Ways to Support the Public Library During National Library Card Sign-Up Month

How to Support the Public Library

September is National Library Card Sign Up Month in the U.S.! And that means it is the perfect time to discuss all the ways to help support your local public library, and all the ways that supporting the library also helps individuals. More support means more funding, which means even better libraries!

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At the Library

Sign up for a library card!

Libraries keep track of card sign ups and report on what percentage of eligible people are cardholders. These stats help them advocate for more funding. Plus, now you have a library card and can enjoy all that the public library has to offer!

Attend an event.

Libraries also keep track of how many programs they hold and how many people attended, to demonstrate their continued relevancy. Attend a program to help library stats. Plus, you will have the fun of having attending the event and meeting new people! Make sure to attend programs you are particularly interested in, since organizations are likely to look at attendance numbers to decide what types of programs to keep investing staff time and effort in.

Ask a question at the reference desk.

If you have ever asked a librarian a question and then seen them make a quick tally mark or open a Google doc, that’s because they also track how many reference questions they answer. So if you have a question you can’t answer, instead of leaving disappointed, ask a librarian! They will help you find what you need, and they’ll get the stats.

Donate books.

Not sure what to do with your old books? See if your library will take them either to add to the collection or to sell. Just make sure your books are in good condition, and that you are following their donation guidelines. Sadly, not every volume can be sold–if it is out of date or moldy, for example, no one is likely to want it.

Read: Is It Ever Okay to Get Rid of a Book?

Shop the used booksale.

Donate money to the library while buying yourself some cheap books!

Don’t reshelve the materials you viewed but chose not to check out.

This is, yes, partly because some people will put the books in the wrong place (even if they firmly believe they are putting them away correctly). But it is also because libraries count the books that were used in the building. Each time you put your books in the designated area, the staff scan them and collect the statistics. Every statistic helps libraries advocate for more funding, so don’t feel guilty about putting your books on the appropriate cart or table instead of back on the shelf.

Clean up the toys you used in the children’s section.

This may be confusing, but while you should not reshelve the books, you should put away any toys you and/or your children played with. I have heard some libraries count the number of people they see using the play area, but they are probably not sending stats to their local leaders on how many times they had to pick up the blocks each day. Help the staff out by keeping the area tidy, and help keep other patrons safe so they do not trip over any scattered toys.

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Online

Follow your public library on social media.

Boost your library’s follower count, while also keeping yourself informed about any fun programs or services they are offering!

Like or share the library’s posts, if you feel so inclined.

You can help boost the library’s stats and help your friends and family at the same time, by passing on information about materials or services others might find useful

Pass along any programs, giveaways, services, or events that you think friends or family might find useful.

You don’t need social media to pass on information about the library! If you know someone who is looking for a tutor, and you know the library has tutoring services, let them know. If you know someone who needs help with a resume or a cover letter, why not tell them about the databases that could help? Very often, supporting the library actually means supporting the people who could benefit from library services, but who don’t know about everything the library offers.

Take photos of yourself using the library so all your friends and family can see what they’re missing out on! Consider: you posing with a new library card, you getting a haul of books, you attending a fun program, and more!

Many people still think the library is “just books,” or that it is boring and not for them. Why not show people that the library is fun? And for everyone!

Invite a friend or family member to go to a library program with you.

Enjoy a free night out by going to a library program! As far as I can tell, the same few people attend all the library programs. But other people could benefit, as well! I love inviting friends and family to programs with me so that they can see what the library offers. Many people are hesitant to try new things alone, so inviting people allows them to experience the library, get comfortable there, and maybe go back later! They often could benefit from library resources; they just have not thought of using them until I showed them.

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While Blogging

Write about your favorite library memories.

Libraries sometimes get bad publicity from individuals who do not see their usefulness, or from people who are annoyed about their libraries being underfunded. Why not focus on the positive and remember some of the good things libraries provie?

Write about your favorite library resources.

People who use the library often sometimes assume that everyone knows about the library as much as they do. But this is not the case! Even avid library users may not be aware of everything the library has to offer. So talk up your favorite resources! You just might be giving the information to someone who needed to read it!

Share your secret library tips.

Many people go to the library, browse, and leave. But there is so much more the library has to offer! Share your tips for getting the most out of the library.

Post photos of any library swag you have.

Everyone loves book swag! Put a twist on this popular photo idea by showcasing some library swag.

Share your library holds list (a spin on the popular TBR list post).

Sometimes book blogging can feel very consumerist. But you don’t need to spend tons of money to participate in fun challenges or post photos. Use your library’s collection instead!

Write a book haul post featuring library books or books from the library book sale.

Again, you don’t need to drain your bank account to participate in popular book blogger post such as a haul video. Instead of buying twenty books, consider showing off your library haul! This can help, too, because some people still think libraries only house research books or classics. Let them know that popular books can be borrowed, too!

Tweet about a library service you have used lately (ex. Libby/Overdrive, Hoopla, Kanopy, Ancestry, etc.)

Even people who are aware of certain resources may not know how to use them, or may only know some of the basics. Share your expertise by explaining how to use a library resource. Or, you can do something fun like read a bunch of books suggested by NoveList–and then post about how well you think the algorithm worked. Spread the word so people who might need these services know not only to check to see if their local library offers them, but also know how to get started.

Share photos of crafts you have made at the library.

Crafts from the library are one thing I know that everyone seems really interested in. Craft materials are not cheap, so when I show off the cool things I have made at the library, people always want to know more.

Share tours of libraries you visit.

Every book lover wants to visit the library from Beauty and the Beast, right? Well, there are some real life libraries that feel like they are just as magical! I love reading posts about other libraries, and I’m sure many others do, as well!

