Shhh! Keep your voices down. We’re talking to librarians this week from all over the U.S. as well as far away in Frankfurt, Germany. Who are the people who immerse themselves in the nuts and bolts of books and research? Why do they do what they do? What is their influence in the publishing world? Let’s find out.
ANNE TOMLIN: “Born and raised in Central New York, I attended undergraduate school in Westchester County (NY) and got my MLS from the former library school at State University of New York at Geneseo. My first job was as a part-time Readers' Services Librarian at the local community college (5 years), then as director of the medical library at a non-profit hospital (22 years.) Currently I am principal consultant for Blue Norther Group which specializes in providing medical and general reference research services. I have a little paralegal experience, and have been hired to develop fundraising materials for a local foundation. I write mystery fiction (unpublished to date, alas) and was a regular contributor and author/columnist for a number of library publications.”
PATTY ANDERSON: “I've been a librarian since 1981 or so, have a Bachelor's degree in Library Science from the University of South Dakota and a Master's degree from Louisiana State University. Currently I'm the Library Director at the Devereaux Library at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, SD.”
ELKE JOST-ZELL: “Born in 1965 in a small town called Meerholz (Germany) which happens to be the current geographical centre of the European Union School: Grimmelshausen Gymnasium Gelnhausen (High school) Born and bred by a librarian mother, married to a librarian, with a three year old daughter who loves books since she could hold one in her tiny hands. Library: Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German national library), Frankfurt on the Main, since 1983. Working on her first whodunnit, set in a library, among lots of other things.” QIANA JOHNSON: “I got the MLS from Dominican University in Illinois in 2004, so I am a *very* new librarians. I work at a small branch academic library in Chicago, IL and have worked here for 2 years.”
QIANA JOHNSON: "I got my undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago and my library degree at Dominican University. I am working in my first librarian position at a branch library at Northwestern University where I am a reference and instruction librarian. In my spare time I read and spend way too much time
cooking and planning to cook and keeping my two cats away from what I
PATTY STREET: “I attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, graduating with a BA in psychology and eventually, after dabbling in counseling and creative writing, a Masters in English Education. (It's a long story.) I currently live in a small town, Fort White, which is about 30 NE of Gainesville. I live on 10 acres of woods, close to the Santa Fe River, with my husband and son, another son already moved out and living in Gainesville, attending UF. I am 56 years old. Fort White has one traffic light, no fast food, no grocery store--yet. I run a branch library, part of the Columbia County Library system, which comprises of a Main library in Lake City (county seat), and two ranches, one west of Lake City, and one in Fort White.”
SHANNON JENSEN: “I do not have a Masters in Library Science (MLS) – I actually have my degree in Sign Language Interpreting from Iowa Western Community College with plans to work toward my Bachelor’s Degree in Languages. I work in a small public library in Evansdale, Iowa (pop. 4526), the town I was raised. I’ve worked here since 1997 and I work a combination of part-time at the library and part-time for the city making for a full-time job. I have just one other staff member, Anne, who works 20 hours a week and is my rock of Gibraltar. I am a hungry reader reading everything from self-help guides to biographies, chick-lit to young adult fiction. Suspense and thrillers are my favorite genre and science fiction and westerns being my least favorite, however I’ve becoming more tolerant of both since working in the library. I have a husband who is a police officer and reads maybe one book a year (and that’s probably stretching it) and a mini dachshund who thinks he’s more important than anything in print. This is my story.”
What made you decide to venture into library science?
ANNE TOMLIN: I always enjoyed libraries, and enjoyed the "Aha!" factor of tracking down information - sort of like detective work without the blood.
PATTY ANDERSON: A love of both reading and of information. I love finding it and sharing it.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: I'm afraid it's very cliché. I loved books so much that I became a librarian. It was a bruising fall from paradise when I discovered that library science and book loving must not necessarily go hand in hand. My parents were by the way more attracted to the fact that I would have a safe job;-)
QIANA JOHNSON: My grandmother used to take me to the library when I was little--about 4 years old--because I loved reading. I thought it was the coolest thing ever that hanging out with those books was someone's job! When I got older, I loved (and still do) research and the idea of helping people with their research, so being a librarian is the best job for me.
PATTY STREET: It kind of fell in my lap. A good friend who also lives in the area was instrumental in getting the branch set up in Fort White. I worked for her as a volunteer while working part-time first as a school-teacher and then at the Post office (another long story) and having a couple of kids. When she moved on to other aspirations, I took over as the branch manager, having a little experience in ordering books and a college degree which was the education requirement. It was a perfect job: I would work close to where my kids went to school, get paid well enough, NOT have to drive to Gainesville to work, and work part time.
SHANNON JENSEN: It was actually luck of the draw. I have always been a voracious reader and had come home from college to take care of my grandmother when the job opened up. I just seemed like something I would enjoy, and for the most part, have.
In It's A Wonderful Life, George Bailey's alternate universe reveals that his beloved wife is—horrors!—a Librarian! It's the end of the world! Hopefully that image has changed since the forties. When people learn you are a librarian are you overwhelmed with stereotypical expectations?
ANNE TOMLIN: Uh, no.
PATTY ANDERSON: Seldom, I'm one of those with short hair, a very youthful face (that Scandinavian look) and I'm perpetually cheerful at work, so all the stereotypes don't fit me. However I often get "do you Shush people?" which in an academic library seldom happens.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: Unfortunately, yes! People either think I'm a walking encyclopedia or a poor library mouse waiting for a life beyond the books.
QIANA JOHNSON: It's more of the subtle "You're a librarian!?!" I did get one person, only half jokingly, say, "But you're a fun person." Mostly people ask me what I do all day. When I tell them and explain most days I barely make it out of the door on time, they realize it's an exciting job.
