Book tribe community

This week I’ll be doing one of the things I love most about my job — helping to facilitate Books & Brew, our book club with no assigned books. We meet at True Brew Barista, a coffee shop and bar near the library, people enjoy the brew of their choice and we talk about what we’ve been reading. I borrowed the idea from a readers’ advisory blog post I saw that talked about a similar library group meeting in a wine bar.

And this weekend, we’re wrapping up my library’s first Winter Reading program for teens and adults, Book Bingo. The idea is to try any of the reading tasks (several of which are designed to get people to venture into different parts of the library, like reading a magazine, a graphic novel, or a book from the teen area) on the twenty-five squares, and if you get a “bingo” of five in a row, you get a raffle ticket. As you can see, I’ve whited out spaces as I rearranged titles to maximize my squares. I have books picked out for the rest of the card; I’m just playing for fun, not prizes, so I’m going to keep reading all the tasks even though it officially ends tomorrow.

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Books & Brew and Book Bingo both appeal to me as a member of the book tribe – I love it when people want to talk about what they are reading. Just yesterday I had a woman stop by the information desk to say she usually just reads mysteries and she has had so much fun trying all the other things on the card. And the response to Books & Brew has been great for the same reason — it’s easy to join in, fosters a shared love of reading, and expands our reading horizons as we hear about and think of titles to recommend.

At their best, that’s what all kinds of libraries do — engage people of many different backgrounds and life experiences and bring them together, joined by a love of stories, true or fictional. Community happens when people recognize in each other a common humanity and a shared purpose, whether it’s seeking information or a quiet place to work or study, or finding a good book to read. And that’s why I love the parts of my work that remind me I’m a part of the book tribe.

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What is a library? Mission, vision, and inner workings.

I’ve recently started a new position at my public library, managing adult services (reference and circulation). Along with my colleagues, I also select materials (fiction in my case), plan and market our services, and help patrons. Our director is retiring soon, and our city is considering whether to renovate or even build a new library. Since librarianship is already a giant clockworks with many moving parts requiring perfect timing and maintenance to run smoothly, anticipating change is a challenge.

What’s so complicated about a public library? To begin, scheduling over two dozen of us, most of whom work part time and have other jobs as well, over seven days a week at two branches and a combined 80 open hours a week. Then there’s selecting, ordering, receiving, processing, cataloging, shelving, and checking out books, magazines, CD’s, dvd’s and e-books, and managing the non-circulating items. Signing up new cardholders, maintaining databases of cardholders and holdings, tracking where things are, what’s overdue, what needs replacing or repairing, etc. Managing our technology resources — the website, social media, online catalog, and subscription databases, staff and public computers with internet access, printers, copier, scanner, microfilm readers, circulation and self-check stations, and even a typewriter. Plus planning, promoting, and running programs.

We do all that in addition to our everyday work with the public. Yes, answering questions, teaching people to find and use materials and technology, assisting with research or helping someone find a good book to read. But also, as you’ve read here and elsewhere, public libraries are a de facto social service as we deal every single day with homelessness and mental illness and try to make the library pleasant and safe, as well as useful, for every person who enters.

One thing I’ve learned is that if your name tag says “manager” people tell you their views.  Some are concerned about the library being a gathering place for the marginalized in our community, or are upset about unpredictable or unusual behavior, unpleasant smells, or sleeping (all of which we do our best to deal with). Others worry that some people only come to the library for free computer time. Or that we have too many movies and tv shows on our shelves. Or not enough. Or the wrong kind. Each person who offers his or her opinion is really trying to get to the bottom of what a library should be.

According to our mission statement, the library “connects individuals with resources in order to enhance lives and build community.” Our vision statement calls for our library to “be a dynamic place, promoting the love of knowledge and the joy of reading.”  Dynamic — change is part of what we do, at the heart of responding to the needs of our community. Knowledge, reading, resources — we provide these in many forms, connecting people with books and quiet study space, email access and tax forms, literature and pop culture, and each other. We enhance lives by serving everyone, no matter how difficult that sometimes is. We build community — some days just by smiling and making eye contact with people who aren’t often treated with respect.

So what’s a library? An energetic, ever-changing public space, open to everyone, devoted to knowledge, reading, services, and resources that enhance lives and build community. And that makes all the difference whether we are keeping the clockworks running or planning for how to make it bigger, better, stronger, or more intricate.

2013 in review

Thanks to all (in 69 countries!!) who read The Nocturnal Librarian, shared my blog with others, commented, or just stumbled across it in 2013. 2014 will bring new adventures in librarianship for me — I’m transitioning to full time work at my public library as Adult Services Manager. Stay tuned!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,600 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 60 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Library service of the future

The staff at my public library are currently thinking about where adult services is heading in the next five years. I had some fun looking around at library blogs and websites yesterday and pondering this.

One thing we don’t do but my last library did is provide text and chat reference. I found information on the Chelmsford Public Library‘s website about QuestionPoint, which provides chat and text tools as well as “a 24/7 Reference Cooperative to provide live around-the-clock reference service.” Libraries around the world participate in the coop, which seems like a cool idea. I wonder how well it works?

Something else I read about in a few different places is “personal shopper” style book recommendations. I’m not sure how different this is from traditional readers’ advisory, but I guess it’s about marketing it in a new way.  As I understand it personal shoppers in stores meet a client, find out their size and style preferences, and then at future appointments they have pulled together items the person might like to buy, thereby saving the shopper time and energy by streamlining their browsing.

I’ve seen some busy patrons who rush in and grab their books from the hold shelf and rush out again. People who don’t feel they have time to browse might enjoy being able to fill out a form outlining their reading history and preferences and be able to check out a “curated” selection of books a librarian has chosen for them. That certainly sounds like a snazzy service.

Another cool thing I’ve read about is unusual lending collections. Hooksett Public Library patrons can check out a telescope (there is a nonprofit, Telescopes for Libraries, devoted to spreading this practice). Various libraries across the country lend cake pans, tools, toys, art, and state park passes (with hammocks). Libraries in several states lend Bi-Fokal Kits, which are “multi-media, multi-sensory resources” designed to help older people share memories.

But I wonder if I am not thinking far enough outside the box? Imagining innovative items to lend or ways to update or repackage existing services is easy. What new things will libraries do? I’m not sure yet (beyond all the dire predictions that we won’t even need to exist), but I look forward to digging around and learning more. If you have opinions about the direction library services to adults should be heading, please leave a comment.