliminate you from our service group. YOU are not longer allowed free information. We just dont’ care. We are going to run with Ebooks, period. Sorry kid whose parents can’t afford an Ipad. Sorry older gentleman who just really savors the smell of an old western book. There is certainly a place for electronic books in the library. In my opinion, you could cut 89% of all reference books and just go electronic on that. But I think you got to have books. And not just for some nostalgia trip. And excuse me while I go all conspiracy theory for a moment, but lets pretend that all of our information is electronic. You mean to tell me that there is a 100% chance that that info is protected for life? Zero viruses, really? And lets talk about ownership? You pay for a subscription to a electronic book…how long do you keep it? I forget what publisher off the top of my head, but a MAJOR ONE is now saying that a library only gets a subscription to certain materials for X number of electronic check outs. They are saying that this equals the amount of wear and tear on a book. I dunno. Sounds kinda fishy to me.

I know a lot of bookstore employees end up spending most of their paycheck on books. Has working at a library introduced you to a lot of new authors and their work?

I mean, yea. I read constantly. Having a giant building filled with books does make reading new stuff a little easier. Plust we have access to some great databases like Novelist which gives you great info on authors, books, as well as using subject heads to connect books so if you are completely dry on finding something new to read, you can access this database, and type in say, “Ernest Hemingway,”  and it will list some authors that may be similar. Dumb question. Next.

Is it still true you have to be quiet in a library?

Yea, sorta. I allow excited whispers, intimate warbles, scintillating hisses, and the occasional excited yelp. But if a lady is gabbing into her phone, and I got kids studying for an exam, I am going to side with the students.

What are the educational requirements for a librarian?

To really run the place, you will need a Master’s Degree in  Library Science.

Anything annoying about being a librarian?

Being asked what I do all day.

What causes you despair?

Man…I mean..WOW. Is this a loaded question? Despair….fuck man. Dying children. I hate the thought of  dying little kids. All hungry and not having a warm bed. I dislike sad puppies too, oh man, that eats me up inside. Seeing a little puppy that someone has abandoned on the side of the road? Horrible. Politics can also cause a rumbling in the digestive tract if you really allow yourself to think about it.

How long do you get for lunch?

[Note: Mr. David does not answer this question. Not sure why.]

What is your favorite book?

How about instead of answering this question, I rattle off a few books that I have read lately or that I just “like.” I am reading a collection of Chekov’s short novels. I just finished Travels through Siberia by Ian Frazier, and I realized that I have not really read a lot of Russian authors. I know, I know, condemn me now… So, I am starting with Chekov. I ordered a Pushkin collection for my library (another perk: collection development). I really really like Steinbeck East of Eden. Oh, shit, Suttree! By McCarthy. This book just kills me. So good. Then I read Outter Dark. That may be the last book I read by McCarthy. I don’t want to taint my love for him anymore.

What does your library smell like?

Usually a combination of fake wood and cleaning agents.

Thanks for your time. I know librarians are busy! Any last thoughts?

Support your fucking lib[r]ary. Period. I think people don’t realize how important they are to the community. Just for the information they store alone, AND THEY FUCKING SHARE IT WITH YOU!

68 Comments

  1. Sean

       It is my interview style, I can’t apologize. The great thing about any interview I ask is I ALWAYS tell the subject they can ignore any question I ask and just move on. In fact, this librarian did just that, with the lunch question. However, he chose to answer the glory hole question and I so I respected his answer by including it here. Also, in the interest of brevity, I should just reply, “Have you read this blog much? There are exploded condoms and James Joyce ass tendencies a few clocks down.”

      etc

  2. deadgod

      ?

      who said anything about “apology”?

      I said ‘it’s cool (to me) that you weeded out honestly what you didn’t want’

      – but that ‘if you want to talk to most librarians answering their email at work, etc.’

      this guy (?) caught and fitted in with the flavor – good for him or her

      I have read a couple of blogicles at this blog, where – I infer – there is a variety of styles

      not scolding – ha – ; just unnecessarily saying

  3. Sean

       cool. Aside:

      Where did the term blogicle originate? I’ve been seeing that around.

  4. deadgod

      Truth, not kidding:  when I first used it, I hadn’t seen it before.  But the fact that I made it up surely allows for many – and earlier – identical coinages.

  5. John Minichillo

      Love this. I’m kind of jealous your drinking is so productive.

  6. Bill T.

       Hey — It’s too bad that so many librarians turned down the request.  If you had happened to
      call me, I would have said yes – I love to tell people about mt work.  So here are my
      answers:

      The library seems to be one of the last places in America where no one tries to sell you
      anything. You can just hang out. Do you have an opinion on the library as a public space?
      I agree – it’s a great public space.  Just like we all share all the books, we all share the
      space.  Compared to other shared spaces, like sidewalks or airports or city halls, the level of conflict is refreshingly low and the level of connectedness is refreshingly high.

