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

Librarians' Vocational Awe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libraries’ Brand is Still Books

Libraries' Brand Is Still Books

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

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

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

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

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

How Can Libraries Go Green?

How Can Libraries Go Green

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

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

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

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Potential Strategies

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

What ideas would you add to the list?

Do You Like Blind Book Bundles?

Do You Like Blind Book Bundles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interlibrary Loan: Not to Be Confused with Your Local Consortium

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

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

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

Why don’t more people use interlibrary loan?

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Interlibrary Loan

5 Misconceptions about the Public Library

5 Misconceptions about the Public Library

All library workers are librarians.

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

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

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

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

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

E-Books are cheaper for libraries than physical books.

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

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

Library workers spend all day reading.

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

Libraries and their patrons don’t pay for books.

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

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

10 Digital Resources from the Public Library You Should Know!

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

Hoopla

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

Overdrive/Libby

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

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

Freegal

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

Kanopy

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

NoveList

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

Ancestry/Heritage Quest

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

Universal Courses

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

LearningExpress Library/School Center

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

Tumblebooks/Tumble Math

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

World Book Online

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

What are some of your favorite digital library resources?

Word of Mouth Marketing: One Easy (and Free!) Way to Support the Library

We are big supporters of public libraries here at Pages Unbound and we have previously suggested easy and free ways for our readers to support their own public libraries. However, one way we have not previously mentioned specifically draws upon the unique skill set of of book bloggers: word of mouth marketing. Word of mouth marketing is basically any type of recommendation received from a friend or another trusted individual, rather than an paid advertisement or a plug from an organization on their website, social media pages, etc. It is the type of marketing that happens when you need to buy something and you start asking friends and coworkers what they have, whether they like it, and if they would recommend it or buy it again. But marketing does not just have to happen for things we purchase; it can be relevant for services like the public library, as well.

Book bloggers are really good at this type of marketing because we routinely read and analyze books, then write up detailed reviews assessing the pros and cons, saying which target demographics that book might particularly appeal to, and weighing whether the book was good enough that we can see ourselves rereading it or purchasing the sequel. In short, we assess a material and then try to match it with the kinds of people who would like it most. Book bloggers who are dedicated library users and who wish to help support their libraries can do the same thing by recommending library materials and services to people they meet whom they think can benefit from these services.

Why bother doing work of mouth marketing for the library?

Word of mouth marketing is important for libraries in particular because many are not working with large budgets. This has lead some to reduce library hours, cut their purchasing budgets, and, in some cases, lay off staff or simply not fill a position once someone has retired. In addition, many libraries rely on the labor of part-time employees because they cannot afford to pay full-time librarians. Libraries would love to serve more people, and get more excited voters who can help pass legislation increasing their budgets, but they do not always have the money for large-scale advertising campaigns. This makes their library users one of their most important ways to get the word out about what they offer.

Additionally, word of mouth marketing is important because many people trust it more than they trust paid advertisements. They may not even see paid advertisements if they are using an ad blocker or no longer pay for cable or a physical newspaper. And, if they are not dedicated library users already, they are probably not following the library social media channels or subscribed to any library e-newsletters. Many libraries rely on these free or cheap channels for advertising, but they are not reaching people who are not already going to the library, anyway. But, in the end, hearing an enthusiastic recommendation from a friend is more powerful, anyway. It feels more authentic to people because someone gushing about the library is not getting paid to do it. They really mean it.

Of course, these are reasons word of mouth marketing is important to help out cash-strapped libraries. Not necessarily a reason YOU personally should start thinking about doing some marketing for them. Perhaps the best reason is that talking about the library benefits everyone. It benefits the person who learns about a new service they can use. It benefits the library who gets more usage, more statistics, and potentially more money. This helps the library expand its offerings, thereby helping the community further. Because when the library is able to help more people in the community apply for jobs, complete homework, pass career tests, or learn a new language, the community is lifted up as a whole. Basically, talking up the library is a free and easy way to help people find accessible materials and information to pursue their goals and follow their dreams.

But doesn’t everyone already know about the library?

Not at all! In fact, there are dedicated library users who potentially go there every week–and they still may not know about everything the library has to offer. But there are also some people who may not know where the local library is, that it is free to access, or that it offers more than books these days. Spreading the word is important because, although we may assume everyone knows as much as we do about libraries, that simply isn’t always the case.

How effective is word of mouth marketing?

I don’t have any statistics on this, but I do have some personal anecdotes about how I have found marketing the library to be effective:

1) I was talking to someone who attended the local community college. She knew about the college library, but not that she could access movies and books for entertainment from the public library. I ended up explaining to her how she could apply for a free library card.

2) I was talking to a friend who read books regularly, both physical books and e-books. I would often run into him at the library itself. One day I casually mentioned that I had borrowed an e-book from the library. Even though he was a frequent library user, he had no idea he could borrow e-books from there, as well. I told him how to access them from the website.

3) A teacher friend was talking about her students. I told her the library had free tutoring available after school. The library did not really advertise this, so she had not known, even though, she too, regularly used the library, often to check out books for her classes. She advertised the service to her students.