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Conclusion

While this post is about to support the local library, the real magic is that supporting the library often really means supporting one’s self and others in the community. Libraries offer so much from books to homework help to research databases to computer classes to crafts and career help. Getting a library card, attending a program, or spreading the word gives the library more users and more stats so they can ask for more funding for these initiatives. But the real benefit is to the people using the services–the people who would not be able to complete their resume or do their homework or read a book without the public library. Supporting the public library means that everyone wins!

What are your suggestions on how to support the public library?

Nine False “Facts” People Have Used to Explain Why They Don’t Use U.S. Public Libraries

False Reasons People Give to Not Use the Public Library

Oftentimes library lovers assume that everyone already knows about the library, and that everyone must use it and appreciate it as much as they do. But even though libraries are still a trusted and much-used part of life in the U.S., many people hold false ideas of what libraries are and how they operate, that prevent them from ever walking in the door. Below are a few reasons I have heard people give for why they do not use the library. If you have heard the same, consider finding ways to spread more information about libraries so more people can take advantage of these great resources!

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The library does not carry any new releases.

I hear this all the time. People think they need to go to a bookstore to acquire the latest releases. While budget concerns may restrict the number of books a library can buy, public libraries in the U.S. do, in fact, buy current titles and do not stock only classics and textbooks. These new books are even set aside on a special shelf labeled “NEW” so people can easily locate and browse them. Additionally, most libraries also offer a Purchase Request form that you can fill out to ask that the library buy any specific title you might want to check out.

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The library does not offer e-books to borrow.

I have met avid e-book readers who did not know that U.S. public libraries offer e-books that can be checked out. I even read online complaints during the height of the pandemic criticizing libraries for not offering e-books, even though most libraries were putting a lot of energy into advertising their e-book collections while library buildings were closed. Just go to the library website and you should be able to find the options available for e-book borrowing. Common apps are Libby/Overdrive and Hoopla.

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The library cannot beat streaming movies at home.

Many public libraries now offer online services/apps that enable patrons to borrow and stream movies at home. Go to the library website and look for apps like Kanopy and Hoopla. Because these platforms charge libraries for each borrow, patrons are typically allotted a certain number of borrows each month. The balance resets again the next month. But there are also some movies/content that users can borrow without it counting against their monthly allotment. And the Kanopy Kids content is unlimited.

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People must pay to get a library card.

It seems like common knowledge that getting a library card is free, yet I have to tell people all the time that there is no charge! Please, please do your friends and family a favor and let them know that setting up a card will cost them nothing. Just getting the card is often the first and biggest hurdle for people. But, once they have one, the possibilities of what they can do with it are nearly endless!

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People must have and show a valid library card to enter the front door/sit in the library.

I am truly baffled by the number of people I have seen enter the library door, march up to the front desk, and flash their card while announcing loudly, “I am a member! I have a card!” Public libraries in the U.S. do not card people to come in, browse, or sit. But I have friends of friends who have never set foot in a library because they truly believe someone is going to stop them and demand some sort of identification.

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Using the library is going to cost a lot of money.

Probably not. It is true that borrowing a large number of materials and never returning them will result in a hefty bill to replace said items. However, an increasing number of libraries are going fine free. This means that, once the items are overdue, there is usually some sort of grace period for the items to be returned. An overdue fine might appear on the account during that time, and card privileges could be suspended until that fine disappears (if the fine is high enough). To make the fine disappear, a person need only bring back the overdue materials–and the fine is waived. In short, before assuming that overdue fines are going to destroy you, check the library website or give the library a call to determine if overdue fines are even charged there.

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The library does not have a Summer Reading program for adults.

Many U.S. public libraries do! Not all, of course, and they are usually less elaborate than the programs for the children. But it is still worth checking the library website or asking at the desk to see if you might be eligible to win some prizes for reading over the summer.

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The librarians are silently judging one’s book choices.

A few people recently told me that they don’t like to use the library because people can see what they are reading. But most libraries I have been to are somewhat understaffed due to budget issues, and the library is busy enough that staff are often trying to help two or three people at the same time. It seems unlikely to me that what book someone is reading would be their biggest concern. But, of course, some people do like a bit more privacy. And they might be checking out some books on sensitive topics. In this case, many libraries now have a self check-out station, so you can get your books judgment free.

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College students cannot use the public library, only the school library.

False! Public libraries allow college and university students to get cards, even if they only live in the dorms part of the year. Some libraries have special student cards for this. Others just hand out their normal cards. Call ahead to ask what you need to bring, but it is usually a valid photo ID with your current address. If your ID shows a different address than the college address you are living at, also bring a piece of mail with that college address.

What are some misconceptions you have heard about the public the library?

Is the “Library of the Future” One without Books?

On a recent trip, I visited one of the newest libraries in the area. I had heard others speak highly of this library, and had the general impression that it was comparatively large and equipped with all the latest technology and other cool features that could draw people in. To my surprise, then, I found myself in a largeish building that looked more like a conference center than a library. And, even though the summer reading program was in full swing, there seemed to be only three other people in the building–not counting the lone family who had shown up to what seemed to be a very high-energy children’s program. Most concerningly, the collection seemed rather small for the space.

I had many conflicting thoughts about this visit, but my prevailing emotions were disappointment tinged with a bit of dismay. When people had excitedly talked about this new library, I had envisioned something quite different. A modern building that would, of course, take into account the changing needs of the community and the changing role of the public library–an organization that often serves more as computer lab/community center/rec center/social services than it does as the time-honored repository of information. But also a building that would have what is arguably still the cornerstone of the public library, the one thing that other organizations do not tend to replicate in their own offerings–books.