PATTY STREET: Not really. Every now and then, someone will say, you aren't a typical librarian, are you? But for the most part, I think the image has changed, because the role of the library has changed. Libraries offer so much more than books: computers, meeting rooms, literacy tutors, a myriad of programs for babies, kids, teens, and adults. Have you met a young adult librarian lately?
SHANNON JENSEN: I wouldn’t say that I am overwhelmed; more amused. I started as library director when I was 27 and I have tattoos. I always snicker when someone says, amazingly, “but, you’re a librarian.” I think for the most part, stereotypes are dissipating but there are some that I think will never die. Like the shushing librarian…I think no matter what, librarians will always carry the torch of shush with them. Even if they are DDRing for fines and whooping it up with the kids. I think it’s just expected of them to keep the peace in the sanctuary of the library.
Give us a brief Library 101 course. What is it like to be a librarian? What is an average day like?
ANNE TOMLIN: First, there is no average day - one of the joys of the work is you never know what someone may ask you. As a former medical librarian I was a solo, so I did EVERYTHING, from research to collection development to interlibrary loans to teaching, plus daily administrative stuff like scrutinizing invoices and filing papers. I might have student nurses working on reports, an administrator calling for healthcare statistics projected out five years, a doctor looking for case studies, another reviewing surgical techniques, or a patient's family member searching for a local support group.
PATTY ANDERSON: Average day? Start with reading email and catching up on phone calls. If I'm working Reference than I'm ready when a patron comes in to ask questions. I will teach classes on how to use the library when called upon. I also teach a class on Web Design that is a "for credit" class - that actually takes me away from the library. Dealing daily with patrons who need information, have problems with machines (computers, fax, copiers, printers), mediate when the issue of fines becomes a problem. I'm not a front line librarian, much more administrative so some of my duties are outside a Library 101 course.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: It depends on where you work. Being in the office is nice, quiet and concentrated work. Out in the reading rooms it's battle station. Library users need all kinds of help and advice, which is satisfying and stress all the same. The telephone seems to ring all the time, faxes and e-mails arrive by the zillions. Most people are polite, calm and even delightful - especially American professors are absolute dears. Nonetheless there's always need for chocolate in the reading room. In special cases we share it with our patrons, especially those who rush in shortly before exams and find that all the pages in those university library's books they badly need are ripped out and now they seek help, the complete books and nerve soothing from us. But back to the question. In every single department there's a lot of computer work, from cataloguing to research of the kind "Dear Sir, dear Madam, when I was a kid I loved this delightful book where the rabbit meets the frog. I don't remember the title but it was green with a brown rabbit on the cover". Or really heavy stuff when you stand in front of a million reference books and need to find bibliographic data on an article in a scientific journal. Of course you don't know in which year that article has been published. Browsing can be an exhausting thing o do.
QIANA JOHNSON: It differs for every librarian depending on what type of librarian you are--cataloger, reference librarian, bibliographer, digital resources librarian, etc. I'm a reference and instruction librarian at an academic library. I have a daily shift on the reference desk, meaning I man the desk where people can come up and ask questions. That can be anything from "Where are the bathrooms?" to "How to I do research on the racial makeup of Chicago neighborhoods and how has that changed over the past 100 years?" I also teach several library instruction sessions for undergraduate and graduate classes, where a professor brings his or her students in to learn about library resources that will help them with an assignment. I also serve a library committee. So on any given day I am doing or preparing for several of those things.
PATTY STREET: Since I run a small library, I have to do many things. For many years I had only one other person working with me, now I have two. We are all part time. For part of the day, I work the circulation desk, which is checking out books, reserving books that aren't on the shelves at the moment, giving out information to anyone who walks in and needs to know something. If this involves research, I do that. I order books, read reviews, consider requests for purchase. I read stories to school groups who visit. Or, I go visit classrooms, talk about the library, etc. (I used to visit daycares, do a little program for the kids once a week, but I have trained another employee to do this.) I solve problems the other employees can't, or aren't allowed to solve, making exceptions to delinquent patrons, overriding protocols, etc. In the course of one day, I could do everything just mentioned. (But the visits don't happen every week.)
SHANNON JENSEN: Aah…being a librarian is like nothing in the world. I am looked to as one of the smartest people my patrons know. They give me a plot or book cover color, I give them the book. They want to learn about sign language and I teach them. They need tax forms and I got those too. But there are so many other things to handle that they don’t see.
My typical short day goes like this:
Check mail and check book drop for any book returns, turn on all computers, photocopier, phone, printers and raise the blinds. Open doors for business. Usual library business such as checking out books to patrons, requesting books to patrons, signing up patrons to use public access computers commences. We make photocopies and have fax service for the public as well as printer copies from the public access computers. Check books in, put away. Read mail. Place orders for any office supplies or book supplies we may need. Weed the collection, withdraw books from catalog, library and our statewide catalog online. Process new books, videos, DVDs and magazines and make shelf-ready. Automate into system. Put out for circulation. Write article for biweekly newspaper. Maintain website. Read online and print catalogs for new acquisitions. Help a five year old put together a puzzle in the children’s department. Help someone find information on dogs. Perform updates on computers as needed. Sneak in lunch at the desk. Prepare for school rush and all of our teenagers who love MySpace. Work on accreditation report due at the State Library. Check library email and answer as needed. Read list-servs. Answer phone and tell someone the number to the post office. Refill tax forms caddy. Put more books away. Fill out and process an interlibrary loan request. Review the unattended children’s policy. Make notations for suggestion to the policy committee. Ask the girls at computers 3 & 4 to keep it down. Explain why the computer just shut down five minutes before closing. Help a last minute check out. Lock the library doors. Lower blinds. Power down equipment and make sure books are all put away for the next day. Go home until tomorrow.
