10 Ways Book Bloggers Can Benefit from Using the Public Library

Book bloggers tend to love the public library! But the library can benefit bloggers through more than the lending of books. Below are some ways book bloggers in particular can use library services to step up their blogging game!

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Learn how to market more effectively through social media.

Did you know that many libraries offer online courses through databases such as Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, or Universal Class? Many courses are designed for career development, and they may include selections on how to market through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and, yes, even TikTok. You can take some strategies and modify them for your specific audience.

And, of course, you can also look for books on how to leverage social media (or even how to use a blogging platform like WordPress). Just make sure the copyright date is fairly current, since the internet changes so quickly!

Check out “Things I Learned After a Brief Foray into BookTok.

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Check out books for Bookstagram.

Not everyone has the space, money, or even desire for a wall full of rainbow books. However, if you still want to get in on the latest Bookstagram trends, try checking out some titles to feature! Just be sure not to hang on to them too long if you don’t anticipate actually reading them all. Exposure on social media is good for books, but so is being available on the library shelves for interested readers!

Also check out “Do You Use Library Books for Bookstagram?” and “How to Rock Bookstagram on a Budget.”

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Find discussion post inspiration.

There are many ways to be inspired by the library for your blog! You could write some posts about your favorite library memories, programs you would love to see, or books you discovered while browsing. You could do a travel series, where you visit various libraries, view their collection, and rave about their architecture or services. You could even use the library garden as a backdrop for your Bookstagram photos!

Check out our list of “52 Discussion Post Prompts for Your Book Blog!”

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Utilize the library of things to photograph, film, and more!

Many libraries now offer items for check out that are not books, movies, music, or video games. You could check out an art kit to make some background items for Bookstagram. Or maybe borrow a professoinal-grade camera to take photos for your blog, or a video camera to film a clip for BookTube. You might even be able to check out a tablet or WiFi hotspot if you need more internet access for more blogging time.

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Find your next great read through a reader’s advisory service.

Not sure what to read next, or wondering about read-alikes for your favorite books? You can ask a librarian for recommendations, of course, but you can also see if your library offers an online service like the NoveList database, which recommends books based on your favorite authors and titles, as well as other criteria you select. You could even write a review post on your database experience. Did the recommendations work for you?

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Learn more about copyright law.

Blogging means having to follow copyright law, whether that means writing original content, using excerpts from books in moderation, or only using images available in the public domain or licensed for free, unrestricted use. Libraries are a great place to learn more to make sure you are doing everything you can to follow the law, or just to get a refresher lesson to make sure you have not missed anything you weren’t aware of. Some libraries have information about copyright law right on their websites. Other libraries can help you find the information you need if you go to the reference desk.

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Be among the first to grab that new release!

You don’t necessarily need to pre-order a book to have a copy in your hand right when it is released. Library users can put a hold on a title as soon as it is in the catalog, even if it has some sort of label like, “On order,” or “In transit,” or “Being processed.” Check the library catalog frequently for any new releases you are interested in, and you might be the lucky person to be first in the holds queue! If you are even luckier, the book will be on the shelf on release day. It all depends on when the book is delivered and processed, of course, but it’s worth a try!

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Unhaul your ARCs.

Many bloggers do not know what to do with all the ARCs they receive once they have read and reviewed them, since publishers ask that ARCs not be sold. Bloggers can consider donating any unwanted ARCs to the library, which can use them for prizes or reading incentives.

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Save money.

This is probably obvious, but using the public library saves people money! Bloggers tend to read a lot, and many won’t be able to afford to buy every new release in hardcover. Borrowing books, ebooks, and audiobooks from the library allows people to try out new authors and titles without making a financial investment they might later regret.

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Meet authors.

You don’t have to attend an expensive book conference in order to meet famous authors! Authors visit libraries all the time. Keep an eye on the calendars for your local libraries. You might be surprised at some of the big names they are able to host! Then consider writing up a post about the experience.

What are some other ways book bloggers in particular can benefit from the public library?

How Has Your Library Use Changed During the Pandemic?

Many bloggers are avid library users, perhaps returning each month or each week– or even more frequently– to browse the collection, pick up holds, and attend library programs. When the pandemic started, however, most libraries eventually shut down (though many held out longer, regardless of safety concerns, presumably due to “vocational awe“). Programs were moved online, browsing prohibited in favor of curbside pickup, and buildings closed to the public. Each library system has reacted differently, with some moving to near “normal” operations by the summer or fall of 2020, others choosing to open by appointment only, and still others opting to remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future. Regardless of the path chosen, however, the pandemic has undoubtedly changed both the way libraries operate and the way people view them and use them.

For my part, I had to accept that the closure of the libraries meant no more browsing. In some ways, this did not affect me overly much. I am already familiar with how the online catalog works and the procedures used to place a hold on an item. I also follow the book industry and thus am positioned to be able to look up desired titles fairly easily, unlike many others who presumably do not follow authors or publishers online, and many only realize their favorite writer has released a new book when they see it on the shelf. Even so, I still enjoy browsing. I still find titles I might have otherwise overlooked, perhaps because of limited marketing or perhaps because somehow the title did not catch my eye when I saw it online. For me, some of the joy of serendipity was lost when the libraries closed.