Because the building itself seems comparatively large to other libraries, I think that community members might be under the impression that there really are a lot of books in this library. I would be interested to know, however, if there are actually more books than are housed in other libraries in the area. About a quarter of the building seemed dedicated to large meeting rooms, along with a conference center-style hallway and information booth (all empty). Then there were the two empty computer labs, the empty MakerSpace, and probably four different sitting areas designed to look cozy or modern, depending on one’s preference. The aisles were large and spacious. The books were…there. In the middle. On shorter than standard-sized shelves. I truly believe that if one were to count all the books, there would not be more than one would find in a tiny one-room neighborhood branch. Most of the space was empty, to give that modern-architecture feel.

Of course, many people–especially librarians–have a lot of thoughts about the role of libraries. Many people–even librarians–have argued that books no longer matter, and that books are not what people want. A lot of people would prefer to see libraries turn into social services centers, where people are provided with food, shelter, showers, and medicine. Books do not seem to be in vogue, do not seem to be trendy enough to get libraries the funding they so desperately need. And, so, libraries have become innovative at expanding beyond offering accessibility to knowledge and information and instead offering everything. If the library thinks a thing will get people in the door, they will do it.

I am one of those old-fashioned curmudgeons, however, who still believes that books matter and that equal access to knowledge and information is something to be celebrated. Meeting rooms for the public are nice, as are physical education classes, concerts, art classes, notaries, and passports. However, a lot of these services are offered by other organizations in the community. And, honestly, if I am thinking about taking a yoga class or attending a concert or getting something notarized, I usually think of other places first–the local parks and rec programs, concert halls, or just a plain old notary. I don’t check the library website first when I want live music or a painting class.

I check the library website for books, DVDs, CDs, and databases because these are specific things that I associate predominantly with the public library, and I know the library carries them and they carry them all the time. I view the programs calendar to see what is being offered, yes, but the selection tends to be random, and I just go to anything that happens to be of interest. I don’t check the library events calendar when I want something very specific like a concert because the odds of there being a concert that week or that month are low. And the odds are low because the library isn’t a concert hall, after all. If I want a wide variety of performance options–different dates, times, and genres–I need to look at an organization whose primary mission is promoting the arts. (And, yes, many organizations have these concerts free–so the library is not necessarily offering me anything I can’t find elsewhere.) That’s not to say the library is not doing something worthwhile, only that when libraries expand services, they sometimes end up replicating existing ones. And they arguably undergo a bit of an identity crisis.

Even as we celebrate all the wonderful services libraries provide, I believe that most people still associate the public library with books, magazines, DVDs, music, and databases–that is, with the library collection. A large number of people also associate the library with free computer and internet access. And a diminishing number of people probably still call the library with reference questions since librarians still market themselves as information professionals. Anything beyond that, however, is rather a bonus! The whole idea of a library, the very definition of a library, is a collection of materials. The books and other materials are the heart of the library! The collection is the thing that makes the public library different from every other local organization!

And the collection is not something that is useless or obsolete. Need to study for the SAT? Check out a book for the local school’s summer reading homework? Find information on the law? Research how to start a small business? Find credible sources for a paper? Learn how to start a new hobby? Read up on how to do a home improvement project? Try a new recipe or diet? Research a medical condition or prescription? Access free information on nearly any topic imaginable? Maybe unwind, destress, and relax with an entertaining book or movie? You can do that at the local library and you can do it with the collection. The collection still matters!

Yet, I visited this new, trendy library and I saw a building where the books seemed like an afterthought. Plenty of space was given to areas where people could meet up or hang out, and the general vibe was that the building really wanted to be a community center that kind of happened to have some books, too, if you’re into that sort of thing. And it’s worrisome! When even libraries do not believe that library collections matter, when even librarians seem to think that books just aren’t cool anymore, I believe the library as a library is in trouble. Yes, we might get an amazing new recreation center, but that is not the same thing.

So, is this where libraries are headed? Will more space be opened up for meeting rooms and computer labs, and less space given to books? Will collections shrink? I really hope not! I still love going to the library to check out books–and I don’t think I’m alone! Ideally, I would live in a world where recreation center and libraries both exist, and libraries do not disappear in favor of becoming something else.

What do you think? Should libraries shrink their book collections?

When Library Visits Go Wrong: What to Do in Five Common Disappointing Library Scenarios

Introduction

We love libraries here at Pages Unbound! And we love celebrating them! Sometimes, however, a trip to the library does not go exactly as planned. Below are a few scenarios you might encounter that can make a library trip disappointing–and what you might do to make your trip more of a success.

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A book is missing from the series you want to read.

I used to think that a missing book in a series at the library meant I could not read the series. I had some vague notion that the library staff must be aware that the book was missing, and they apparently did not care. One day, however, I saw someone tell staff that a series they wanted to read was missing a book–and the staff put the book on order for them! I realized that the staff were not actually aware of the status of every book in the collection, and that they were probably relying on patrons to notify them when books in series were missing.

Now I regularly inform the library when a book in a series is missing, and I want to read it. Some staff might just offer to request the book from another library, but others will pass on the purchase request. After all, it benefits them to have all the books in a series, so people keep reading the other books that are still on the shelves! My library also now has a purchase request form that I can fill in online, instead of talking to staff. Stating that the book I want ordered is one missing from a series has so far always resulted in the book being purchased for me.

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You don’t see the new release you wanted to read.

