Monday, January 04, 2010

Libraries: Not About Books

Hang out a little bit in library-land, and you'll soon hear the talk about books.

Or, rather, not about books.

Yes, libraries are about more than books. I totally agree. No argument there.

But it does disappoint that "more than books" has become "not about books."

LISnews offers up Ten Librarian Blogs to Read in 2010. The standard? "to help highlight people writing in the many different areas of librarianship. Those people who are doing some of the most interesting and original writing on the web. Each year we've attempted to gather a group of librarians whose writing helps increase our understanding of the profession and it's place in our rapidly changing world. Again this year we tried to choose 10 writers who cover very different aspects of our profession, 10 sites that inform, educate and maybe amuse. By following these blogs I think you'll find something new to read, and a place to gain better understanding of a part of librarianship that's outside of your normal area. We all have much to learn from each other, and these bloggers are working hard to share their knowledge and understanding with you."

Now, before you start thinking of the various librarians who blog about books and publishing, and wonder who has been picked to "inform, educate and maybe amuse", I'll save you the trouble.

One book blog; Awful Library Books: "This site is a collection of public library holdings that we find amusing and maybe questionable for public libraries trying to maintain a current and relevant collection. Contained in this site are actual library holdings." It was hard to pass up Awful Library Books. You can't help but ask, "what were they thinking when they picked THAT book?"

Don't get me wrong. Love that blog. It's funny. But its more about weeding and collection development. It's more a look at retro books....

Oh. I get it! Libraries are the future! Books are the past!

LISnews has some great librarian blogs listed; don't get me wrong.

But libraryland doesn't usually include books, publishing, reading, readers advisory (and those who blog about them) in lists such as this. Hang out in libraryland, and you find all sorts of things about technology and community and marketing etc etc. But books? Publishing? Readers Advisory? Not so much.

Take a look at Library 101. No, go look. It's "101 Resources & Things to Know." Great list, right? Makes you really think about your own skills, and patrons, and what your library does and does not do. But "the basics have changed". And guess what is not there? There is Facebook. Digital books. Downloadable books. Why, shiny techy things. Nice. I like shiny.

And then: "Stereotypes will fade away in the library of the future. Like what? We’re talking about things like this: the librarian sitting behind a desk much of the day, using primarily in-house, offline resources, relying mostly on books and letting books be our primary “brand” association for our users; shushing; largely letting people come to us rather than being where our users are; often resisting emerging technology due to expense, fear or the much-used “That’s not the way we’ve always done it” excuse. Making these things go away now is a choice for us; eventually, they will be thrust upon us in often unpleasant ways."

Oh. Books are stereotypes of libraries, to fade away unless you're helping someone print out a POD copy.

I commented at Library 101 about books (Novelist! Book blogging communities that use all that shiny technology!),and Libraryman (one of the Library 101 gurus) responded that they made "*our* library 101 knowing other folks would put different things on their Library 101 lists (not that we really think people will do this, but you know, its a conversation starter/thought exercise anyway). One things I wish is that we had made this more clear so that some folks wouldn’t think we actually though *we* could make everybody’s 101 basics. Well, that and we wish a handful of people out there would have read things more carefully to know this, but I digress.. I totally agree that the things you listed are quite important and I’m glad you mentioned them."

I get it; their list, not for everyone, cannot include everything. But that there isn't one real bookish thing on the list? In a list made by two high profile librarians? With essays by other high profile librarians? The message to me: books aren't considered, not even when thinking "hey, have we covered all our bases?" And by books, I mean: publishing. Collection development. Readers advisory. Reviews. All things which take work, skills, education, practice. All things which use technology.

Libraries are more than books; but that belief seems to have shifted to one of libraries being about things other than books.

It's 2010 and guess what?

It's not your Grandma's library.

But readers are still using your library.

Readers ares still working in your library.

And no, they're not shushing you.