Additionally, I had to switch over to e-books for a long time. Although I do own an e-reader, I much prefer to read hard copies of a book, especially if the book is longer or contains weighty material. I did not particularly enjoy the days when I was forced to read digital copies only. And, of course, because digital materials are so much more expensive for libraries to purchase than physical copies, I had only a limited selection of titles to choose from, with long wait lists on top of that. Services such as Hoopla, where libraries pay per borrow, are nice, but not every library has them and libraries still put a cap on a user’s monthly borrows. Because I read extensively, I cannot rely only on a service like Hoopla.

For some, I imagine that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way they use the library. Some people may have realized that they can place holds on books from other libraries and have them delivered to their home library. Some people may hope curbside delivery continues and they never have to step foot in the building again. Some people may have realized that they can borrow e-books and will continue to do so even once the libraries reopen fully.

As for me? The pandemic has changed how I use the library, but not in a way I wish to continue. I long for the day when I can browse the bookshelves freely again, when the processing department is not a month to a year behind in putting new books on the shelf, when I can read only physical volumes and ditch the e-reader. And, yes, I long for the day when I can meet people in-person during programs, and not only see them on a screen. (Bonus if we get free snacks!) The pandemic has changed the way I use the library, but that has only made me appreciate the library and all its services all the more.

What about you? Has your library use changed? Will you keep these changes going forward? Do you see yourself, for instance, borrowing more e-books in future or attending virtual programs?

What Should the Role of Libraries Be During the Pandemic?

In a previous post, I explored the potential impacts of librarians’ vocational awe on the community. I used the definition of vocational awe found in Fobazi Ettarh’s “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves” to question whether libraries had lost their focus by taking on tasks best performed by other organizations trained for and dedicated to those tasks. The pandemic, of course, has made such questions even more relevant, as libraries attempt to pivot to answer the needs of their communities, and to continue to provide services during stay-at-home orders. Some libraries responded by refusing to close back in the spring, or by attempting to reopen fully back in the summer or fall. Many libraries have responded by offering curbside services and virtual programming. However, in the July 2020 of School Library Journal, Mega Subramaniam and Linda W. Braun argued that libraries should be providing social services in an article provocatively titled, “Wake Up, Libraries: Curbside Pickup is NOT the Answer.” This article is a telling example of the way in which vocational awe has been ingrained in the profession, with librarians chastising their peers for not risking their lives and pivoting to become social workers during a time of crisis.

Before we explore the arguments put forward by Subramaniam and Braun, we should first look at Ettarh’s definition of vocational awe. Ettarh writes that, “‘Vocational awe’ refers to the set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in beliefs that libraries as institutions are inherently good and sacred, and therefore beyond critique.” Ettarh goes on to illustrate how job creep, or the expectation that employees will take on increasing job duties with no additional compensation, is one of the primary ways vocational awe manifests in libraries. Because libraries (and their employees) see themselves as upholding a “sacred” institution that provides equal access and protects democracy, they are willing to takes on roles they have not been prepared for or trained for in the name of meeting the needs of the community. To refuse to do so would be unthinkable, because the sacred mission of the library must never be questioned or critiqued. Those who speak out against job creep are seen as unwilling and unable to make the sacrifices necessary to be a “good” librarian, and treated accordingly.

Under this definition, we can see how the proposals Subramaniam and Braun make are a prime example of vocational awe. In their article, they proclaim that libraries have been “focusing service on low-hanging fruit by reformatting traditional offerings” (creating virtual programming, offering increased WiFi access, starting curbside pickup, etc.) and have thus failed to meet the true needs of their communities. They argue that libraries need to, “Shift emphasis from physical access to the library and technology (i.e. curbside pick-ups, summer reading programs) and instead focus on how to establish relationships with the community irrespective of the library physical space.” They propose that libraries do this by focusing on key areas such as meeting insecurities (such as lack of food, clothing, employment, etc.), supporting schools and learning, supporting youth employment, encouraging activism, and providing accurate health information. In other words, libraries should pivot from providing access to information and materials to providing social services.

I think that Subramaniam and Braun’s proposals likely come from two places: a place of caring and a place of fear. Librarians are trained to help people and, during a time of crisis, they understandably start thinking how they can meet people where they are. In some cases, this may indeed mean moving away from an emphasis on the materials collection and towards an emphasis on other services and community partnerships. I also think, however, that libraries fear that closing during the pandemic means government officials will see their work as “non-essential” and believe that the library is truly irrelevant and outdated. If they want local officials to continue funding libraries, the workers need to find a way to show they are necessary during a crisis. So workers stop thinking about how to circulate the latest YA releases and start wondering what they can do to make their importance visible during a time no one can enter the building. Subramaniam and Braun suggest the answer is to offer social services.