This scenario is similar to the one above. Talk to a librarian about putting in a purchase request for a book, or see if there is an online form you can fill out to ask that the library purchase a specific title. Often, this process will automatically put you on hold for the book, so you should be the first to get it when it arrives!

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A book is dirty or damaged, or a DVD case is broken.

If a book is damaged, you can tell the staff. I highly recommend this because you do not want to be charged for any damage you are not responsible for. If possible, show the damage to staff at checkout so they can make a note of it. You can also call if you notice the damage at home, and are worried you might be charged. (I would personally only do this for something egregious, not something like a half-inch rip on page 352, unless your library is unusually devoted to charging for what is along the lines of normal wear and tear.)

I have also successfully shown broken DVD cases to the checkout staff, and had them put the disc in a new case so I would not get sliced by shards of broken plastic. I know it can feel awkward to talk to the staff sometimes, but if you are polite about it, most staff are going to be polite and helpful in return.

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You forgot to bring your library card.

Most libraries allow you to show photo ID instead and they can look up your account. Only one library ever refused to do this for me, but I got the impression that the staff member was just not very friendly and did not want to bother. After all, if I had lost my library card completely, they would presumably look at my ID to get me a new one! But I was in a hurry that day, so I didn’t stick around to pursue the matter.

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The staff do not understand what you are asking.

Sometimes I have what I suppose are unusual requests for public libraries–I am looking for something like a very specific edition of a book or a particular translation or a book usually carried by academic libraries. Oftentimes, such requests can result in confusion on the part of library staff, who might try to tell me that they will not put in an ILL request for a book because “they already have it,” even though the book they have is a different edition or translation than the one I want. They do not understand that the books are not the same and not interchangeable. Since I’m used to confusing library staff by now, the best solution I have found is going in prepared. I will have everything written down, especially the ISBN, to make sure that they are requesting the exact edition I want, and not something like an abridged version or a children’s retelling or who knows what!

To be honest, this strategy does not always work for me, and I have still left libraries without being able to obtain what I was looking for. One library even curtly informed me to stop asking for a material, even though I only kept asking because they kept sending me the wrong item–and I even wrote notes in my request to explain as much. Other possibilities to find the correct item might be asking another staff member or even trying to see if a local academic library will give out cards to the public (usually for a fee), since academic libraries are presumably more accustomed to filling specific or niche requests. There are a few possible solutions, if one is willing to put in the effort to try.

What are some common library disappointments you have experienced? How did you solve them?

Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library by Amanda Oliver

Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library

Information

GoodreadsOverdue
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Official Summary

Who are libraries for, how have they evolved, and why do they fill so many roles in our society today?

Based on firsthand experiences from six years of professional work as a librarian in high-poverty neighborhoods of Washington, DC, as well as interviews and research, Overdue begins with Oliver’s first day at an “unusual” branch: Northwest One.

Using her experience at this branch allows Oliver to highlight the national problems that have existed in libraries since they were founded: racism, segregation, and class inequalities. These age-old problems have evolved into police violence, the opioid epidemic, rampant houselessness, and lack of mental health care nationwide—all of which come to a head in public library spaces.

Can public librarians continue to play the many roles they are tasked with? Can American society sustain one of its most noble institutions?

Pushing against hundreds of years of stereotypes, romanticization, and discomfort with a call to reckoning, Overdue will change the way you think about libraries forever.

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Review

Overdue: A Reckoning with the Public Library sounded, from the official marketing, like it would an incisive critique/expose of the ways in which public libraries are losing sight of their mission as employees are overburdened with taking on the roles of social workers. That is kind of true, but not really. In actuality, Overdue is part memoir, part library history, part random musings on topics such as social media and cancel culture, and part critique of public libraries based on the author’s nine months working at a public library in Washington, D.C. The book raises some interesting questions, but in a way that seems to be without any particular method. In the end, it is not really clear who Overdue was written for, or what it seeks to accomplish.

Overdue starts out with what clearly seems to be shock factor, chronicling the time author Amanda Oliver witnessed a violent act in the library, and was subsequently threatened and stalked by the perpetrator. The message is clear: public libraries are not the safe havens the public imagines, nor should they be romanticized as the upholders of democracy or envisioned as ivory towers where those seeking to be educated and enlightened gather. No, the public library welcomes everyone–and this often results in chaos and danger, especially as library staff are not equipped to work as social workers, and often feel unsupported by library administrators, government officials, and the public.

So far, so good. It may seem over the top to those who do not often frequent libraries, but I have heard and read enough stories that I understand public libraries have their problems. I welcomed Oliver’s opening statement since Oliver at least seems willing to admit to some of these problems–I think sometimes current employees feel pressure not to admit that they often feel unsafe and unsupported. However, while I thought this opening would lead to a critique of the state of public libraries, it actually launched instead into: a chapter on the history of libraries to expose their racist roots, a look at Oliver’s childhood upbringing, an account of Oliver’s six years as a school librarian, a look at the homelesseness crisis in the U.S. and its causes, some anecdotes about Oliver’s nine months as a public librarian, her subsequent guilt for leaving the profession, and then some final chapters focusing on other issues facing libraries today–before ending with a seemingly unrelated chapter on cancel culture and a final call to reimagine the future of libraries. It is very disjointed. Half the time, I did not even know what I was supposed to be reading. Is this book about public libraries, or is it Oliver’s memoir, or is it just a random assortment of tangentially-related essays?