What most people don’t understand about our job is that we wear the 500 hats like Dr. Seuss’ character Bartholomew Cubbins. Not only do we check in and out books, but we are babysitter, IT person for the computers, purchasing agent of the library. We make the books ready for people to check out, we make sure there is shelf on the room for more books. We make sure that we always have enough staples and tape and paper and ink for the photocopier and printers. While doing all this, we also recommend a favorite book, show someone how to learn to crochet and teach a second grader about the differences in snowflakes.
It’s not as cut and dry as, “I thought all you did was check books in and out and then read all day.” That would be nice, but highly unlikely.
Obviously, a love of books comes into play in your decision to be a librarian. Is it all work and no play? Do you still get a lot of reading in?
ANNE TOMLIN: One thing that surprises many "civilians" is that most of us do NOT get paid to sit around and read - would that it were so. On the other hand, with my "reviewer's hat" firmly in place I can legitimately read books about which I'm assigned to write.
PATTY ANDERSON: No reading at work, no time for that. Still read a lot at home, both print and using books on tape to listen while doing fun things like exercising. The type of reading that gets done at work is paperwork and literature on the profession, journals, etc.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: Well, if you're in the right library department you MUST read, at least large parts of the books. Subject cataloguing and DDC is still intellectually done by librarians, and in order to do that correctly, we need to know what the books are all about. It belongs to the nicest - and most difficult - jobs in a library. Otherwise, no, there simply is no time for reading all those books, just taking in snippets, and making lots of serendipity, which cost many a librarian quite a fortune. Yes, yes, we could read the library books, but it's so much nicer to buy our own copy.
QIANA JOHNSON: I am an avid reader and am never without a book. I often have a commuting book and an at (work) book. The joys of public transportation.
PATTY STREET: Only on my own time. Everyone thinks librarians get to sit and read all day. We read, but it's a computer screen, doing all the above activities. I read book reviews while at work, or library journals, but no "pleasure" reading. We all do that on our own time. It takes me a couple of weeks to read a book, mainly because I'm a little obsessed with crossword puzzles at the moment, after seeing the documentary WORDPLAY.
SHANNON JENSEN: Yep…all work and no play. I read a lot – but at home. I do manage to read the List-servs that I belong to at work because that is all part of the job – but actually putting my feet up and reading a book at my desk? Doesn’t happen.
How do you decide what books to acquire for the library?
ANNE TOMLIN: We use selection guides, recommended titles from professional journals, requests from staff (depending on budget, of course). Final selection comes down to maintaining authoritative and current titles to cover the specialties of our institution.
PATTY ANDERSON: We work closely with our faculty on what materials to add. My background is liberal arts and I'm at a science/engineering campus, so their knowledge of what is needed is invaluable. Often what is purchased depends on what is in stock when we have funding available.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: I don't. My library is a national archive, so we collect all the books published in or about the country. We are fortunate to have a right of legal deposit which means that every publisher in the country is obliged to send us two copies of a book, journal or any other media for free. But we do have special collections where we need to buy books. The Deutsche Exil-Archiv (German Exile Archive) for example where we collect books, magazines, letters and photos by German writers and artists who emigrated during the years of Nazi terror. Of course we need to buy media for these. We acquire what we think belongs to the collection - if we can afford it.
QIANA JOHNSON: Reading reviewing sources, like Choice, reviews in scholarly journals, some newspapers and magazines, and patron requests.
PATTY STREET: Mostly, by popular demand. All bestsellers, all the popular authors. I have a budget for each category--adult fiction, adult nonfiction, juvenile, juvenile nonfiction, DVD's, books on CD, etc. Since I have worked at this library for years and years now, I just know what gets checked out. True crime, for example, is a popular nonfiction category. All the animal books, kid and adult, the gardening section, history. Medical books get replaced as soon as they are out of date, which is sometimes as soon as we purchase them! I consider all patron requests and often purchase those if I think the book will circulate. If the book is too old or obscure, I will do an interlibrary loan--get the book from another library outside our system. If I still have money to spend at the end of the fiscal year, I consult catalogs sent to us by book publishers, of which I have a drawerful.
SHANNON JENSEN: My purchases are based on several issues – Policy, demand and patron request.
What goes into the decision? Is it based on your locale? Finances?
ANNE TOMLIN: See above. In real estate it may be "location, location, location" but in libraries (in particular, special collections) its "funding, funding, funding." Most libraries are cost, not revenue, centers and so have to cheerlead hard to make their budget case every single year. Nothing can be taken for granted.
PATTY ANDERSON: Driven by the curriculum of the campus and paid for by available funding.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: We have strict acquisition guidelines for all our collections. And yes, we need money and never seem to have enough of it. If you want to buy a letter written by Albert Einstein you need to go to an auction and bid with a lot of competitors. Most of them have more cash than the library.
QIANA JOHNSON: Finances always play a part, but we also look at whether materials will benefit the programs supported by the library. WE also look at where the departments seem to be heading.
PATTY STREET: See above. Also, the town now has a high school, so I have more kids coming in to do various kinds of research, mostly on the computer. But I have increased my nonfiction purchases with teens in mind. And we do have a collection development policy, which protects us when someone objects to a book. (This has never happened in a formal way, although people complain and whine sometimes.) The policy basically says we order according to the needs/wants of the community. Someone could complain about Harry Potter all they wanted, all we'd do is prance out the circulation statistics.
SHANNON JENSEN: Yes and yes. Those are both factors in my decision. We also have other criteria such as the scope of our mission statement, usefulness and interest, format, durability, price and availability, and relevance to existing collection.
Is there anything given your location that you do not have on your shelves? If so, why?
ANNE TOMLIN: Books on medical specialties not covered by our staff; we have no specialist in plastic surgery or tropical medicine, for example, so these areas would be very low on the priority list.