I would suggest that this type of thinking is both unfair to librarians and to the communities they serve. Librarians are trained to be information professionals, and not social service workers. What they can offer is probably not as good as what a trained professional or organization can offer in their place. Furthermore, librarians did not ask to be social workers. They did not go to school for that job or apply to that job. To ask them to take on that kind of work–especially with no training–is not right at the best of times, but even worse now. Librarians probably did not go into their line of work imagining that they might have to literally risk their lives or the lives of people they know and care about, in pursuit of serving the community. Telling them that they cannot simply offer curbside pickup and virtual options during a global pandemic, but must go out into the community to provide social services (because you can’t really offer food security or employment services if your building is closed to the public) is to ask them to perform a job they never signed up for. Maybe we would like to believe that the average librarian is willing to risk their lives to offer job help, but I do not think we can blame them if they are not. After all, how many of us would be willing to do the same?

The type of thinking exemplified by the Subramaniam and Braun article is, however, more than a prime example of vocational awe. It is also an example of libraries losing their focus in the attempt to be relevant. Very often, libraries try to be relevant by meeting community needs that are currently unfilled. During the pandemic, this might mean handing out free food and clothing, offering to read and review resumes, creating youth activism clubs, and more. But what happens when the pandemic ends? When the need is met? Libraries lose their relevance when it becomes clear that they are not really a soup kitchen, not really a career center. Then they must pivot again, to find a new, unfilled need that they can meet.

This raises the question: “What is the core mission of the library?” Is it really to take on any community need, as that need arises? Should workers expect to pivot constantly from one job to another, with little or no training? Or can the core mission of the library be re-imagined as something more stable, something that libraries can constantly refresh as community need and engagement changes, without having to redefine their entire job function?

These questions have been circulating around libraries for awhile, as they seek to transform with the times and to demonstrate their relevance in a constantly-changing world. However, I think the pandemic has heightened the dialogue around what libraries are and what they demand of their workers. The pandemic has shown that library administrations, local officials, library workers, and their communities have all, in various places across the U.S. expected at one time or another that libraries would reopen as a matter of course, despite the safety risks. Librarians were literally willing to risk their lives–and those of community members–in the name of serving the community, simply because it was so unthinkable that the library, the place where people gather, read, find information, and access the internet to do anything from applying to jobs to applying to government aid, would not be available. This is vocational awe taken to the extreme.

I believe in libraries and in the work they do. I believe that circulating books, paying for database access, and providing internet access is important work–even if it is work that cannot reasonably be safely done during a global pandemic. I do not think that we need expect librarians to become social workers during this time simply to prove their worth. Libraries still have a role in the community as places where people can find reliable information. In a time of crisis, I think libraries should be able to pivot to find ways that they continue to provide that information–without asking their employees to take on new roles they are not trained for and did not sign up for.

Suggesting that library workers continue to provide information about resources instead of handing out those resources themselves may seem uncaring. It may seem to threaten the very existence of libraries, or even to personally attack the desire of library workers to help when needed most. However, we need to resist the pull of vocational awe. We need to ask whether we can, in all fairness, really ask librarians to risk their health and maybe their lives to reopen buildings during a time when it may not be safe to do so. The library is important, yes. But is it more important than the people who work there?

Might Librarians’ Vocational Awe Have Negative Effects on the Community?

Librarians' Vocational Awe

Regular readers of our blog know that we are huge library supporters here at Pages Unbound. Over the years, we have enthusiastically discussed all the wonderful work libraries do, from providing a safe space for those experiencing homelessness to hosting public forums to providing classes on everything from art to gardening. However, in my latest post, I mused that, despite all this, the library is still primarily associated in the public mind with books. Any TV show or movie, for example, is likely to portray libraries as book repositories and places to do research, not so much places for the local biking club to meet or for teens to try out the latest video games. And I suggested that this was not a bad thing, but something libraries could embrace to distinguish themselves from other community resources.

I understand the incentive for libraries to point out all their non-collections related activities (and here we can understand the collection to mean books, films, music, magazines, databases, etc.). Many public libraries in the U.S. have been struggling with funding for years (often since the recession around 2008, if not before). They feel the need to justify their existence by pointing out everything they do, from serving as a place for people to cool down in the summer to offering kickball games after school to offering free tutoring services and free Zumba classes. They proclaim that they provide computers, printers, WiFi, and fax machines to people who otherwise would have no access. They offer resume-writing and job search assistance to help people find work. They teach English to English language learners and other languages to the community. Libraries are truly the place for everything!

Usually, libraries and their supporters point out these expansive services as a good thing. Libraries have made themselves indispensable to the community. But what if it’s not good? What if all the services libraries have taken on over the years and the subsequent job roles librarians have had to take on, actually have large-scale repercussions that may be barely noticeable, but still important? And not good at all? Specifically, I want to talk about the idea of “vocational awe” and how this encourages libraries and their staff to take on increasing job duties, which they arguably may be ill-equipped for and should not be bearing the burden of in the first place.

