Ties in the library

I’ve written here at Nocturnal Librarian about libraries that lend more than books, including one NYPL branch that lets kids borrow dolls, and other libraries that lend cake pans, telescopes, tools, art, and park passes. Yesterday I read about an unusual collection that might make sense for academic libraries to consider: interview wear, in this case, ties.

A public library in Philadelphia and another in Queens do this — turns out the librarian who started the collection in Philadelphia had visited the library in Queens. I read it and wondered “what about women’s interview wear?” but realized it’s different, a woman seeking a job can wear a broader range of clothes and still looked dressed up. We recently interviewed several candidates and only one of the men wore a tie. I wouldn’t choose someone because they dressed up but it does signal that the person felt this meeting was worth making an extra effort.

Some people in academia will say that teaching students to “dress for success” is really the responsibility of the career advising office. True, but libraries are uniquely positioned to lend things and manage lending collections, so we’d be a natural partner.  I haven’t found any academic libraries lending ties, but I did discover that Columbia University’s career center lends entire suits, for both men and women. Corporate partners donated the suits and a dry cleaner donates cleaning.

Lending interview clothes might help give students an edge when job hunting. It also might be a nice symbol of a university’s empathy and good faith toward students as they try to translate their educations into paying jobs. Whether libraries or career offices take the lead, this seems like a student-friendly initiative. I like the idea of ties, because they are smaller and simpler to store than suits and probably don’t need to be cleaned after each wearing. But I wonder what women students would think of that.

What do you think? Do you work in an academic library that lends anything unusual, or anything that you acquired to help another department on campus, like career services?  Is there an equivalent item to ties that women could borrow for interviews?


Oh you beautiful doll

A few months ago I blogged about library service of the future and mentioned unusual lending collections. This morning I read a wonderful New York Times piece by Corey Kilgannon about a really cool example: a circulating American Girl doll at the Ottendorfer branch of the New York Public Library. Someone had donated the doll, the library thought it was too valuable to display, and it was sitting around on a shelf until a creative children’s librarian, Thea Taube, decided to let children borrow her.

Apparently there is no precedent or policy for cataloging or circulating a doll in her library system, so Taube “kept it unofficial,” allowing kids to take the doll home without asking for library cards or identification. That this would happen anywhere in contemporary America, let alone in our largest city, floored me. I can just hear the naysayers insisting the doll would never be seen again.

This unofficial doll-lending has gone on for years, and although the doll’s hair is now matted and her accessories have been lost (due to what Taube says is “a lot of love”) she has always been returned. The article explains she’s been a treat both for kids whose families couldn’t afford an American Girl doll and those whose parents opposed buying the toy on principle.

I can’t say what I love best about this story: the innovative thinking on the part of the librarian, the fact that her nontraditional idea worked so beautifully and for so long, the hand-written note (from a child who took the doll home) that ran with the story, the varied experiences of the children who borrowed her and the ways the doll touched so many lives? I love the whole thing.

Kilgannon writes that Taube feels the doll lending “exemplified the library as a community center” and closes by quoting Taube: “I tell the kids that the library belongs to them.” I am still smiling about this, just thinking of how those kids will feel about libraries for the rest of their lives.

What’s in your library’s storage room that could be a creative lending item?