PATTY ANDERSON: We do have some fiction but it is a small part of our collection. We purchase best sellers from the NY Times and from Publisher's Weekly. It's a small collection but very popular.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: If there are empty spaces in our shelves where a book should stand, it might be it has suffered an early death due to photocopying or it's been stolen. Sad but true. On the other hand we find a lot of missing books by frequent shelf tidying.
QIANA JOHNSON: Unfortunately, since we are a branch library with limited space, we don't have room for "popular fiction." Fortunately, the Main Library has a Leisure Reading collection that our patrons can request materials from.
PATTY STREET: God, yes! We are small, our shelves are crammed, and we still don't have everything anyone might need or want. If the book isn't at another library in our system, there is a process to get a book from another library who is willing to send it, called an Interlibrary Loan. You just can't anticipate every request! Plus, we also have a "mission statement" and set of goals that kind of helps us determine our focus--popular materials and lifelong learning and literacy, I think our goals for 2000-2005. Every five years we do a "Long Range Plan" involving community leaders and library patrons who help us decide where to focus our time and monies for that period. We also have to do periodic weeding to make room for the new stuff. If a book hasn't circulated in some many years, it gets withdrawn. Then sure enough, someone will come in and want that first book in a series, and this series started 15 years ago!
SHANNON JENSEN: There are a lot of things that we do not have on our shelves and our biggest issue is space. We are a small library (1400 square feet) serving a population of 4500. We have been working on getting a new library, but that takes money and it’s not a quick process so we do the best we can with what we got and hope that the money gods hear our plea and rain moolah upon us.
What's the best thing about the job?
ANNE TOMLIN: Flexibility, at least as a solo. It's rather like running your own business with someone else's money, though of course you are accountable for it.
PATTY ANDERSON: The people, both those I work with and those who come into the library for help - it's great.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: I'm a regular library tour guide, exclusively for English speaking visitors ... although I think I would survive a German tour as well;-) That's a lot of fun, and you meet people from all over the world. I simply love it.
QIANA JOHNSON: Helping patrons answer questions and find materials for their searches. There's nothing better than finding something that seemed unfindable (and I'm pretty sure that's not a word. ;)
PATTY STREET: Helping people find what they need/want. Their gratitude is often abundant.
SHANNON JENSEN: I think the best part of the job is working with people. As I mentioned earlier, we are a small library in a small community so it is almost a given that my staff and I know most of the people who walk through the door, most on a first name basis and many by their reading or library use preference. I also enjoy helping my patrons with whatever they need help with and I love to see when someone is comfortable enough with the library that they do not even hesitate to bring in a typewriter and say, “I need help setting the tabs on this thing!” because they know we will help them do it. And I love to stand around and talk up books to people. Especially if it’s a new author or something that I know the particular individual will enjoy. How can you not like getting paid to talk about new and/or old books?
What's the worst thing?
ANNE TOMLIN: Outside of universities and major corporations, pay is not great and in smaller libraries there's little opportunity for promotion without job-hopping.
PATTY ANDERSON: Dealing with people when they are upset, often about fines or lost materials.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: The bureaucracy. In the age of the internet administrations slow down everything. And the lack of money. It won't be long until we need to bring our own towels, soap and toilet paper.
QIANA JOHNSON: Enforcing rules such as no cell phone usage in the library, etc. I agree with them, but I'm not good at confrontation.
PATTY STREET: Meetings! We have manager meetings twice a month. And some workshops I am asked to go to end up being boring or the same ole thing.
SHANNON JENSEN: In my opinion, severely overdue or non-returned items is the worst thing about the job. It just kills me that people who pay taxes to a city to support the library would then, in turn, steal from that same institution. And I detest sending out overdue notices. Once again, I have to pay money from my budget to “baby-sit”, if you will, people who cannot be responsible to bring materials back on time. Then, these same people will whine if they get their overdue notice late and have to pay a fine. It kills me.
It is said that librarians have a lot of influence in marketing writers. How do you view this statement?
ANNE TOMLIN: Well, public and school libraries are bulk buyers, particularly if they are part of a regional or state consortium. And especially in the fiction market there is a sort of symbiotic relationship with writers - we love them and they appreciate libraries and librarians. Most authors have fond memories of the libraries they frequented while growing up, and have found librarians to be some of their strongest supporters.
PATTY ANDERSON: They can, probably more at a Public Library than at my type of library.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: They do indeed. It's us who confidentially lean over the reading room desks and whisper the newest published secrets with correct author names and book titles in our patron's ears. It's us reading, and buying, books by the thousands. It's us lending our books to family and friends, so they can spread the message and it's us buying book presents for family and friends. We are competent customers and a much underrated marketing source for publishers.
QIANA JOHNSON: I believe public librarians can do a lot to help market writer, especially with author talks and in-library book signings. Librarians are built-in advocates of books and readers.
PATTY STREET: I met a writer once who said she hated libraries because we lessen her royalties!! She apologized pretty quickly, and I forgave her lapse in judgment and intelligence. Patrons often ask our opinions on books, and we keep a huge display of what's current as full as we can keep it. It's not hard to push a bestseller, and I don't read them. I try to read other writers, lesser knowns, or who get a good review in more than one publication. These are the writers I push, but I have to be discriminating about who I recommend them to. In bigger library systems, multiple copies of books are bought--20 or 30 I would imagine. Think of the number of people who are reading each book! And people have told me they buy the book because it was so good. Even if a writer gets a poor review (think bestseller here), we still have to purchase the book, multiple copies, and the writer still gets read. Average Joe doesn't read reviews; he just knows what he likes.