In “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” Fobazi Ettarh describes vocational awe in the following manner: “’Vocational awe’ refers to the set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in beliefs that libraries as institutions are inherently good and sacred, and therefore beyond critique.” Ettarh goes on to explain that vocational awe leads to the expectation that library workers will “sacrifice” themselves to their jobs, often taking on additional job duties with no additional compensation. Workers who cannot perform to a high level due to personal or medical reasons may be viewed negatively, along with those who complain about the job, since the “sacred” work libraries do to provide safe spaces and serve democracy must be upheld at all costs. Vocational awe obviously can lead to things like burnout, as Ettarh notes, but might its negative consequences go even farther?

Ettarh mentions the existence of “job creep,” in which one’s job duties slowly expand, without recognition from the employer. Aspects of the job that were once voluntary, for example, become mandatory, with no additional compensation. Ettarh gives as an example how library workers once might have trained voluntarily to administer anti-overdose medication, but now are regularly simply expected to do it as part of the job, regardless of their comfort level. This is but one example, however. I believe that job creep has been occurring in libraries for years, to the extent that much of the work that libraries do now, is really an example of job creep.

Librarians once were–and are still described as–information professionals. In theory, the job of the librarian is to help guide individuals to the information they seek. So, for example, if someone has a legal question, a library worker can show that individual where to find the answer, although they cannot interpret the answer for the individual. If someone is looking for information on a certain moment of history, a library worker can show them the appropriate shelf in the stacks, show them how to use a relevant database, and explain to them how to use keywords to find relevant websites. If someone has lost their job and needs financial help, the library worker can give them addresses and phone numbers for the appropriate local agencies that can help. The librarian is not there to teach the person history or to get them a new job or an emergency loan, only to show them how to find more information about it. And this is because the librarian has been trained as an information professional, not as a lawyer or a historian or a social worker. They can’t be expected to do the jobs of other people, which they have not been trained to do and are not qualified to perform.

This job description has changed a lot. I have visited many libraries and I speak to a lot of library workers. Some of the job duties libraries now perform include:

  • Teaching yoga story time (even though they are not registered yoga instructors)
  • Tutoring children in writing and math (even though they are not certified tutors)
  • Teaching homeschooled children classes on science, art, and coding (even though they are not certified teachers)
  • Teaching children and adults Spanish and ASL (even though the librarian is still learning the languages themselves)
  • Assisting individuals to write their resumes and apply to jobs (even though they are not job coaches)
  • Providing anti-overdose medication, agency referrals, and a sympathetic, listening ear (even though they are not trained social workers)
  • Offering kids football and basketball games, video game tournaments, art activities, and more (even though they are not running the local community center).

Now, I understand that librarians are generally proud of this work, and that they want to do it. I understand that suggesting that they not do it goes against everything they have been trained to believe in. After all, they want to help people. They don’t want to walk away from that woman who needs a new job to feed her child, or that teenager who might end up on the streets if they can’t help him graduate. They are the saviors of the community. The ones who do all the work to give the community what it needs, to keep equal access available, and democracy afloat. But that’s vocational awe speaking.

The reality is that, in taking up all these extra job assignments, librarians are taking on the roles of other professionals who should be doing this work instead. Librarians are often (understandably) proud of their degrees and certifications, and they do not like when other people try to do their jobs for them. This is in part why using volunteers in lieu of paid staff is so controversial. While some see it as a way to keep the library doors open, others realize that having a volunteer do the job is not the same as having a paid professional. It’s the same in reverse, however. Having a librarian act as a tutor or a teacher or a social worker when they have not been trained to do so, is not the same. Worse, it gives local leaders an excuse not to fund initiatives that could help the community.

When librarians start tutoring on their own time, with no extra compensation, they are saying that the school system does not need to pay for more tutors. When librarians start offering kickball sessions and Ping Pong tables, they are saying the local council does not have to invest in a community center. When they begin acting as job coaches and social workers, they are saying the community does not need to fund other agencies to do this work. In taking on extra duties (for no additional compensation), libraries are usually responding to some sort of need in the community that is not currently being met. But, in so responding, they also suggest that the need has been fully met–when it hasn’t. Library staff are not the same as trained professionals in their chosen fields.

If libraries truly want to serve the community, partnerships are the answer. As one of the last few, public spaces where anyone can linger without paying, libraries are a natural gathering space. They also remain a trusted public institution, even when individuals do not really trust their governments anymore. This makes them an ideal space to provide all the services they provide from free lunches and showers to homework help. But if libraries want tutors, they need to ask the school system or a local college to provide them. If they want yoga, they need a registered instructor to teach it. If they want to provide social services, they need to get a trained social worker embedded in the building. Librarians should not be asked to take on all these roles. It is not their job. And they have not been trained to do it.