4) I was talking to a friend and mentioned that the library had an adult summer reading program. The library does not advertise this extensively, but focuses only on its children’s program. She goes to the library all the time and had no idea. She signed up and ended up winning a gift card to a local restaurant. She took me out to lunch.

5) I was looking at my library’s Facebook page. Someone was complaining about not being able to read anything during the pandemic. Another user asked it they had tried the e-books yet. They had not. This person was a dedicated enough library user to follow their social media, but somehow still had no idea that the library offers digital materials–even though the library has been advertising them aggressively during the entire pandemic.

6) A friend was talking to a coworker trying to find entertainment during the pandemic. She asked about streaming services. He said he checks out DVDs from the library and sometimes streams them from the digital resources like Hoopla. This person did not previously know the library offers DVDS.

In many of these cases, I was already talking to a dedicated and even enthusiastic library user. However, they still did not know everything the library has to offer. I successfully marketed the library to them by explaining how the library offered a service that could meet their needs. And that’s really the key. I didn’t have to go around randomly shouting about the awesomeness of the library to all and sundry. I simply had to mention a service that would solve a problem the person had already mentioned they had.

How can book bloggers spread the word about libraries?

Talking about libraries is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Here a few ways you can try, based on your interest and comfort level:

Casually mention a library service you are using.

For example, “I’m playing this awesome video game I got from the library!” Or, “I’m so excited the summer reading program started! I hope I win a cool prize!” Or, “I got this book using interlibrary loan and it came all the way from New Mexico! Isn’t that amazing?”

Ask a friend or coworker if they know about a service you think they would like.

For example, “I know you love reading comics. Have you tried checking them out from the library using Hoopla?” Or, “You listen to music all the time. Did you know the library has this service called Freegal that lets you download a couple free songs each week, to keep?” Or, “I know you said you are concerned about Timmy’s development. The library has an early childhood expert coming next week, if you are interested. I grabbed a flyer for you.”

Invite someone to attend a program with you.

Going to a new place or a new program alone can be intimidating for some people! Why not have a free night out with friends by asking if they would like to join you for something like a board game night or a craft night at the library? Bonus if the library is also providing snacks. Or advertise some of the children’s programs to your parents’ group.

Blog about library services.

As I mentioned above, not even avid library users know everything about the library. I discover something new all the time! So I like to blog about resources others may not know about. For instance, every couple years I remind people that they can typically request books from anywhere in the U.S. using the magic of interlibrary loan. I have also blogged about libraries who allow people to apply for a card from home (more common since the Covid-19 pandemic) and about library services focused on accessibility such as cards for people who are homeless or delivery for people who are homebound.

Share on social media.

Most book bloggers also have social media channels. Don’t forget to talk up library services and your library stories there, as well! It may reach people who do not regularly read or follow your blog. You can even do something simple like mention on your Bookstagram picture that your books are from the library, since some bloggers are not sure if it is okay to use library books for Bookstagram.

On your personal pages, you can post a picture of you having fun at the library. Or you can update friends on how close you are to completing the summer reading program. Or you can simply “like,” share, or repost programs or services that the library is offering. You really don’t need to invest a lot of time in spreading the word.

Reach out to your personal and professional connections.

If you know about a library service that will benefit a group you are in, let them know. Share early childhood programs with your parents’ group. If you are an educator, share resources like any online or in-person tutoring services or class-specific reference databases with your students, as well as your colleagues. If you are in a group that would benefit from a specific library service or database, reach out to the library and ask if someone can come present on those resources.

Wear some library swag!

If you are shy about talking up libraries, some library swag can be a great conversation starter! Wear a button, T-shirt, or pin from the library or purchase a library-branded tote if they have some available! Then simply wait for people to ask you about them!

Conclusion

Word of mouth marketing is a really easy way to spread some library love and help people you know in the process! Many would be thrilled to take advantage of library services and save some money if only they what is available to them. Most bloggers like to talk about books and the library, anyway. So, if you are looking for a way to support your library more, be a little more intentional about sharing your library enthusiasm with the people around you. It’s as simple as that!

How do you spread library love? Have you successfully marketed the library or its services to someone before?

Should Library Summer Reading Programs Stop Awarding Prizes?

Every year, most libraries across the U.S. offer summer reading programs. These initiatives are meant to help prevent the summer slide, which is the loss of academic gains students can sustain over the course of the summer if they do not keep reading or engage in learning activities. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to be most at risk, since they are less likely to be able to participate in learning activities such as going to summer camps or museums. The hope of libraries is that they can encourage children and teens to continue to be excited about reading, even when school is out, by offering incentives: so many pages or minutes read typically results in the participant winning a prize or perhaps a raffle ticket for the chance to win a prize.

Some libraries, however, are beginning to question the wisdom of handing out summer reading prizes. Some worry that giving out hundreds of cheap plastic toys is harmful to the environment, or at least annoying to parents. Such concerns inspired the “Read and Bead” program, in which libraries hand out different types of beads over the course of the summer so participants can create a necklace or a brag tag. Others, however, are more concerned that rewarding children for reading sends the wrong message and prevents them from learning how to enjoy reading for its own sake.