SHANNON JENSEN: I think librarians are a strong frontrunner for marketing writers, sure, because we provide services to our patrons other than checkout and money receiving. One of the most important being reader’s advisory. I have been to bookstores where store clerks have recommended things but only because they know that I am a librarian. I have never been to Barnes and Noble and had an employee approach me and say, “I see you’re looking at Janet Evanovich’s books. Have you read anything by Stephanie Bond , Laura Durham or Jess Lourey? You might take a look at those also.” But you just might hear me say those exact words in my library.
According to the U.S. Patriot Act, the FBI can retrieve any information about a borrower that the library has, including books they have checked out, searches they have done on the library computer and internet, when and where a patron signed up to use library computers, and notes librarians have taken when helping with questions. It also prohibits the library from notifying the patron under suspicion, the press, or anyone else that an investigation is underway. The Patriot Act would seem to go against all the principles of free speech and the free exchange of ideas and information—the root motivation for the existence of a free lending and research library. Without being too specific (since I know you can't be), has it been difficult navigating through the restrictions of the Patriot Act or is it all hype and no action where you are?
ANNE TOMLIN: Given our collection it was highly unlikely anyone would have been under investigations covered by the "Patriot Act." So no, I can't say (ahem) that it affected us at all.
PATTY ANDERSON: Thankfully we've had no interaction or problems here - but it is a serious problem for some libraries and something I would vote against if it came to that.
QIANA JOHNSON: Unfortunately, I can't really answer this question because I don't know my library's policy on the Patriot Act. I know we have one, but I'm not familiar with what it is. It's probably a good sign because it means that I and no one I work with have had to refer to the policy.
PATTY STREET: It's pretty much no action here. Florida has a law that states police must have a warrant to secure a patron's library record. I'm sure the FBI can get around that. But we had a director once who refused to give up a patron's record until a warrant was produced, citing the Florida law. This was before 9-11. But the thing is, we don't keep records! Once a patron returns a book, the history of that check-out is deleted. We have written instructions at each computer terminal telling a person how to clear their history when they are finished. Our computer sign-up sheets have only library card numbers on them, and they are destroyed each month. We keep few notes on how we help people, and if we do, they are also destroyed in a timely fashion. Now, I guess a computer geek could get some of this info from our computers; I don't pretend to understand how that is done. I think libraries, specifically the ALA, has been on the frontlines of this issue since the beginning, protecting people's right to privacy. And most librarians, I believe, support this idea wholeheartedly.
SHANNON JENSEN: Again, I think where we’re located and the size of our library really does make a difference, but at the same time, one can never be too safe – however, for the most part, it’s all hype and no action in our small town, although we have made some changes to better safeguard our records, as it is.
How has the Patriot Act changed the way you "do business"?
ANNE TOMLIN: We have always cleaned/deleted circulation records once an item is returned, tracking only call numbers for statistical reports.
PATTY ANDERSON: Currently it hasn't - but a college campus is not the normal area for lots of public coming in to use the computers like they do at a public library.
QIANA JOHNSON: For me personally I don't think it has.
PATTY STREET: Other than telling patrons how to clear their computer searches, I don't think it has. And we shred records more than we used to. Now, the CIPA act required us to install filters so we could still get the fed's money, and they create problems.
SHANNON JENSEN: We’ve implemented small changes, such as installing software on our public access computers that cleans the hard drive upon shutdown, including wiping the history and removal of cookies. We’ve also become more vigilant about obfuscating circulation records. It’s actually made my job more difficult because one of the “services” we used to provide our patrons, many of whom are elderly, is referral to books read in the past. We can no longer do that because our circulation program erases all of that information. It’s a shame really.
What do you suggest we do to repeal sections 215 and 505 of the Patriot Act?
ANNE TOMLIN: Contact your members of Congress.
PATTY ANDERSON: Vote in people who understand that freedom of information is not served by this restrictive law.
QIANA JOHNSON: Definitely, contact you Senators and Representatives and let them know the specific part of the Act you object to and why. Specific concerns are things are seem to be addressed.
PATTY STREET: I had to do a little research to see what those sections were, and hopefully more laws will be passed with the new congress to water down some of these provisions. Support the ALA! and any politician who champions individual rights.
SHANNON JENSEN: Change the people in our government that are making these types of decisions.
Getting back to books, how has fiction changed since you began as a librarian, or has it changed?
ANNE TOMLIN: Some of it is considerably more graphic and definitely geared for short attention spans.
PATTY ANDERSON: It cycles, there are more explicit books available to the general population and more topics covered for children, but adult fiction is still in genre's like science fiction, mystery, romance, westerns and people are still looking for a good story.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: Sure it has. It has become more violent, and more disgusting when it comes to thrillers and crime fiction. People like Hannibal Lecter are considered heros by some, which I find very disturbing. On the other hand there are wonderful books like the Harry Potter series which has brought children and their parents alike into the library, and in the book stores, by the millions.
But in my opinion there is a basic and very simple principle for fiction that won't be changed. Write a good story, see it published and it will work its magic.
QIANA JOHNSON: I'm still very new to the profession, so I haven't been around long enough to see any changes. I'm looking forward to being around long enough to witness changes, all for the good I hope!
PATTY STREET: Goodness, yes, and that is good thing! I appreciate a writer's style probably more than plot, and I'm always looking for writers who try to be innovative. Remember Elmore Leonard? Pages and pages of dialogue, and funny, too! And if a writer spends too much time on description, sorry, I'm returning that book. There is so much out there, so many styles, so many genres--you'd have to be a pretty lame librarian not to be able to find a book to please everyone. When people complain to me, there's nothing decent to read anymore, books have too much sex or too many bad words, I say, there's nothing further from the truth, we have plenty of books to please everyone. And I can find them a book they will be happy with. I can only hope that fiction stays in constant flux.
SHANNON JENSEN: I haven’t seen much change but then I’ve only been a librarian for ten years. I imagine the change is huge for some of the lifers out there.