When Oliver does discuss public libraries, it is very interesting. Although she admits halfway through that she only served nine months in a public library, the scenarios she describes are harrowing–as is her administration’s reluctance to address the issues front-line staff tried to raise. What Oliver experienced seems enough for a lifetime. She even states that she and another coworker were separately diagnosed with PTSD as a result of her time working in a place where staff were consistently subjected to harassment and the threat of violence. Though some may feel her time in public libraries was not enough for her to speak to the profession, I think Oliver’s ability to speak about what she saw actually stems from the fact that she left, is no longer so emotionally involved in trying to rationalize what was happening to her so she could keep helping people, and has the freedom to speak up without worrying that she will be fired.

The fact that Oliver still feels guilt about leaving, and still tries to walk a fine line in her book between noting a problem and trying to pretend maybe everyone could have lived with the problem for the sake of the less fortunate is extremely telling. For example, Oliver notes that library rules like not allowing people to use the bathroom sinks for baths or only allowing one bag instead of ten were rules the public also wanted enforced–I assume because slippery floors are dangerous and also because no one wants to walk in on a person in the nude, or because having ten bags in the aisle is a safety hazard–but then Oliver seems reluctant to commit to some of these reasonable rules because she feels bad for people who need to bathe or store their ten bags.

Librarianship seems to be a job that attracts empathetic people, so it makes sense that Oliver would struggle with enforcing rules that most buildings have as a matter of course. The problem is that is this precise guilt that allows libraries and their staff to keep being pressured to do more, more, more. The really reasonable thing to do would be to build more shelters, so people could wash with dignity in an actual shower where no one will walk in on them, or a place that has lockers so people know their belongings are safe and do not have to lug them all around town all day. Librarians’ empathy that makes them want to allow bathing in the restroom is just one factor of many that allows public officials to not spend money on actual solutions, because they figure the library will do it free.

Interestingly, one of Oliver’s proposed solutions for libraries being forced to act as homeless shelters because of the closure of such shelters is…to turn libraries into homeless shelters. She envisions new libraries, not having fancy fountains and impressive architecture to impress the tourists, but instead having showers, lockers, and needle containers. Left unsaid is whether the library will still provide any books or databases, or if all the “information professionals” will turn into social workers instead. While I have long supported the idea of libraries partnering with social workers precisely because libraries serve so many individuals in need of such services, I am perplexed at the idea that we should wholesale turn libraries into homeless shelters. Why not both? Why can’t the library still exist to provide equal access to information, while more shelters are built to fulfill other needs? On the other hand, I am not perplexed at all. Libraries have spent so long trying to fill in the gaps in social services, that many librarians see themselves as social workers anyway.

Overdue raises plenty of interesting questions, some of which I will likely explore in upcoming posts. As a book, however, Overdue is admittedly disjointed, jumping around from topic to topic without any clear thread connecting them. And, it is unclear to me who the intended audience is. Is it the public, who may be shocked to learn that library staff see their job as unsafe? Is it library administrators and government officials, who have the ability to make change? Is it library staff, who want to be heard? Is it just people interested in Oliver’s memoirs? I have no idea! I do know that many of the topics raised likely already exist somewhere on the internet as an article, so I would recommend people do some research to find those quicker, more focused reads, or maybe check out what current librarians are talking about on Twitter to get an idea of the state of libraries, rather than reading this book.

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15 Ways Students Can Benefit from Using the Public Library

15 Ways Students Can Benefit from Using the Public Library

Most people realize that the public library houses books that students can borrow for homework and assignments. But the library offers so many more resources for students–everything from tutoring to databases with information on finding scholarships and applying for college. Below are 15 ways that students can start using the public library to its full potential.

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Find Homework Help & Tutoring

Many if not most public libraries offer tutoring. You can check your library’s website for any live tutoring options, or check their list of online resources to see if you can connect with a tutor online. You may also be able to access online resources where you can submit papers, cover letters, or resumes for feedback from a real person.

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Prep for Standardized Tests

Yes, the public library has physical books that offer advice and practice tests for things like AP exams, the SAT, and the ACT. But the library may also have online resources that offer the same thing–so you won’t have to wait for that other library patron to return the book. Look for digital resources such as Learning Express Library or Peterson’s Test and Career Prep on your library’s website.

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Research Colleges, Scholarships, & Financial Aid

Public libraries often offer books that will provide college applicants with information on college admissions, scholarships, and financial aid. However, don’t forget to look on the library’s digital resources page for these tools, as well. Try finding resources such as Learning Express Library or Peterson’s Test and Career Prep on your library’s website. Or check the library’s website for any upcoming programs that focus on these topics.

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Research Careers

Digital resources that focus on homework help and standardized test prep may also include resources that allow individuals to research careers–the outlook for the job, potential earnings, needed skills, and recommended paths to being hired. Or the library may link to outside resources such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Department of Labor.

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Access Credible Sources

Many classes focus on teaching students how to find and vet credible sources. The good news is, the public library has usually done this work for you! Visit the library’s digital resources page to see what databases they pay for–these databases typically include peer-reviewed paper and resources that you can cite in your research papers. You can, of course, also check out a physical book.

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Learn Computer Skills

Many people tend to assume that students have some sort of innate knowledge of computer skills, such as the ability to use MS Word and Excel, even though they have never been taught. If you need to learn computer skills for school or because you know you will later need them to apply for jobs, there is good news! Libraries often offer online databases with videos, posts, and even interactive tutorials that can help individuals learn basic computer skills for things like email, spreadsheets, and word processors. Or they might even offer appointments with a librarian who can offer personalized assistance.

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Access Popular Fiction & YA Books While at College

Many college students are unaware that they are eligible to receive a library card from the city in which their college is located.  You will likely have to demonstrate that you attend the college or have an address in the city.  Usually this means you have to provide photo ID and a piece of mail showing your address (if it differs from that on your ID).  You can show a piece of mail from your university mail box if you live in a dorm.  Some libraries also ask to see your student ID.  You can call ahead or check the library website to make sure you are prepared before you show up. But, once you provide the appropriate materials, you should be able to sign up for a card and check out books just as you would at your hometown library.