Research on whether rewards are “bad” and can prevent individuals from finding intrinsic motivation to do something that is good for them is mixed. This article from Slate, for instance, explains how some of the early research on rewards is not necessarily applicable to the ways in which caregivers typically use them. Later research, however, suggests that rewards can work because they help form habits, which people are likely to keep up even after the reward system ends. This suggests that children and teens who initially begin to read just for a chance to win a prize might indeed keep reading for themselves after the summer reading program has ended.

Personally, I love library summer reading programs because I think they do do an excellent job of creating excitement around reading. Many start with parties to kick off the summer and then feature big paid performers who attract audiences who might otherwise not visit the library. These events make reading seem cool and even normal–everyone is showing up to the library! Additionally, advertising incentives gets kids to sign up who might otherwise never sign up. They do not already have intrinsic motivation to read on their own and they are not going to get it just because some librarian tells them they should. Sometimes, saying, “But you can win a gift card!” is really what it takes to get someone started reading. Once they are reading, they have the chance to encounter a book they will love or maybe even change their life. But they may never get that chance if adults believe they need to be avid readers to begin reading in the first place.

I do not think offering incentives ruins the reading experience, either. I loved reading growing up and would spend hours each day in the summer curled up with a book. I also looked forward to the summer reading program, both because I loved winning prizes, and because I found it satisfying to list all my titles and see my record sheet grow. It was kind of like a precursor to the Goodreads challenge, which many adults enjoy. Earning prizes for something I loved to do never changed how I perceived reading. I never thought I had to stop reading if I was not going to get something in return.

The people who fear that offering incentives will harm children are coming from a good place, where they simply want the best for those children. However, I think, in this case, as in many others, sometimes the fear may prove overblown. Children tend to turn out all right, regardless of the mistakes the adults in their lives are sure to make. Offering some incentives for reading will probably not ruin anyone for life, but it might open the door to reading for some who might otherwise not try it at all.

What do you think? Should libraries hand out prizes for summer reading programs?

How Do You Change the Library?

Book lovers tend to also love libraries. But, sometimes, we can also see opportunities for improvement. We wish that the library would offer more resources, more books, more programs. Often, of course, libraries wish this, too. They may be prevented from doing everything staff can dream of because of budget constraints and limited staffing. However, the wonderful thing about libraries is that they are meant to serve the community. And that means community members get to have a voice in how the library is run. So, how can you advocate for change? Here’s a list to get you started.

You Have Purchase Suggestions

Most libraries have a form on their website or on site that you can fill out with your purchase ideas. So if you are upset that the library never seems to have the latest releases you want, you can try filling out the form. (If you don’t see a form anywhere, simply make your request at the help desk.) Most libraries will try to purchase what they can–after all, they want their materials to circulate and you’ve just suggested that this title will since someone was interested enough in it to suggest it. To increase your chances of getting what you want, keep in mind reasons your request might be denied: the material is too niche, the material is too old, the material is out-of-print, or the material is offered exclusively through a particular service like Audible or Netflix and the library is not allowed to buy it.

If you are looking for an e-book through Overdrive, Overdrive also has a “recommend” button you can use to suggest purchases. Simply type in the title of the book you want in the search bar. If it is not available, scroll down to the bottom of the page. The book title should be listed there. You click on it to recommend it. That’s it!

As a final note, Hoopla and Kanopy build their own catalogs; library staff are not in charge of purchasing for services like these. So make sure any suggestions you send in can be realistically purchased in the format you are requesting.

You Have Program Suggestions

Some libraries also have forms you can fill out to suggest programs. If yours does not, however, you can make your request in person to the appropriate department or you can send an email to that department. For example, if you think a bilingual story time would be a great idea, contact the youth services department. If you think your library should start a summer reading program for adults, contact the adult services department.

Keep in mind that many libraries may have limited staff and resources. So they want to know that if they do the work and spend the money to offer a new program, people will show up. Ideally, if you have multiple people interested in an idea, share that along with your proposal. So if you can promote the program to your parents’ group or if you intend to bring your daycare, let the library know. If your friends also want to participate in an adult summer reading program, get them to contact the library, too.

You Have Other Great Ideas

Sometimes you might have an amazing idea you think the library can implement. In this case, you have to consider who your audience is–that is, who has the ability to make the change you are suggesting. You can contact the appropriate department, the director of the library, or the library board.

The library board is typically comprised of a group of community members who set library policy and have control over their budget. Their meetings are open to the public and there should be a time set aside during the meeting for public comment. This is the place where you can suggest big, system-wide changes. Think something like going fine free. Even the library director cannot make a policy change like that without approval from the board.

Showing up in person for a big proposal will likely be more effective than dropping a note in the suggestion box. It shows that someone cares enough to show up and that they are not likely to go away if they are simply ignored. (I’m sure we have all had our emails ignored.) However, everyone has time constraints, so you can also consider email, snail mail, or social media as other ways to contact the library. Just make sure you follow up!

Have you ever contacted your library with a suggestion? What was the response? What tips do you have?