Librarians who practice readers advisory are reinventing what this means, using blogs and Twitter and all those other shiny things. They take RA beyond the desk, creating online resources and holding discussions using technology.

Databases such as Novelist provide information on books.

Librarians who blog are discussing serious concerns about collection development and who decides what books your patrons read. Now that KIRKUS is gone, the remaining professional review journals have more power. What are the philosophies of those journals? What does it mean to have a narrowing of professional reviews?

What about librarians who participate in book blogs and the book and lit blog community?

And publishing! Instead of sitting back and wondering about things like diversity in books, librarians are trying to make a difference by blogging that yes, their patrons do want and need diverse books.

It's a rich world out there.

My suggestions for must-reads, especially for those who may be up on technology but not so much on the book world:

Fuse No. 8 at School Library Journal. Reviews, publishing news, interviews, press releases, video, serious, funny. Any "must read" list of librarian blogs that does not include Elizabeth Bird of New York Public Library is a list that says, "we're not really looking at books when we make our lists, thanks."

Roger Sutton at Read Roger, the Horn Book Blog. Who has a MLS so is a librarian! He's opinionated as hell and not afraid to stir the pot. Also? It's fantabulous that the editor of the Horn Book blogs fearlessly. And honestly? When one is trying to prove the worth of one's blogging (especially when it doesn't get the library laurels) it is very, very helpful to point to Roger's blog to show it is acceptable and professional to blog and to be fearless in blogging.

Oh, official publication blogs don't count?

I give you Bookshelves of Doom. One of the most unique voices out there; and also covers publishing, books, reviews. And so much more. Works at a library in Maine.

There are many other librarian book blogs. Being a children's/teen librarian, my suggestions are from the children's/teen book blog world. Have other suggestions, especially beyond children's/teen book blogs? Share in the comments!

One final point. I love LISnews; I read those libraryland blogs and gain valuable things from them. I want to post more on the enthusiasm in Library 101. I adore libraries and what they can contribute to communities. It's just that I believe that when people think "books = libraries," people are telling us something important. We should value those in our profession who use blogs and technology to bring the right book to the right person.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Kelly Jensen said...

I agree 100% with this post. I get so tired of reading about the fact libraries are more than books.

Know what?

99.5% of the time the only thing people want from me at work are BOOKS. They can get to the technology themselves. They come to me for a book. They want a book on how to fix their car. They want whatever the new book by Patterson is. They've exhausted David Baldacci so can I give them some new avenues?

The parents ask if a book is teen appropriate, and the teens ask if I will buy the latest and greatest manga for them.

I don't get asked about ILS, about CMS, about blogging/wikis/etc. At their core, LIBRARIES ARE ABOUT BOOKS. Sure, they are MORE than that, but they are also where people go. to. get. books.

The more we move away, the more irrelevant we get, I think (personal opinion). When the community sees libraries as a hodge podge of things and less and less a place where knowledge exists in a physical format, then the less the community cares. They can Google just as well as we can.

I get most of my collection development through book blogs. My patrons are reading book blogs. They aren't reading the professional journals. Yes, I read them and select materials from them (often the ones with smaller publicity budgets or more literary or multucultural works). But if I am not aware of the book world, I'm irrelevant to my patrons. My knowledge of how to do 101 things or watch the video for it won't save my job.

Stasia D said...

I was at my local branch this weekend, and the line stretched almost out the door. Yes, there were a couple patrons with DVDs, but the 25 or so people in line mostly had armfuls of books.

Just sayin.

Papasan said...

Great post. I find this obsession with getting away from librarian stereotypes and books in general to be a really defensive, protective maneuver from people -- particularly LIS educators -- who are terrified of obsolescence, afraid that libraries will be subsumed into a server somewhere and will disappear.

Meanwhile, actual library users love books and still consider them integral to their libraries. *Of course* libraries should still be promoting their book-based services, and professional organizations should be advancing book related aspects of the profession alongside tech.