You can also visit your college library to see if they have a popular reading section. Not all do–but it’s worth looking!

And, of course, your card from your hometown library, if still active, will allow you to check out e-books and access digital resources while you are away.

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Find Quiet Study Spaces

If you need a quiet space to study, check your local library! Some may have rooms you can use as a single study room for a few hours. Some might just have tables on a floor or in a specific section that are specifically for use by people who need quiet (as opposed to people who need to collaborate and talk).

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Hang Out with Friends and De-Stress

Need a place to hang out for a few hours? The library is a great place to socialize because you don’t need to pay to be there, you get air conditioning, heat, and WiFi–and maybe other perks such as coloring pages or board games. You can just show up to chill for awhile, or you can attend a program with your friends–anything from trivia night to arcade night.

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Unleash Creativity

If you love crafting, but don’t have a lot of experience or don’t want to pay for all the materials to start, you can look for programs at your local library. They typically provide all the materials free. You may also find other opportunities to be creative–poetry contests, open mic nights, photography clubs, and more.

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Gain Volunteer Experience

If you need volunteer experience to graduate, or something to put on your resume, check to see if your local library has any volunteer opportunities currently open.

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Get a Job or Internship

Public libraries will often hire high school students to do work such as shelving, or work with college students who need an internship. Check your local library’s website to see what openings are available and what the qualifications are.

You can also use your library’s physical and digital resources to research careers, craft a resume and cover letter, and learn interviewing tips. Or you might find out that they even periodically host job fairs. Take a look at the library’s website to see what they offer.

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Learn Life Skills

Libraries have books on all types of topics, of course, but library programs are also a wonderful way to get some experience with necessary life skills. Libraries may offer programs on everything from car maintenance to financial literacy to doing laundry! Check your library’s website to see what programs are upcoming.

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Prevent Summer Slide

Research has shown that children who do not read over the summer, and children who do not participate in learning opportunities such as attending camp or going to museums, return to school in the fall having lost many of the academic gains they made during the previous year.  Children who do not read over the summer can lose an average of two months’ of reading skills–and this loss is cumulative. Children from lower income households who have less access to books and to learning activities are particularly vulnerable to summer slide. So how to prevent this? Join the library’s summer reading program to keep students reading and having fun while school is out.

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Access WiFi, Computers, Printers, Copiers, and Scanners

If you do not have internet at home, you can go to the library to access it or you can see if your library offers WiFi hotspots for checkout. Likewise, you can go to the library to use the computer, or see if they offer any laptops, tablets, Chromebooks, etc. for checkout. You can also print, copy, scan, and (probably) fax at the library. Call ahead or check the library website if you need to know if there is a charge for printing and if you will need to bring cash.

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Conclusion

Many people use the public library for school reports or during the summer, to join the Summer Reading Program, and not for much else. But there is so much more to explore! Check out your local library’s website to see what they offer–and how it could benefit you.

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Why I Don’t Like the One-Desk Model in Public Libraries

In the past decade or so, many public libraries seem to have switched to the one-desk model of service. That is, in the past, library patrons might have had to choose whether to go to the circulation desk or the reference desk, depending on their question. The one-desk model consolidates departments, making it the single point of reference for individuals, whether they are asking to update a library card or needing assistance with a complex research question. The idea seems to be that, because the average library patron does not distinguish between departments or the roles of individuals in the library, it is simply easier for them to walk up to a single desk, rather than guess which desk or staff they need–and then be told that they have to walk to some other desk instead. Such an experience would presumably be off-putting to patrons wondering why someone official-looking sitting behind a desk apparently cannot be bothered to help them, and must make them go ask the same question elsewhere. However, even though the one-desk model seems easier for the public, I do not altogether like it–especially they way it seems to have been implemented in some libraries.

To be fair, it did take me awhile to distinguish between the functions of the circulation desk and the reference desk at my public library. I would sometimes be told I was at the wrong desk and had to walk to the other one. Over time, however, I realized that the circulation desk does largely what the name suggests and so does the reference desk.

For those wondering, the circulation desk handles the circulation of items. Check-ins and check-outs happen at the circulation desk. The circulation staff also handle library account inquiries (such as obtaining or updating a card, or paying money on an account) and do circulation stuff that does not necessarily impact the public’s interactions with them–handling the delivery of items, pulling holds, shelving books, shelf-reading, etc.

The reference desk typically handles…reference questions. That could be something as simple as asking for the location of a book, or asking for assistance with in-depth research for an academic project, a genealogy search, and more, or asking for help with the computers or printers. The reference staff are also often the ones in charge of planning programs for adults. The reason why someone at the reference desk might not help a patron with a circulation question (or vice versa) is simple–the staff there might not have been trained on how to answer that question. It is not their job function.

The one-desk model seems like it could be an easy solution to all the walking back and forth of confused patrons. (I had a memorable experience where the circulation desk and the reference desk kept sending me back and forth, both swearing that they had no idea how to help me and that it was the other department’s job. I think I finally just answered my question myself and left.) Just train staff in both departments on how to do both jobs! Or, maybe, staff the one desk with someone from each department at the same time. The reference staff member could sit on the right of the desk and the circulation staff member could sit on the left. However, in practice, I have seen this model fail to work for a key reason: only one person is assigned to staff the desk.