Suggesting that libraries go back to the focusing on how to access information may seem ridiculous, if not downright threatening to libraries and their staff. But it has always ostensibly been about the collection. That bike club? It’s supposed to introduce cyclists to resources on biking. The craft night? It’s supposed to circulate some of the crafting books or introduce people to the crafting database. It was never supposed to be about librarians learning how to cycle in a few weeks or teaching themselves a new DIY skill every month because they need a reason to attract people to the building, and the administration does not want to or cannot afford to pay an expert. It was never supposed to be about librarians “saving” people who might otherwise roam the streets looking for trouble, if there is no library program on Tuesdays. The fact that libraries and staff often do not even want to entertain the idea that libraries maybe should change is an effect of vocational awe, prohibiting critique of the system and its “sacred” work.

I understand that librarians are proud of the work they do, and that many do it voluntarily, out of the goodness of their hearts. They may even enjoy using that old math degree to tutor the children after school or getting to teach Zumba on Friday nights. But librarians need to ask themselves why they are being asked to take on additional roles–even the roles of other paid professionals–for no additional compensation. If the answer is, “But the community needs it!” Or “No one else will do it!” Or “I feel personally responsible for that woman who lost her apartment!” that is vocational awe speaking. And libraries and their supporters should think carefully before they keep asking staff to do more and more, without training or recognition. It is not the job of libraries to save the world. And they should certainly not be trying to save it alone.

Libraries’ Brand is Still Books

Libraries' Brand Is Still Books

Over the years, libraries have sought to fight increased budget cuts by proving their value as a community resource by moving beyond the books. Most, if not all, public libraries today in the U.S. now offer an assortment of services from public computer and internet access to 3D printing to recording studios to art classes to running clubs to gaming consoles to resume writing and job search assistance. They are community centers, meeting spaces, maker spaces, and job centers. It is not unheard of to hear about libraries considering moving their books off the public floor, to create more space for computers, studying, or hanging out. Despite all the enthusiasm for “transforming libraries” and “bringing them into the 21st century,” however, I believe that libraries are still primarily associated in the public mind with books–and that is not at all a bad thing.

Every so often, someone will begin to wring their hands and bewail the death of the printed word. Libraries are seen as obsolete since “the internet has everything” and “you can buy books on Amazon.” Libraries have, I think, been sensitive to this criticism, even when they insist on their continued relevance. But libraries do not need to pivot away from a focus on books because, in spite of everything, books are still popular, books are still the one thing they provide that is somewhat unique to them, and books are still the one thing most people think of when they hear the word, “library.” If people need a book, guess what? They’re headed to the library.

Having a library that provides meeting rooms, a gaming center, impromptu games of kickball, and yoga classes is great, but libraries need to be aware that, in many cases, such services are already being offered by other organizations. People may be able to go to a community center or a local park for athletics, an employment resource center for job help, or even their local bookshop for morning story time. Libraries are in constant competition for other organizations when trying to get people into the door. But the one thing that they have, that most other places don’t? Free books.

Book lovers looking for fellow readers, trusted recommendations, new releases, and bookish events are naturally going to be drawn to the library. Libraries should take advantage of that! Instead of bemoaning the lack of readers, libraries should work to engage the ones they have. And let’s be real. Maybe that doesn’t mean book clubs. Maybe it means more author visits or literary speed dating or literary trivia night or the ever-popular [insert title of bestseller here] book party. The possibilities are endless! But I believe libraries should continue to celebrate their books and the fact that they have them. Having and loaning books is not a shameful, outdated practice that needs to be hidden behind all the advertisements to try out the new VR equipment.

This is not to say that libraries should stop offering all the wonderful services they provide. Libraries are still a trusted public organization, a place people go to for information when they may be wary of other sources. And plenty of people appreciate being able to go to one location for their passport application, bicycling club, movie night, and audiobook rentals. Still, these things do not need to take away the emphasis of libraries on books. Books are still precious to the community! It doesn’t matter what century we are in. People still love books. And they still turn to the library to provide them.

How Can Libraries Go Green?

How Can Libraries Go Green

Concern about the environment is gaining more mainstream attention as people begin to realize the effects pollution and waste have on not only wildlife, but also the health of humans. For example, we now know that much plastic is considered unrecyclable and that it is estimated only 9% of the plastic ever produced has been recycled. We also learning about how plastics can break down into microplastics that enter the water, earth, and air–and are then consumed or breathed in by humans. But, now knowing what we know, have we changed any of our habits?

Libraries are seen as community leaders, and I believe they play an integral role in providing the public with reliable and relevant information. Therefore, I believe libraries should be leading by example and attempting to go green. Of course, large-scale efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the building as a whole might need to be approved by administration, and may not be a realistic goal for the staff on the floor. Still, I think everyone at the library can do something to help the environment, and to encourage the public to do the same.

Here are some ideas I’ve come up with. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments! Of, if you work at a library, you can share how your workplace has been prioritizing the environment!