Wendy said...

But... but... it IS my grandma's library. The library is full of grandmas! Even if all the younger people WERE only wanting new techy stuff from libraries, the grandmas would still be there, wanting books.

(I know I'm not disagreeing with your point.)

It's all fine and good to have the librarians Out Among the People, which is apparently one of the goals, but boy does it annoy me when I need something and there's no one staffing the desk in the section. And one nice thing about being a grownup is that I can browse in the books without the "are you being helped?" kind of attention I got when I was a kid. That irritated the HELL out of me because the librarian always seemed to think I ought to be reading "age-appropriate" books. (Now I just get suspicious "what are you doing in the children's section" glances.)

david lee king said...

Hi - great discussion, great thoughts! And you're right - books aren't bad, at all. That's what we do! But I think what Michael and I were trying to get at is this - us librarians already do books well - we get that, we have that pretty much figured out.

What we don't have figured out well is all the newer tech out there - tech that affects us and our jobs. Tech that helps our patrons reach us better and faster. Pretty important stuff.

And this, too - paper books have been with us for a LONG time ... but for the first time in probably 700 years, we're starting to have format wars again - because books don't have to come in just traditional paper format. There are now many forms of e-readers, there are multiple digital audiobook formats ... I can even read a book on my iphone.

IF you look through our 101 list, you WILL find stories and content there, in MANY different formats. Because librarians (in our estimation) need to know about the stories and the content ... AND the formats. Probably moreso now than in the past 50 years.

Hope this helps explain our madness!

Angie Manfredi said...

This. Why worry about reader's advisory or if you have access to Novelist to figure out what order series go in? Just post to a list serve and 20 people can give you the reader's advisory you need. That's how it works, right? Besides it's NOT YOUR GRANDMA'S LIBRARY, BOO-YAH, which means? I don't even know what that means? Only Grandmas read books? Sssssh, don't tell all the young adults only grandmas read books. (

Also, note how shushing gets thrown in there, a nice dig at how if you sit behind a desk and use in-house offline resources and have books be your primary brand, you must be one of those old crusty women with your hair in a bun that shushes people. Clearly!

And, as people pointed out in the comments, what if your library doesn't have the monetary resources to do all this? What if your library's policies restrict your social networking access? Oh well, too bad, you'd better get with anyway!

Do I think it's important to understand your ILS tools and to scan the horizon technology? Of course! Do I think that knowing about Hulu and iPhones (iPhones, as if they rain from the sky for free for your patrons!) is more important to "Library 101" than being able to provide comprehensive reader's advisory and answer reference questions without online databases you may not have instant access to or your patrons may not feel comfortable using? NO. And if that makes me an old-fashioned? Uhm, I guess my response to that would be: SHUSH.

Cindy Dobrez said...

David, I don't agree that all librarians still "do books well." The RA questions from degreed librarians on listservs are appalling in what they show they don't know about doing books or how to do RA for their patrons. My Bookends Blog partner and I annually draw the largest crowd in our state school library conference breakout sessions for our Best of the Year booktalks. We are told our list is used for selection by many because they don't have time to keep up with the reviews let alone the reading of the books. I blog, I tweet, I have a school book club Facebook account, and I got a Kindle for Christmas after buying one for my husband last June. I love technology, but when my students came back from Christmas vacation today, they talked to me about what they READ over the holidays. They couldn't wait. I had three classes an hour in my middle school library today. One was starting scientist and inventor research, the other two were returning and seeking new books. And they wanted my help. I'm saddened to learn that a list of the 101 most important sites for librarians ignores RA and book information unless it comes with a battery charger. Liz--thanks for the rant and the Facebook alert to it.

Liz B said...

Kelly, Stacy, Papasan, Angie: thanks! I think if libraries give up on this area (books) others will fill the gap.

Wendy, one part (if done well) of modern RA is designing the website, the library, the collection so that a user like you goes in and benefits from the RA without realizing it.