What's being checked out the most? Is that different from days past?
ANNE TOMLIN: Authors may change but topics seldom do: health issues, economics, and personal relationships top the list.
PATTY ANDERSON: At our library it's pretty much the same, science and engineering materials to supplement their class lectures or to help with research.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: In my library, it's mostly all the works students and scolars need but can't find in their university or city library.
QIANA JOHNSON: For my library, it's primarily academic non-fiction--business guides, literary criticism, etc, as well as classic fiction. I'm not sure if it's changed in the past few years.
PATTY STREET: Bestsellers are the most popular. Some people come in, look at the list we keep posted, and just order everything on it (fiction only). It's been like this for several years. Teens are into the anime and graphic novels; I've had to spend more money in this area than ever before, and I'm getting more of this crowd now. (but that is also due to the presence of a local middle/high school.) It would be hard to pick one area of nonfiction that is the most popular, maybe impossible. I'd have to see circulation stats for each subject area!
SHANNON JENSEN: In our library, it is contemporary, current fiction: Danielle Steel, Sandra Brown, Mary Higgins Clark, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, John Grisham and the like, but not because we push them. We usually try to promote the lesser known authors similar to the chart-toppers.
Who is the most borrowed author amongst mystery writers?
ANNE TOMLIN: Our in-house clientele skews towards 60+, so the classic Agatha Christie type mysteries are in heaviest demand.
PATTY ANDERSON: I'm not sure at our library. Patterson, Child, Turow, Grisham as well as multiple others are in the library and seem to circulate quite well.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: That's hard to say. The Scandinavian mystery writers are hugely popular in Germany, Henning Mankell in particular. The years before the Scandinavian period Elizabeth George and Minette Walters were the most beloved. Minette Walters still is. But Ingrid Noll is THE bestselling German mystery writer and I suspect her to be the top borrower.
QIANA JOHNSON: We don't have any mystery authors in our collection, but the Main Library has a large collection of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers.
PATTY STREET: That's a hard call as sometimes mystery writers are catalogued in mystery and sometimes in general fiction. I have no idea why this happens. Evanovich, Patterson, Kellerman all come to mind, if they are considered mystery. Robert Parker is up there, too, along with Michael Connelly, who is just recently being widely appreciated. Oh, yeah, and the Cat Who did whatever, Braun. Mystery is a huge genre, in a library with a bigger population, the favorites might be different.
SHANNON JENSEN: Define mystery. Do you mean cozies, fem-jep, romantic suspense or hardcore thriller? In our library, Mary Higgins Clark and Nora Roberts are regularly checked out. John Grisham and Dean Koontz are other favorites. Janet Evanovich has gotten a strong following because she is my guilty pleasure and I recommend her to anyone who is willing to listen. Other authors are patron favorites but they don’t seem to write fast enough: Sue Grafton, Linda Fairstein, PJ Tracy, Karin Slaughter, Mariah Stewart, PJ Parrish, Robert Crais, John Sandford, and the list goes on.
Do writers often approach you and your branches for promotional purposes?
ANNE TOMLIN: Very seldom but ours is not a public library so that's not surprising.
PATTY ANDERSON: A few local authors do but we are out in the boonies and so get no "big names" here.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: My library is lending her congress centre rooms for readings but it's the publishers or book sellers who approach us for that. To my surprise writers rarely visit the library for promotional or other purposes. Some authors prefer writing in reading rooms to working at home or in their office. I suspect most writers in Germany don't know very much about libraries which leads to the fact that they don't see opportunities here.
QIANA JOHNSON: Sometimes, but the authors usually aren’t the best fit for our libraries, for example, children's writers.
PATTY STREET: I get a few emails and letters but usually don't pay them much attention. If a writer sends a copy of the book, then I will add it to the collection if I think it will circulate. I've been approached by a few local people who have self-published. One man gave me several spiral-bound books of his poetry. I put one in my collection; poetry isn't a popular subject around here. Another man gave me several copies of a pamphlet he wrote on the end of the world and revelations. I put one in the collection, only because he was so insistent. Later, he wrote on his website that he thought librarians should be shot because we wouldn't let him spend all day on our computers. He was trying to manage his website through public access computers! Anyway, I took his "booK" off the shelf.
SHANNON JENSEN: Unfortunately no, however I wish they would. I’m all about the service.
How can authors best partner with libraries?
ANN TOMLIN: Be there in the trenches with us come funding time.
PATTY ANDERSON: They seem to be doing quite well in their local areas and that is still what works the best. Putting themselves out there for signings at libraries is a tried and true method.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: Readings in the reading rooms are wonderful events. Best with a supply of food and drink.
Reading nights for kids are very popular - the children, librarians and some of the parents spend the night with cushions, blankets and candlelight reading children's crime fiction or ghost stories. Feeding and serving coke and coffee highly recommended.
Medieval banquets in costumes with contemporary food and music and a reading of medieval mysteries would be an idea but maybe a costly one.
I would even suggest readings in the stack rooms but only for mystery or horror short stories because it's awfully cold and spooky in there.
Exhibitions of one author's work or a period or a genre can be great opportunities for both the writers and the library. Of course you need to select a library with exhibition rooms.
QIANA JOHNSON: Contact local public libraries about doing author talks or book signings, especially if you book has a local connection. If you will be in another town at a book store doing a signing, contact the local public library about whether they would be interested in having you visit. Many libraries have book clubs that would love to pick an authors brain.
PATTY STREET: Every library has a support group, a "Friends" group who pay for all kinds of people to do programs at the library. A writer could do a workshop on writing for adults and/or for teens--on writing memoirs or journals or short stories, whatever. Or, speak to a group on the subject they write about--they could probably at least promote their books, but I don't know about being able to sell them. (Also, an author could just volunteer at the library.)