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Potential Strategies

  1. Instead of relying on recycling, reduce purchasing and consumption of unnecessary and one-use products.
  2. Try to print less.
  3. Rethink craft programs and other programs that create waste. Run more programs with reusable materials (ex. blocks, electronics, board games, etc.) or use upcycled materials. Or create an outdoors program like a scavenger hunt.
  4. Rethink the summer reading program and all the small plastic toys that get handed out as prizes. Some libraries do “Read and Bead” and hand out beads for bracelets or key chains. You could also hand out more environmentally-friendly options, though the cost per item will likely go up.
  5. Use paper bags instead of plastic.
  6. Install bike racks outside.
  7. Start a seed library.
  8. Start a community garden or community composting program.
  9. Run programs educating the public on how to go green by reducing their carbon footprint, learning about the zero-waste lifestyle, starting a garden, and more. This is a great chance to create community partnerships!
  10. If possible, provide resources that help patrons go green, since environmentally-friendly options often cost more and are therefore not as accessible to people with less spending money.
  11. Consider starting a “library of things”–an unconventional collection of items such as tolls, cake pans, toys, etc. that give patrons access to things they might need on occasion but do not want to buy. You can start by asking for donations from the community to promote “reuse.”
  12. Loan out electricity usage monitors so patrons can assess their energy usage at home and take steps to reduce it.
  13. Run programs that encourage patrons to walk or bike more. Maybe they can track their miles for a chance to win a prize!
  14. Encourage library patrons to bring their own reusable bag from home.
  15. Stop selling plastic water bottles in vending machines.
  16. Rethink programs that hand out snacks individually wrapped or bottled in plastic.
  17. Educate the public about what steps the library is taking to go green, and ask for community input and feedback.

What ideas would you add to the list?

Do You Like Blind Book Bundles?

Do You Like Blind Book Bundles?

As libraries around the U.S. remain closed, many have begun to offer blind book bundles as a way to help patrons discover new titles at a time when they are not able to browse the shelves. This service seems particularly useful for patrons who may not keep up with the publishing industry and so do not know what titles to request, and for parents, who may know series their children enjoy, but not other specific titles they should search for in the catalog. Still, even though I can appreciate the concept of the blind book bundle, I am hesitant to check one out for myself.

The concept of a mystery stack of books is, of course, not new. Many libraries and bookstores have had success in the past with the “blind date with a book” program, where people can check out or purchase books covered in paper. People seem to appreciate the surprise of the concept–who knows what magical book they might discover? Perhaps one they’ll love, but not one they have chosen for themselves. And book subscription boxes, where people receive a box with surprise titles and other goodies inside, are incredibly popular. But even though I see and appreciate the excitement people have receiving and opening their packages, I can never bring myself to purchase one.

The problem is, I know what kinds of books I like. Most of the books I read I choose because, over the years, I have developed an understanding of the types of books I enjoy. And, after looking at the cover, the title, the author, the summary, and the reviews, I can make an educated guess about how much I will like a book or not. I don’t tend to get very adventurous about reading books other people choose for me because there’s only so much time to read–and why would I want to waste it on something I am not fairly certain will be good? The idea of asking an unknown library employee to select a stack of random books for me is, well, kind of horrifying.

Part of me wishes that I were more adventurous, that I could check out that random stack of books and discover some hidden gems. Yet part of me thinks, but who could choose a book for myself better than myself? Maybe one day I’ll take that leap and check out a blind bundle–it’s not like I have to read whatever I end up with. For now, however, I’m content with selecting books for myself.

What do you think? Do you love blind book bundles? Have you tried a subscription box or a mystery bundle from your library? What was your experience?

Did You Know Your Public Library Can Give You Access to Nearly Any Book in the U.S.?

A common complaint I see from bloggers is that they do not use the public library because it does not stock the books they want. Some use this an excuse to pirate books instead. A well-kept secret, however, is that nearly every library in the United States participates in an interlibrary loan program. This means that they can request a book from almost every library–public or academic–in the country and have it mailed to your home library for you to check out. In other words, no library user is limited only to the books their own library carries. Each library user has access to the catalogs of almost every single library in the country.

Interlibrary Loan: Not to Be Confused with Your Local Consortium

Some library patrons do not take advantage of interlibrary loan because they confuse it with the system of local libraries with which theirs is affiliated. (Some libraries make it confusing because they actually refer to this system as “interlibrary loan.”) Most libraries in the U.S. have partnered with local libraries–perhaps from surrounding towns, maybe from the entire state if the state is small–so that patrons can request books from these neighboring institutions and have them delivered via van. Usually, patrons can make these requests directly from the catalog. They have a rough idea of when the books will arrive because the van has a regular schedule. The books check out as normal on their card and obey the usual rules of library books. Interlibrary loan, however, is different.

Interlibrary loan pulls books–and journal articles– from across the United States.

The process of an interlibrary loan (ILL) is different, and a little more complicated, than requesting books from your local consortium. ILL is typically not accessed through the catalog. Usually, there is a separate online form, or you might have to speak with or email a reference librarian. The ILL form you need to submit will ask for information like the title of the book, the author, the publisher, and the publication date. Once the form is submitted, an ILL librarian has to check which libraries own the book you want. They then contact the owning library and see if the library is willing to mail the book to your home library so you can check it out. In this way, a patron from Wyoming, for example, could receive a book from Massachusetts, Georgia, or California. The book could come from literally anywhere in the country!