Again, in theory, libraries might just train the reference and circulation departments on how to do each other’s jobs. Problem solved! However, one must really question if this is being done. If you peruse library job listings, reference librarians are often asked to have more qualifications than circulation staff–they might be required to have, at minimum, a Bachelor’s degree, but sometimes an MLIS. Circulation staff might only be required to have a high school diploma. Reference librarians thus presumably in many cases already have more background than circulation staff, if indeed they have a Master’s in Library Science.

Are the circulation staff being asked to do training that is equivalent to the reference librarians’ education? Are they being asked to get any kind of certifications that reference staff without an MLIS might be asked to get? Are they taking the same kind of training–webinars or otherwise? What if someone asks a kind of obscure question about the law or needs help with something like unemployment? Are circulation staff really as knowledgeable as reference staff in answering reference questions when that is neither their background nor their primary job function?

The obvious answer might seem to be that any individual in the circulation department might conceivably be as good as or even better than someone in the reference department. After all, a degree is not everything. Years of experience could factor in, as well as any innate intelligence and general desire to learn. But then the question is–even if someone in the circulation department can do an equal job to the reference department, should circulation staff actually be asked to do the job of reference librarians? Because, since reference librarians often are required to have more experience or education for their roles, their job listings often indicate that they are being paid more than the circulation staff. Consequently, if the circulation staff sitting at the one desk in the one-desk model are doing the work of the reference librarians…shouldn’t they be getting paid at the same rate as the reference librarians?

To me, the one-desk model seems like another instance of job creep; librarians are being asked to take on additional duties without additional pay. In the past, the reference department would have focused on reference questions and the circulation on circulation duties, but now their job functions are being blended. Maybe the public does not know the difference. Maybe anyone official-looking sitting behind a desk is the same as another to them. But library staff in different departments do have different backgrounds, different training, and different job functions. That may or may not come across in how effectively any one individual is able to answer a question that is not technically part of their job description. And maybe patrons and administrators are willing to let little bits of customer service slip in order to get the bigger gain of a one-stop shopping experience. But I think we should seriously consider if asking staff to take on more job functions should result in a pay increase–especially if staff who are lower on the pay scale are now effectively functioning the same way as staff who are higher up on that scale.

What do you think? Do you like the one-desk model at the public library?

We Need to Stop Assuming That “Everyone Knows” about the Public Library

In the past, book blogger posts about public libraries seemed to be more common, and they would get plenty of comments from other enthusiastic library users. Recently, however, I have seen a bit of a troubling trend–the idea that no one needs to talk about or talk up libraries because “everyone already knows about libraries.” Sometimes, this truism is shown to be obviously false, such as that incident in which Forbes published an article claiming that library services are obsolete and taxpayers should fund Amazon instead. Clearly, even educated individuals do not always understand all that libraries offer and the unique way they work to provide equal access to information and materials. And sometimes, even avid library users do not always know everything that is available to them.

I use the library all the time, and I am still finding new services and resources. Often, I am able to pass on this information to friends, family, and coworkers–some of whom never visit the library for the simple reason that it never occurred to them. Other times, however, the people I talk to already do use the library, even frequently, but they still had never heard of some of the services available. There is always something more to learn!

Below are just a few examples from my personal life and from my internet browsing that demonstrate that knowledge of the public library is not exactly common for everyone. Some people never go into the library because they are wealthy and well-connected enough that they do not need to. Some people do not use the library because their family never did, and they don’t know how it works–and they might be too scared to ask, or they might assume there are barriers such as membership fees. Some people do use the library, but not to its full extent. For instance:

Personal Examples

  • A friend of mine lived in a city her entire life and had no clue there was a public library in that city.
  • A friend regularly used the library and read e-books, but did not know the library offered e-books to borrow until I mentioned it.
  • Family members without internet did not know that the library offers WiFi hotspots.
  • Family members keep offering me advice on how to find cheap DVDs, even though they could get completely free movies from the library. Some of them frequent the library already.
  • A friend told me she asked the members of her book club how many used the library–none of them do.
  • A teacher friend admitted that she had no idea what the library could even offer her or her class. I’m pretty certain she does not hold a library card.
  • Another teacher friend who uses the library all the time to find materials for her classroom was unaware that students can access tutoring at the public library.
  • A friend who goes to the library did not know she could join the Summer Reading Program as an adult.
  • Several people have asked me how much it costs to check out books at the library.
  • A friend’s coworker was talking about the difficulty of finding movies during the pandemic–she did not know that the public library offers physical DVDs and streaming.
  • At least two people have asked me if they needed a membership card just to walk in the library door.

Other Examples

  • Academic librarians on Twitter have complained that their faculty think the library is obsolete because “everything is on the Internet”–even though the faculty use digital resources available to them on the internet only because the library pays a subscription for those databases.
  • Writers of major U.S. periodicals have divulged that they only recently learned about library resources.
  • Individuals in publishing periodically spread misinformation (inadvertently) on Twitter about libraries and they way they work (presumably because, even though they are book lovers, they do not use libraries).
  • College-aged book bloggers sometimes think they can only use their college library and not the public library if they attend school away from home.

As you can see, knowledge about library services and how they work is not always common knowledge. Even people who are highly educated, who use library services already, and who are book lovers or who are involved in literary circles do not always know everything about the library. So when we stop talking about the library because we think it is overdone or not necessary, some people miss out. They never hear what they need to know–that they will not be asked to pay money to join, that they can find services of use even if they do not like to read, that the public library is still relevant to them personally.