David, I'll have to disagree with you that librarians do books well, or respect those who do books well. At Cindy's blog, she has highlighted the types of RA questions/answers going on out there. If we were licensed like JDs/MDs, it would be grounds for censure /loss of license. Example: "I need a book like Twilight for a 4th grader." "Here's this adult vampire series with lots of sex I loved!"

I also see an attitude that all the things that make up good RA don't count, don't take time, isn't about expertise & skills. Example: Wendy comes into the library, picks up her books, leaves. I've heard some librarians say that interaction doesn't require librarians. This belief ignores collection development, cataloging, placement, marketing, perhaps webpage design. Basically, these are valuable skills that many of us are seeing aren't being valued.

And for those who are being inventive, doing great things, being leaders? They aren't getting getting the attention, so that others aren't inspired.

Cindy, thanks! At the NJLA conferences, one of the biggest draws is the BBYA program. Which is basically highlighting a list that is on a website anyone can access -- except that list, that booktalking, that inperson expertise is still valued & looked for.

Anna said...

This is honestly why I feel like I've just dropped out of the library blogophere sometime in the past three years. I'm much more interested in blogging about what I'm reading and I feel more connected to comic book/manga blogs than any of the library ones.

Laura W said...

You are right on, Liz. This is NOT too much of a rant. I'm annoyed by the listserv questions and plain old outraged when I hear a librarian say he/she is "not interested" in the same books his/her patrons are reading--as if it's not a part of the basic job description. (Yes, I have a colleague who believes he does not have to read!!!!) I started tweeting to you the book blogs by librarians that I read and came up with four at first--then remembered an additional 4 or 5 that I look at regularly as well as reading Booklist and SLJ. Ummmm . . . and also lots of BOOKS. Keep ranting--you're not alone!!

Kimberly said...

Thanks for this excellent post, Liz. As a library student who tends to be excited by the technology but already feels comfortable with books, it's easy for me to forget that all of those book-related skills require education and practice.

melissa @ 1lbr said...

Fabulous! Thanks for writing about these issues. I don't really do a lot of RA in my library (small, academic, focused), but I agree we are being led away by all our shiny new toys to forget about our old ones. Both have their place.

Sheryl said...

I wrote a long comment, and then I thought, "You know, I think she pretty much covered everything." So I just wanted to say "thank you, amen, and I agree." "Books" and RA are difficult and important and we shouldn't neglect them when talking about the work of libraries and librarians.

Liz B said...

Anna, I'm sad to hear that but I know what you mean. At times I do feel like Tea Cozy isn't part of the library blogosphere; but then I read some book bloggers consider us librarians as too "professional" by being librarians to be a book blogger. No win.

Laura, I'm not sure what is worse. A librarian who doesn't read; or one who thinks that what they like is the only type of book to read and recommend. Or being proud of it. If I said "I don't like reference questions," I'd be told it's part of the job. A non-reader can at least fake it, so that they can do readers advisory for patrons.

kimberly, I love technology & am so excited at the ways tech work with books. But for some reason, bookish things get undervalued. Don't get me started on patron reviews versus librarian booktalks.

thanks, melissa & sheryl.

of course since this is my book blog i get more people agreeing; if you want to read more of another pov (in addition to david), check out the comments at POP GOES THE LIBRARY where I cross posted this.

samovar said...

i just discovered your blog and it is very useful! i will recommend it here at the American Library in Paris (
where i do remote research.

are you on twitter?

i would also recommend you to have the "share this" button on your site, it would help to get the word out!

greetings from Paris, Andrea Delumeau aka 3samovar on twitter

Caroline said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. One of the reasons I read blogs is to help me find out about what's happening with books - I'm a new(ish) Children's Librarian and there's so much I need to know about what people are reading and what's out there. Reader's Advisory is such a huge part of my job, and it's something that is overlooked by so many people. Thank you!