Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme that was created and hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and then cohosted with Dani @ Literary Lion. It is currently hosted by Aria @ Book Nook Bits. The meme encourages participants to discuss a new topic each week and visit each other’s posts to keep the conversation going.
Do you have a local library you go to often?
Yes! Anyone who reads our blog regularly knows that Briana and are enthusiastic supporters of the public library. Even when getting to the library was difficult for me, I would walk, bike, or take the bus to make sure I was able to get my books because there is nothing more exciting than walking into a building full of stories–and being able to take them home free.
I also like to attend programs at the library since it’s a fun and free way to spend a night out and meet new people. I’ve been able to make crafts with materials I don’t have at home, win prizes at Bingo Night, attempt to solve a murder mystery, and enter the Summer and Winter Reading Challenges. Sometimes I invite friends or family to go with me since, again, it’s a free night out! Sometimes they even have snacks, which is a bonus.
Does/did your school have a library?
My elementary school had a library full of old books, mostly classics. I loved checking out books each week, though I was always sad we were limited to only one book per week. Later on, in high school, I was devastated to realize that the school library was only open for about a half hour after school–and I couldn’t go because I had to go home. But the library was mostly full of outdated nonfiction, so it wasn’t particularly useful, anyway. They later changed it to a computer lab because the administration decided libraries are obsolete. Well, sure–if it’s full of outdated books no one can access!
My college library did not have a popular fiction section, but I found it extremely useful for academic purposes, especially paired with interlibrary loans, which I took advantage of frequently. I also applied for a library card from the local public library while in college, and would sometimes walk there to check out books for entertainment. Also, a little-known tip is that sometimes the education majors are asked to read children’s books or popular fiction, so you can often find at least some of these books even in an academic library.
What are your favorite things about libraries?
Too many to list! I love that libraries are committed to equal access, and that they are always looking for new, innovative ways to reach more people and connect them with resources that can improve their lives. There is really nowhere else that feels as welcoming. I can walk in, with no questions asked, stay for hours, spend no money, and have no one bother me. And I always leave with a stack of books because there’s no charge, and if I don’t end up reading them all or loving them all, it doesn’t matter. I can always check the books out another time, or find a different book I’ll love. Lately, I’ve expanded to borrowing more movies because I don’t want to pay for a streaming service. And I regularly check out WiFi hotspots so I don’t have to pay for an internet provider at home. People always give me their tips to save money, and I always reply with, “But have you tried the library?”
Are there certain books you borrow more or less often from libraries?
I borrow almost all of my books from the library at this point in my life. I will buy classics since the public library does not tend to stock those, or books that my library is unable to purchase for me. But there are certain books I really couldn’t see myself ever purchasing if the library did not have them–graphic novels because they’re expensive and I can read them in about an hour or less, audiobooks because they are expensive, certain YA books that I don’t see myself ever rereading or that I am not positive I will really enjoy. My purchasing power is limited, like most people’s, so I obviously gravitate towards buying authors I already know I love, or books that I am 100% sure align with my reading tastes. The library allows me to try out new-to-me authors and other books I feel less certain about.
Looking for access to scholarly articles? The good news is that most (if not all) colleges in the U.S. offer online access to their scholarly databases so you can browse and read articles from home. Even better, most (if not all) libraries in the U.S.–even public libraries!– offer Interlibrary Loan (ILL) services that will allow you to request articles not already available in your library’s online databases–and these are typically emailed to you so you never have to leave your dorm. Read on to discover some ways that you might be able to access academic journal articles through your library.
If you are not currently a student, check to see if you are eligible to obtain a library card at a local college.
If you are currently a student at a college or university, you probably already have access to your school library through your Student ID card/number. If you are not currently a student, you can do research to see if you are eligible to receive a library card from a local college. For example, the closest community college to my hometown offers cards to community members for $10.00. If you don’t see this information online, consider calling, emailing, or chatting online with a librarian to see what they offer. But don’t worry! If you are not eligible to pay for a college library card, you can still use your local public library to borrow academic journal articles. And a card from your local public library should be free.
Check the online databases.
Once you have a library card, check the online databases to find the academic journals and articles you are interested in. In most cases, you should be able to access these databases even if you are not on campus or in the library. As long as you have an internet connection, you should be able to browse from the comfort of your apartment or dorm.
Utilize Interlibrary Loan–and you can have journal articles e-mailed to you as PDFs
If you do not see the academic article you are looking for, you can request that it be sent to you through Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Most libraries now have an ILL request form online, so you don’t need to go to the library to ask for materials. Additionally, while books will still be sent to the library itself for pickup, academic articles are usually sent to students via email as PDFs. This means that you can do the whole transaction from home–and you don’t even need to return the borrowed article. Most libraries do make it clear, however, that the PDF is still under copyright, meaning it is for the use of the student only and should not be reproduced.
Check your local public library’s resources.
Most public libraries offer some online access to scholarly databases, though the databases offered tend to be less specialized than those offered by colleges and universities. You can browse the online databases as you would at a college library. You can also use ILL the same as you would at a college library. That means that you can have books from other libraries sent to your local library for pickup. Or you can request articles that, again, will likely be emailed to you as PDFs. If you are looking for an online article, you probably never have to leave home.
Apply for a public library card online.
Many public libraries were offering the ability to sign up for a card online before the pandemic, as a way to increase accessibility. Since 2020, the number of libraries with this option has likely risen. Visit your local library’s website to see if you can sign up online. In some cases, an online card might mean that you can only access online services. (You might need to go in-person to receive a physical card to check out physical items.) However, if you want the card primarily to search the online databases for journal articles, this should not be too much of an issue.