SHANNON JENSEN: I think authors should do more book readings or meet and greets at public libraries. Library patrons would get a thrill out of meeting a favorite author, it gets the author inside the door of the library to meet the director or main purchasing agent and it would get them just as much exposure, if not more, than promoting at a bookstore. Why? Because libraries advertise that kind of thing on their websites, in the local newspaper, by telling everyone they know to bring outside people into their library, whereas bookstores might just advertise in-store to already existing customers.
How can authors get you to stock their books?
ANNE TOMLIN: Write good quality stories or handy non-fiction titles with wide appeal.
PATTY ANDERSON: Write about South Dakota or hit the best seller list - right now that would be all we purchase in fiction.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: Free copies are most welcome! Nearly every library has limited finances, so if the librarians consider the books appropriate for their readers, everyone wins. Because if those readers demand more the library will get more.
PATTY STREET: See above about the self-publishers; donating a book is always a good way to get the book in the library. A lot of librarians now have blogs or even a spot on Myspace. Most libraries have web-based catalogs, etc. I don't know how blogs work, how you get your blog noticed by others, but there has to be a way to find librarians on the net, start a conversation, etc. I guess pestering might work.
SHANNON JENSEN: I personally like the silent sell vs. the hard sell. I prefer getting a postcard with book highlights or a flyer with a website address on it. I understand some people feel that it is more effective, but there are few things that I like less than someone who stops in at a library with a book in hand without an appointment, wants me to look at it right then and there and then make a decision while they are looking at me. I will not hesitate to hand it back to them and tell them I’m not interested at this time and then go back to work. However, when I get a promotional item such as a postcard, I can look up the book on bookseller websites, look at the author’s website, read about the book, read excerpts from the book, read reviews of the book and make an informed decision harking back to all of the criterion used for acquisitions but on my own timeline. That works much better in my case and makes for a happier book buyer in the future.
Can you offer any research tips for us writers out there?
ANNE TOMLIN: Well, other than "make friends with your local librarians" I would suggest joining or at least lurking on discussion groups which center on writing, especially if you write genre-specific fiction. Romance, sci-fi and mystery writers can all benefit from reading and contributing to these lists. Established authors are often members and you'll find some who are happy to share "their" experts, contacts, and other resources with new writers. As long as you give credit where due and don't make a pesky nuisance of yourself, you will find most folks accommodating.
PATTY ANDERSON: The best thing to do is to make friends with a librarian. They can help in so many ways by shortening your search time or by identifying sources that you never would have thought of, many have a long history at their library and know that something in "this book" is exactly the kind of thing you were looking for. . . They also have a different network than you as an author have, so could tap into that network for an answer that isn't readily available at the local library.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: My first research tip is - Google as much as you can. Or go to wikipedia.org. That's a free encyclopedia with a nice set of links under each article. Both are basic research tools and help a lot. High rank scientific research can or should be done with special databases and the good old journals, online or in print, both should be accessible without any fee in any library. If you have one source, have a look in the appendices and the bibliography at the end of a book or an article. These might be treasures and lead you to other books or journals of interest. Worth a try is "ask a librarian". That service is being offered by all distinguished libraries. Bibliographical research of small or large scale can also be done by the library, but it costs a little, at least in Germany.
Many libraries have special collections, find out which one has a large collection of medieval literature, for example, and call a librarian there. You might happen to get more information than you could ever dream for.
Universities - there are inhabited by lovely scholars who happily chat along about their subject of heart. Google them, tell them you're a writer in need of information and you'll be emailed to death.
QIANA JOHNSON: I would always start with your library's catalog which will let you know about the materials your library has on a particular subject. You'd be amazed at what you can find that way. Then move to WorldCat, which will let you know about materials owned by other libraries on your subject. Most libraries offer a service called InterLibrary Loan where they will borrow materials from another library for you. And then, always ask your friendly neighborhood librarian. They are they to help you and would love to point you in the right direction.
PATTY STREET: Write about what's local, and local can be broad. I buy just about every book I can find on Florida's past, or any work of fiction set in Florida. Actually, I'm not sure what you mean by this question!
I understand that some of you are writers as well. Tell us about that.
ANNE TOMLIN: I've been writing since I was ten. Back around 1992, I read Peter David's Star Trek novel, "Imzadi" and loved it. A little voice inside said "I wish I'd written that!" and another replied, "well, why not?" So I sat down and in pencil on legal pad wrote a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel in about 2 months. And, if I do say so myself, it was pretty good. But Pocket Books [which handles all books Trek] had manuscripts out to the Delta Quadrant, so the books languishes in a bottom drawer, for now. Meanwhile I developed a mystery series featuring best friends Maggie Moynihan and Lexie Robinson who are more Lucy and Ethel than Thelma and Louise. No takers yet, but I continue to develop the characters and rewrite the drafts I've already done.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: Many of us are shy humble hobby writers who do not show their work to a living soul. But some decide their books and stories should see the light of the published world. Me, for example. I'm currently working on my first novel, a set of six whodunits for small children and a collection of cozy short stories with a Miss Marplesk sleuth, a retired tailor and illicit working in order to support her four children, set in the Eifel region of Germany.
QIANA JOHNSON: Right now, I just write academic articles about library science. :)
PATTY STREET: I have a drawerful of short stories and a rough draft of a novel somewhere. I know a writer of young adult sci-fi/fantasy who works in Youth Services in the Gainesville library. I heard her say that she took the job because her mom wanted her to have a "real" job. I gave up writing aspirations because I needed an income--I wasn't good enough or motivated enough to free-lance. (Plus, I was party time addicted.) But I've never given up the habit or desire to write stuff. And what better place to work than surrounded by the written word?