Why don’t more people use interlibrary loan?

Many people do not use interlibrary loan simply because they do not know it exists. Public libraries do not do a very good job of advertising this service. Even people who have submitted ILL requests for college often do not realize public libraries offer the same service.

Others dislike that ILL is more inconvenient than checking out a book already on the shelf. You have to submit a form, you have to wait a few weeks for the request to be processed and mailed, and then you have to return to the library to pick it up before your hold expires. Often, ILLs do not renew the same way as other books, so you will have to contact your library so they can contact the owning library to see if you can get a renewal. And some libraries charge a nominal fee for the service (mine charged 50 cents), which some patrons dislike. (In my opinion, however, paying a small fee is preferable to paying full price for the book.)

Additionally, libraries do not lend out their new books. Their taxpayers have first rights to their books; libraries do not want to purchase a book and then send it across the country as soon as it arrives. Bloggers looking to review books as soon as they are published will not find ILL useful in this regard.

Conclusion

Interlibrary loan is one of the best-kept secrets of the public library. With the submission of a form, library patrons can access nearly any book in nearly every public and academic library in the United States. Your public library doesn’t have the book you want? No problem. Try interlibrary loan.

Interlibrary Loan

5 Misconceptions about the Public Library

5 Misconceptions about the Public Library

All library workers are librarians.

To start, there are various departments in the library and various levels in each department. Some departments may not have librarian positions at all. Circulation clerks (the people who check out your books and handle your late fees), shelvers or pages (the people who shelve returned materials), and administrative staff (the people in accounting, HR, marketing, etc.) are not technically librarians, for example. They have special job functions and expertise, but they may not be as qualified to answer reference questions or do readers’ advisory as they are not trained in these areas. This is the reason stopping an individual in the stacks for an in-depth question may not be your best option–if this staff member is a shelver, for example, they might be instructed to refer patrons to the appropriate departments. You will have to walk to the reference desk, anyway.

Librarians are more likely the ones who do collection development (suggesting purchases and weeding or removing outdated, damaged, or irrelevant materials) and programming. They also answer reference questions and do readers’ advisory. In some cases, such as in smaller libraries or libraries that have moved to the one-desk model, they might also perform circulation functions. However, not all individuals who perform these functions are librarians. For someone to call themselves a librarian, they need to hold a Master’s degree in library science. Even if a non-degreed staff member has the same job as a degreed coworker, they are technically not a librarian.

If your library doesn’t have a book on the shelf, you can’t get it at all.

Interlibrary loan (ILL) is one of the library’s best kept secrets, possibly because libraries do not tend to advertise the service and most patrons who do not see a book on the shelf probably do not go to the desk to inquire about it. But most libraries participate in ILL, meaning that you can request a book and have it sent to your library from just about anywhere in the U.S.

This is not the same as requesting a book from your local or state consortium, which usually can be done by placing a hold in the catalog. Usually, a separate form is required, or perhaps a trip or phone call to the reference desk. The librarians then see which libraries are willing to lend you the book and it is mailed to your home library for pick up. Lending times might be shorter, with no renewals, and most libraries will not lend new releases. But ILL is a valuable service for getting books your home library may not have been able to purchase.

E-Books are cheaper for libraries than physical books.

Many people assume that e-books are cheaper for libraries than physical books because there are no printing costs involved. However, libraries typically pay far more than consumers for e-book licenses, which usually expire after two years or a certain number of lends, meaning libraries than have to purchase the license again. Here’s an explanation from a previous post we did on library e-book prices in August 2019:

High prices and metered access already make it difficult for libraries to build and maintain e-book collections.  In October 2018, Penguin Random House changed from a perpetual access model to a metered model in which libraries can keep a copy of an e-book for two years.  In the process, they also slightly lowered e-book prices (for an adult title) from $65 to $55 according to American Libraries Magazine; YA titles were priced at $45 and children’s books at $35.  The move was appreciated by some libraries who feel demand for titles decreases over time, but was met with more hesitation from other libraries who worry about having to pay repeatedly for a popular book.  Meanwhile, Hachette, according to a July 2019 article in The Washington Post, now charges $65 for most adult titles, also for a two-year period.  And Simon & Schuster announced that they will change from one-year metered access to a two-year model with prices ranging from $38.99 to $52.99 starting August 1, 2019.  Additionally, Simon & Schuster will end perpetual access to audiobooks in favor of two-year access.  In each of these cases, libraries typically pay far more than the average consumer for a title that ultimately expires, making it a challenge for them to provide all the e-books their patrons might wish.

Library workers spend all day reading.