Research if there are any public library branch locations, Bookmobile stops, or library kiosks closer to where you live or work.
Getting to the local library may not always be quick or convenient. However, most public libraries offer other ways to access the collection that not every library user is aware of. So if you need to stop in to pick up a physical item, to get your physical library card, or to speak with a librarian, research your options. For example, many library users might only know about the main branch of the library, and not realize that there are smaller branches located around the city or county. You can have materials sent to your closest branch for pickup. You can also check to see if there are other options, like a Bookmobile stop close to where you live, or a kiosk. Older kiosks worked like vending machines, where you were limited to checking out what was inside. Newer models, however, might offer you the ability to pick up holds. And, of course, many libraries offer homebound services to deliver materials to those who are unable to leave their homes. If you don’t know what your options are, visit the website of your local public library or speak with a librarian.
See if you are eligible for a state library card.
Many states in the U.S. have one library where every resident of the state can apply for an online card and get access to digital materials (or physical, if you live close enough). So if you are not satisfied with your local collection, see what other options are available to you.
Of course, every library is different and policies and services may vary from institution to institution. However, if you are interested in reading academic articles, it’s definitely worth doing a little research to see what might be available to you. Many of these services are free and accessible from your computer, so you never have to leave home. You might not know what you are missing if you have never looked for it!
When I first started book blogging, many bloggers were excited about the public library. They would share their favorite resources, talk about how much they appreciated library services, and generally spread library love. Many bloggers even seemed to be library workers. Over the years, however, I have seen enthusiasm for public libraries diminish. Often online narratives stress only the limitations of library services, or gloss over libraries as something we all “know about already” and should not talk up too much. Worse, however, I have even met library workers who seem discouraged about the state of public libraries.
Such subdued responses to the public library seem particularly odd in the book blogosphere, since so many book also tend to be library lovers. And it also seems odd when considered in light of the much-lauded 2019 Gallup survey showing that more Americans visited the library each year than visited the movies, sporting events, museums, and national parks. So I was intrigued when I read that one report actually contradicted the narrative that libraries are doing well, and suggested instead that library visits have been declining.
In April 2020, Publishers Weekly interviewed Tim Coates, author of the 2020 Freckle Report, which found a 25% decrease in the use of library services since 2011. In the interview, Coates mentions that the 2019 Gallup poll results did not match the statistics provided by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS); Gallup reported people visiting libraries 10.5 times a year, while the IMLS data reported people visiting only 4.1 times a year. Coates investigated and concluded that library visits really are declining and suggested that, to reverse the trend, libraries should focus on maintaining a robust print collection–still considered the backbone of most public libraries.
Interestingly, though the 2020 Freckle Report was based on data taken pre-pandemic, the 2021 Freckle Report (according to Publishers Weekly) offered a similar assessment. The 2021 report took data from the pandemic, including a rise in reading and in digital reading, but still found that library visits are declining. And it still recommended attempting to reverse the trend by investing in the print collection, arguing that e-books are a poor value for libraries considering their high costs and limited licensing agreements. (You can read more about e-book pricings for libraries here.) Coates also argued that investing in digital resources will further reduce the number of visits to library buildings (though, of course, one could counter-argue that the door count is not the only metric for success here).
Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of data on precisely what is happening with libraries–how often people use them, why they use them, if their attitude towards using them has changed, and so on. But I was intrigued by Coates’ argument for more of an emphasis on print materials, since I have argued myself that libraries seem plagued by an identity crisis. Are they food pantries? Conference centers? Recreation centers? Social services? My own belief is that libraries are still primarily associated by the public with books, and that libraries should emphasize their collections and work with partners instead of trying to duplicate services already offered by other local organizations. For me, though, emphasizing the collection could also include expanding digital access, even as I recognize that it is true that e-book licenses for libraries are often prohibitively expensive.
While I do celebrate all the great work libraries do, and have often used the catchphrase, “Libraries are more than books!” I still think that most people go to the library for books and computer access, and not particularly to attend yoga class or to hold meetings. This is only my own anecdotal experience, but the people at my local library who attend programs are all the same limited crowd, and even most book bloggers I have chatted with seem to use the library to borrow materials more than for anything else. So it makes sense to me that growing a relevant print (and digital) collection would perhaps draw more people back to the public library. In fact, the number one complaint I see from book bloggers is that their local library does not carry the books they want.
So this 2016 article in the Atlantic, which also found a decrease in library usage in the U.S, seemed to me to be the key to the issue. It reports that a 2012 report by the IMLS found that library usage is linked to funding. Libraries with more funding had more usage. That makes sense. Libraries with more funding can offer more–more books, more staff, more hours, more programs. People are more likely to use a resource that provides them with what they are looking for. All the bloggers who said they stopped going to their local library because of its small collection seem to be validating this data.
Of course, public library funding has been in jeopardy for years. Much of it disappeared during the 2009 recession (the effects of which the 2012 report referenced above no doubt captured). And much of it never returned, even as prices for everything have risen. But the idea that library usage might be linked to funding, and might even be tied to a robust materials collection, is one that can offer hope because it gives a way forward. Libraries do not have to offer limited hours, limited staffing, and limited books and programs. They could offer more, if the public made it a priority to fund them. Let’s just hope that our elected officials agree, before libraries really do become obsolete–not because they are not still needed, but because we have set them up to fail by neglecting to provide them with the necessary resources.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 alibrary 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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?