What You Can Do

Talk about the library! Hype it up! Post about it! Tweet about it! Take Bookstagram photos of library books and announce proudly that they are from the library! Some ideas:

  • Write about your favorite library memories.
  • Write about your favorite library resources.
  • Share your secret library tips.
  • Post photos of any library swag you have.
  • Share your library holds list (a spin on the popular TBR list post).
  • Write a book haul post featuring library books or books from the library book sale.
  • Tweet about a library service you have used lately (ex. Libby/Overdrive, Hoopla, Kanopy, Ancestry, etc.)
  • Share photos of your library books or crafts you have made at the library.
  • Share tours of libraries you visit.
  • Introduce your friends and family members to relevant library resources.
  • Invite a friend to go to the library or a library program with you.

Libraries in the U.S. are always being threatened with reduced funding because so many people erroneously believe that public libraries no longer matter. Often, however, people just do not know what libraries offer! So let’s keep talking about libraries. There’s always something new to learn and celebrate.

How Libraries Support Authors

How Libraries Support Authors

Public libraries have received a lot of negative publicity in recent years from publishers claiming that they hurt authors. Libraries, admittedly, have not collected much data on all the work they do and all the ways that work–from hosting author visits to providing free social media marketing–can support authors. The reality is, however, that libraries actually do perform a lot of work that promotes authors and their works. All that remains is for them to quantify it! In the meantime, however, here are some ways that libraries support authors.

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Book Purchases

Once authors earn out their advance, they earn royalties from book sales. That includes sales to libraries! And libraries play an important role in supporting midlist authors. While some booksellers might focus on stocking bestsellers, libraries often buy books that receive less marketing attention from publishers. Libraries also purchase books individuals might not readily buy: academic works, expensive nonfiction titles (such as those used for school reports), lengthy manga series individuals might balk at purchasing because they read the books so fast, and paperback romances that many people prefer to buy used because they read these books so fast. Little data seems to exist on how much libraries purchase and if they might conceivably be thought of as an exciting, unique market for publishers to engage with. But the fact remains: libraries buy books and they buy books the general public might not have been aware of or that the general public might not spend their book buying budget on.

Also read: Should U.S. Libraries Pay Royalties Per Checkout?

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Exposure

Though many argue that libraries hurt authors by buying books and then lending them out, this argument assumes that library users are not also book buyers. But the Panorama Project’s Immersive Media & Books 2020 Consumer Survey found that the library can be an important way for book buyers to discover titles:

“35.9% of respondents bought a book online that they first found in a library, and this percentage is higher for avid book engagers (those who engage with 4+ books per month). 51.6% of avid book engagers bought a book online that they first found in a library. Library discovery is also leading to book purchases in brick-and-mortar bookstores: 31.1% bought a book in a bookstore that they first found in a library—44% for avid book engagers.”

-Panorama Project

Libraries provide free exposure to books through a variety of means: book clubs, displays, programs such as book parties or author visits, librarian recommendations, and (of course) their shelves–browsing for books is still a vital means of discovery for book lovers!

And, again, the exposure libraries give to midlist authors should not be under-valued. A Publisher’s Weekly article form 2019 indicates that bestsellers are now making up most of publishers’ sales and that publishers consequently put most of their marketing power behind those bestsellers.  Readers may only hear of some midlist books if they see them at the library.

Libraries exist in a complex ecosystem along with other means of acquiring books; often booksellers and libraries can end up mutually supporting each other, and do not need to see themselves as at odds.

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Free Marketing

Libraries do a lot of marketing for authors, though they may not get recognition for it. Some of that marketing, of course, comes from book displays or librarians talking up a book to a patron they think would particularly enjoy it. But libraries also do a lot of marketing through more modern channels. They might post book talks on YouTube; hype new releases on social media; host podcasts highlighting books; run blogs with book recommendations; or send out newsletters to their patrons, advertising their latest purchases. Some libraries even host author festivals where authors can sell their books directly to fans. All of this marketing is done by libraries free, or sometimes even at cost–libraries usually pay authors to make appearances and give talks.

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Local Author Collections

Libraries can also provide important exposure for self-published local authors. Many have local author collections where a writer can submit their work, and many will host events highlighting local authors and their books. It can be difficult doing one’s own marketing for a book, but libraries are often happy to partner with authors.

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The Creation of Life-Long Readers

Libraries create life-long readers by providing easy, free access to a multitude of books in a space where judgment about one’s reading habits is reserved and librarians work hard to create happy memories around books. Life-long readers typically do not only use the library; the Panorama Project’s Immersive Media & Books 2020 Consumer Survey indicates that readers engage with books in a variety of ways. That is, library users also purchase books. So anything that creates more readers, and more avid readers, is a good thing for authors!

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Conclusion

Libraries are not the enemies of authors. Some publishers tend to suggest that libraries are the primary reason authors do not earn as much as they might (though one would think that the publisher has some control over author salaries, too). In reality, however, the book market is very complex. There are various factors at play: the rise of Amazon and its shady pricing tactics, the used book market, the ability for self-published authors to sell their books more easily, and the ease with which individuals can now pirate books. The library is just one part of that market, but all parts must be considered when publishers analyze their profits reports.

Since libraries do play such a vital role in exposing readers to new titles, and because they do pay for their books, it seems unlikely that they are the main reason authors are not making money. Indeed, recent data suggests that avid readers engage with books in multiple ways, and that those who use the library also buy books. Creating more readers (as the library does) increases the number of people who will buy books. Libraries should thus be seen as an important way for authors to gain exposure and more readers.

Our Most Popular Library-Related Posts

We love libraries here at Pages Unbound! Check out a sampling of some of our most popular library-related posts from over the years.

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General Discussion Posts

Changes from the Pandemic

Library Services

Support Your Library