      Does your library have a glory hole?
      Nah … I think that stereotype is overblown.

      Have you seen a major shift lately in reader tastes and the types of books they read?
      I agree with B. David – it’s impossible to generalize.  No obvious trends or changes.  I work in a small city (50,000 people in town, 150,000 in the surrounding county that our system serves).  On the surface it’s not a cosmopolitan place, but I’m always amazed at the variety of things people look for.  Best-sellers are popular, of course, like everywhere, but people check out all sorts of stuff, from African and Latin American novels, to religion and philosophy, to Asian history.

      What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
      Just like B. David – I get real satisfaction out of helping people, and knowing that I make a difference in their lives, whether that’s finding a good movie to watch or getting
      reliable health information.  I also love the fact that customers trust us to respect their
      privacy and not judge anything about them.  When a genteel-looking middle-aged lady can come up to me and ask (quietly) for books about bedbugs, it makes my day.

      A library in Rhode Island actually removed all of the books. You go there to download books. What do you think about electronic books and how they affect the library?
      Ebooks are very convenient and have some other advantages over printed books; they also have some big disadvantages, particularly their expense and their lack of permanence.  The big problem for libraries is the switch from ownership of a physical object to licensing of access – publishers have a lot more power now and will use it to make as much money as they can.  I think eventually a viable model for libraries “lending” ebooks will arise, but it may take years, if not decades.  As for a library with no printed books, only downloadable ebooks – that’s no library, it’s a reading service for the privileged.  But I’m a little skeptical of this report – I hadn’t heard of any public library getting rid of all its printed books, and didn’t find any mention of it in news sources about libraries.  Cushing Academy, a private boarding school in Massachusetts, did this, but that’s a whole different issue.

      I know a lot of bookstore employees end up spending most of their paycheck on books. Has working at a library introduced you to a lot of new authors and their work?
      Absolutely!  It’s one of the best things about working here.  By the way, those bookstore employees should get a library card.

      Is it still true you have to be quiet in a library?
      Libraries have definitely gotten noisier, because people come here wanting to do other things besides read.  Ideally, every library would have a nice quiet area for people who
      want it.  In the real world, a lot of libraries have very limited space that has to accommodate many different activities, so you get a mix of sound levels all in the same space, which causes some conflict.  I love to sit in a perfectly quiet library and read, but that’s not the place that our customers tell us they want and need. And frankly it’s not a place where I would want to work, either.

      What are the educational requirements for a librarian?
      In the library world, “librarian” usually refers to someone with a Masters degree in Library and Information Science or the equivalent.  such a degree is required for managers, and often required or preferred for people who create databases of books (catalogers), people who decide what the library purchases, or people who help the public with detailed information questions (reference librarian).  In the rest of the world, a “librarian” is anyone who works in a library, and they might have a high school diploma or a Ph.D. 

      Anything annoying about being a librarian?
      I get annoyed at work, of course, but not by anything inherent in the job.

      What causes you despair?
      I don’t feel much despair – certainly none related to libraries.  If I let myself dwell on
      the worst aspects of human nature, as exhibited every day in almost every news story, I would despair indeed, but I don’t, so I don’t.  What would be the point?  Anger is more
      productive, and cynicism is more entertaining.

      How long do you get for lunch?
      Officially, an hour.  In reality, there are days when I don’t take a lunch break, and days
      when I take an hour and a half.  I have a flexible boss!

      What is your favorite book?
      No one favorite — I don’t even have a favorite author.  I love China Mieville, Annie
      Dillard, Michael Chabon, Neal Stephenson, Lewis Carroll, Laurie R. King, and dozens more.

      What does your library smell like?
      I don’t know – nothing too noticeable, thank goodness.

      Thanks for your time. I know librarians are busy! Any last thoughts?
      Like B. David said, support your library!

  7. Leapsloth14

      Thanks for this. 

  8. Anonymous

       tinyurl.com/297sxrk

  9. James Tadd Adcox

      “plagiarism by anticipation,” as they say

  10. deadgod

      ‘anticipatory plagiarism’ sounds like something someone else thought of

      where did you take it from

      (who is “they”)

  11. deadgod

      Also truth:  I made up “blogonym” for ‘user-name’.

  12. Null0007

      I remember the term “plastic”being used back in the 1960s to refer to the manufactured world of prim & proper & all that had gone too far into conformity.
      It was a counter-establishment word and getting back to the earth was the counter movement. Now, even as we embrace technology, we hold firm against the current status quo of vaporizing everything we digitize and so it seems that books are now becoming prized anti-establishment contraband ;-)

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  14. Imho

      I work in a library.  I would guess that the librarians who did not respond to your interview questions, didn’t realize there was a deadline. Librarians need firm deadlines. I think it comes from “on desk” time, when there is someone standing, waiting for an answer, you know you gotta get it to ’em quick. Emails from adoring fans, those can wait.

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      “Plust.” Classic.  

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