SHANNON JENSEN: The only writing I do is participating in NaNoWriMo (Natinoal Novel Wiritng Month) every year. I have yet to publish anything, but I haven’t crossed that off my list yet. I do it for fun, because I always wanted to write a book and then I just got in the habit of participating every November. I don’t know if I have the chutzpah to go through all the hoops of publishing a book but, ya never know!
If you were writing a library mystery, where is a good location in your branch for murder?
ANNE TOMLIN: Well, my office was located in the basement of the building, not more than a couple hundred feet from the morgue - though that's always locked unless the coroner or assistant is there, or the mortuary folks are making a pick-up. But, hey, slide a body on a gurney under a sheet and park it outside the morgue door and who'd notice (for a while, anyway.)
PATTY ANDERSON: We have an external stairwell that we call the "north tower". It's totally enclosed but locked and alarmed most of the hours the library is open - it would make a great place to hide a body.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: Well, I certainly won't give away the location of the body in my library mystery! But there are other marvelous spots for murder like the stack rooms and the main reading room toilet - ours is hidden so well behind a pillar and a circular staircase that most patrons and many a librarian don't even know it's there. The library garden might also be a good idea - and providing perfect murder weapons like poisonous plants or gardening tools as well.
QIANA JOHNSON: Always the stacks! There are always hidden nooks and crannies and then some poor student whose shelving books finds the body.
PATTY STREET: My library is pretty much one room. We do have a little hallway that leads to the bathrooms, so a murder could take place there, or in a bathroom. We also have a small children's room that has no other exit except the entrance, and we can't see in there. That would be a wonderfully awful place for a murder, blood splattered all over little kid picture books. There is also a small closet in there, full of cleaning supplies, Christmas decorations, a vacuum cleaner, etc etc. I have found teens in there making-out.
SHANNON JENSEN: Near the book-drop. That’s where I’d place the body, half in and half out. People put all kinds of things in the book-drop but you never hear of corpses showing up in them.
Getting back to the esoteric, what is the strangest research request you've ever received?
ANNE TOMLIN: What was Donald Duck's middle name (I ran a medical library - not the sort of question I normally fielded.) IIRC it was Fauntleroy and we had to contact Disney for the information.
PATTY ANDERSON: Oh, boy. I had someone come in and want "everything you have on the Black Hills". Since we are located at the base of those Hills that would be a couple of semi-trailers full of books and papers. Much of what is asked would seem strange to a public library - ours students are working on things like nanotechnology, semiconductors, chemical engineering, etc. Strange questions abound.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: A research request for my home address. Strange but charming.
QIANA JOHNSON: I don't know if it counts as strange, but it was difficult. "A list of classical musical compositions with animal themes."
PATTY STREET: That's a tough one, there have been so many. The one request for information on euthanasia and planned suicide comes to mind. Also, a man once asked me if I could find a book for him that he read as a young man that changed his life, turned him to God, or something like that. And the only thing he could remember was the author was woman, it was inspirational, and the main character was a nurse. I found a book that met those requirements after searching used book lists on the Internet, etc., but it wasn't the one he was looking for. I never did find it.
SHANNON JENSEN: I can’t remember, but I know I’ve had some doozies.
What is your favorite section of the library?
ANNE TOMLIN: There's a big overstuffed chair in a far corner that's great for a quick snooze
ELKE JOST-ZELL: The café of course. J.K. Rowling is not the only one who loves writing in cafés. If some poor librarian soul can't work properly because the phone keeps ringing or colleagues talk, and he or she needs some solitude to work, best take a cafe latte and paper or lap top and sit down in an anonymous crowd.
QIANA JOHNSON: I love the reference room because there are so many books at the tip of my fingers that can answer so many questions. And then start so many others.
PATTY STREET: Fiction and gardening.
SHANNON JENSEN: Adult fiction and biographies.
What would you like to see changed about libraries in general? Is the Dewey Decimal System the best we've got, for instance? Something else in need of change?
ANNE TOMLIN: Like mom and apple pie, everybody loves libraries but nobody wants to pay for them or their staff.
PATTY ANDERSON: There is so much changing in libraries right now that it's hard to even keep up! Our library uses the Library of Congress system so Dewey is not an issue. Library 2.0 is coming and it's very interesting the changes that it will bring.
ELKE JOST-ZELL: DDC may not be perfect, and never will be, but it's the best classification system we have so far. What we badly need are world wide cataloguing guidelines for internet resources - and that really is a huge project. I would prefer less bureaucracy and technical babble in and about libraries, and more talk about the real thing. I would love to see them as places to live and breathe for everyone. Where books come to life. Thoughts. Literature. Storytelling. Our written memory. Or, as it used to stand in quadrata over the entrance of the grand library of ancient Alexandria, "the place where the soul heals."
QIANA JOHNSON: Libraries could probably do a better job of letting people know what we offer and how we can help them. Most people think we are just a repository of books and we have so much more. We should probably market ourselves a little better.
PATTY STREET: I think libraries are moving in the right direction, taking on other services other than just providing books and now, computers. Mostly, what I'd like to see local politicians understand our worth and quit requiring us to collect fines for overdue books. We collect fines in our county and the money goes to the General Fund, not the library. How unfair is that? And we get the bad press!
SHANNON JENSEN: Funding. Local government has got to realize how important libraries are to the community and start funding them accordingly. Since it is budget time, that’s all I have to say about that. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, even if you’re still hungry at the end of the day and all that.
Thank you all, ladies, for participating. I think what you had to say will help many a struggling author out there, give them some useful advice, and as for me, strengthens my confidence that the ideas of freedom of speech lives on in our library system due to some smart policies that keep the creative exchange of ideas free from fear. Maybe we should make February Donate A Book To A Library Month--unless there's one of those out there already!