Most library employees seem to have heard a comment or two along the lines of, “It must be so nice to work in a library and read all day!” This is possibly one of the easiest ways to annoy a library worker, since most library employees are actually not allowed to read on the job. And certainly not on the desk where the public can see them and complain about their tax dollars at work. The library workers who seem to have read everything and can provide amazing recommendations for you based on what you have already read are usually reading on their own time. Maybe this should change, especially if we expect library workers to be familiar with tons of books and well-read on important topics. For now, however, the average library worker is probably going to respond to comments about reading all day with something like, “Actually, I am very busy answering reference questions, providing readers’ advisory, assisting patrons to use the computers and printer, purchasing materials, making sure our collection is relevant and up-to-date, performing outreach, planning programs, and earning continuing education credits, thank you very much.” And who could blame them?

Libraries and their patrons don’t pay for books.

Attacks against the public library are often from people who do not use the library and so apparently do not understand how it works. In the past few years, I have already seen two online articles attack libraries on purely economic grounds, suggesting that it benefits publishers and, I guess, capitalism, more if libraries would close and the patrons had to pay for their own books. In July 2020, for example, Kenneth Whyte suggested that libraries are a bigger threat to publishers than Amazon because library patrons aren’t paying for their books. Whyte proposed that library patrons should have to pay a subscription to access the library, or perhaps publishers will have to “ration” their books–putting a cap on how many copies a library can buy. But libraries and their patrons DO pay for their books. In the U.S., libraries are funded through tax dollars, usually at both the local and state levels–less so the federal level. The books are free to check out, yes, but publishers are still making sales. In this sense, Whyte’s proposed Netflix-like model already exists. I pay my yearly taxes, my “subscription fee,” and I get the library in return.

One could argue, of course, as Whyte tries, that each circulation of a book is a lost sale after the first one. But I don’t believe every library goer was ever going to buy all every single book they read in a year. Libraries help publishers in the long run by giving exposure to their books, letting readers try new authors they wouldn’t necessarily purchase on their own, and enthusiastically purchasing and promoting midlist books–the ones Barnes and Noble often does not even stock in -store. Libraries do have an economic benefit–it just is not one that is immediately obvious. And, yes, they do pay for their books. So do you, if you pay taxes.

10 Digital Resources from the Public Library You Should Know!

Not every library pays for and offers the same digital resources. However, we have compiled a list of some of our favorites. If you are interested, check to see if you have access through your public library!

Hoopla

Hoopla is popular with library patrons because there are no wait lists. You can immediately download e-books, audiobooks, music albums, and films–their comic collection is particularly impressive. The system is pay-per-download (for the libraries, not the users), however, so libraries typically allow patrons a set number of downloads per month. You can use Hoopla in-browser or download the Hoopla app.

Overdrive/Libby

Overdrive is a digital distributor of ebooks and audibooks and Libby is their app (though you can also read or listen on your laptop). While libraries pay for Hoopla as a whole and do not get to choose what it stocks, they are responsible for purchasing their own licenses to titles through Overdrive. This means that, if you want a title you do not see, Overdrive allows you to recommend purchases directly on the site. However, you may have to put yourself on a wait list if a title is already checked out.

It is also worth noting that Overdrive acquired RBDigital in June 2020, so they now have access to RBDigital’s digital magazine collection.

Freegal

Freegal is a digital music service that boasts around 15 million songs. Libraries can pay for their patrons to stream and even download a set number of songs each week. You also have access to music videos and curated playlists.

Kanopy

Kanopy is a digital service that allows users to stream movies. Their collection is heavy on indie films, documentaries, and PBS productions, but they also have a sizable collection of children’s films. Libraries are charged per download, so patrons typically receive a set number of credits to use each month.

NoveList

NoveList is an online database that recommends books to readers. You can browse by age, genre, or even adjectives (ex. “haunting and spare” or “dramatic and courageous”). You can even find readalikes if you want a story like the one you just finished!

Ancestry/Heritage Quest

If you ever wanted to start looking into your family history, you don’t need to pay! Many libraries pay for a subscription to either one or both of the popular genealogy sites, Ancestry and Heritage Quest. The library editions are not the same as paying for a full subscription, but they are a great place to start if you are not sure yet what you are doing or how serious you might get about researching.

Universal Courses

Universal offers classes pertinent to careers but also ones focused on hobbies. Learn how to make candles, arrange flowers, decorate cakes, or write calligraphy! Or try a painting or a writing course. There are tons of options to choose from.

LearningExpress Library/School Center

The Learning Express databases provide test prep for career tests (nursing, real estate, military, etc), college admissions tests (ex. for the SAT and ACT), and the GED. Students in elementary through high school can also practice math, reading, and science skills.

Tumblebooks/Tumble Math

Tumblebooks provides animated, talking picture books, as well as fun activities like games. Tumble Math specifically provides digital books about math for children in grades K-6.

World Book Online

World Book Online contains articles for students doing research, but also fun activities like country comparison (Which one has a larger land mass? More people?), interactive maps, trivia quizzes, and educator tools.

What are some of your favorite digital library resources?