All posts by Lauren

About Lauren

Children's librarian by day. Runner, nonfiction addict, lifter of heavy things, wilderness explorer, mutt owner, beer snob, K-horror fan, and pretty good cook... also by day.

Columbus Day


Turns out we had a whole section of Columbus Day books hiding in our holiday section… but we also have books on local tribes, tribes from other regions, and the history of what happened to those tribes after colonization. (And other explorers.)


Banned Books Week


Decided to do a few things different from your typical BBW display:

1) Focused on adult books instead of poaching from the Teen and Children section. They’re not the ones looking at the displays in the adult section anyway.

2) Explained why they’re banned, and where, and by whom. I think this is supremely important if we’re really going to open a dialog about it, instead of throwing titles up without any sort of context.

3) Chose mainly books banned by governments instead of continuing to slag on conservative parents in the South. Turns out they have nothing on 1930’s Australia.

And meanwhile at Library Numero Dos:



The perfect reference interview

So I just came across this recent blog post on Agnostic, Maybe, where he lists some informal rules about doing reference. It’s definitely worth a read, whether you’re fairly new to reference or it’s old hat and you could just use a couple reminders. My favorite part? He describes the perfect reference interview:

For me, the perfect reference interview is the one that makes someone’s day. It doesn’t have to be important or big, but just right to make them leave feeling good. It means I have them more than they expected, whether it is materials, information, time, and/or patience. The last two can overshadow all others because it shows a level of care and concern that translates at the human level.

Yes and yes and more yes. People really appreciate when I take extra time to help them. Yeah, it probably interrupted the workflow earlier this week when I spent almost 30 minutes fighting with the 3000th update Yahoo Mail and tried to help a lady print some online gift certificates… but 1) the poor lady was frustrated and starting to snap at her partner, and I hated to see them leave the library empty-handed and angry 2) for all I know, the certificate could have been for necessities like food, diapers, medicine, etc. 3) that’s exactly why I’m there! They were super grateful that I stayed with them until their printouts were in hand, but that’s just what you’re supposed to do as a good librarian. On the surface it may look like libraries are about materials, but the connections we make with people are really why libraries exist.

RA Unconference! #rauncon

I finally boogied on down to Darien Library for my very first unconference on Friday! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but oh man, I would absolutely do it again. Right now. If you’re not familiar with how unconferences work, there’s a general theme but instead of offering pre-scheduled sessions, all the attendees vote on the session topics, and the content is completely decided by whoever shows up to the session. After keynote speaker Emily St. John Mandel read from her upcoming book Station Eleven, we voted and ended up with the following topics (I’ve highlighted the sessions I attended):

  • Rethinking book groups
  • Nonfiction that reads like fiction
  • Marketing librarians as experts
  • Recommending books you haven’t read
  • How to booktalk
  • Social media & RA
  • Passive RA & displays
  • Recommending outside your comfort zone
  • Getting staff excited about RA

What materialized in each session was lively, nonstop conversation to which everyone was able and eager to contribute, and for those of us livetweeting at #rauncon (pronounced ron-con), there was barely any time to send out and check tweets. I, with my still-fairly-new Galaxy, was out there tweeting with everyone else, and it was definitely a new experience (not just because I was actually being encouraged to check my phone while other people were speaking). The list of Twitterbrarians I follow has grown about tenfold since I’ve now seen the pros in action and have been able to interact with them within a meaningful context.

(That bit about context sounded awfully academic. I apologize – hubs is frantically reading for his upcoming comprehensive exams, so 90% of my conversations at home include phrases like cultural constructs, perceptions of identity, narrative as political tools, normative experiences, social and economic contexts, etc.)

The Nonfiction That Reads Like Fiction session ended up being about 45 minutes of throwing out title after title, with some tips for pursuing more NF titles. I was able to decode my hastily scribbled notes and typed them up. I’m thinking this is a good beginning to a public pathfinder down the line.

It occurred to me that I never had formal training in RA. So, it’s super good that I attended and was able to better my skills and see what other sort of conferences are out there. I learned some excellent things like:

  • Coworkers are one of the cheapest and most accessible sources of RA. Keep a mental log of which genres your coworkers read so you can refer patrons to them. Include an RA component in your regular meetings so you can share your latest reads.
  • Printed RA: Darien has bookmarks with three recommended titles on a topic.
  • To open up a conversation with patrons and let them know that you’re available to provide RA without being too aggressive or invasive, hand out your printed RA materials or ask patrons if they’re received a copy already.
  • Come up with a list of 3 or so “sure bets” for popular authors outside your genre. I need to do this for romance and mystery, for sure.
  • At the same time, the patrons who ask me about these genres could talk circles around me, so at the same time, is it worth it to find Nora Roberts’ or James Patterson’s top three? It’s fun, and good RA, to push people out of their comfort zone. E.g., “Relish” is about food and it’s a memoir, and it just so happens to be a graphic novel.
  • You can get adult patrons into graphic novels by suggesting they read one to see if it’s appropriate for their kid.
  • Another note for concerned parents and preventing offended patrons: though the book jacket is usually fluff, scanning Amazon reviews will immediately alert you to objectionable content.
  • There’s a difference between “recommending” titles and “suggesting” titles. If you suggest, there’s less culpability on you if a patron is unhappy/unsatisfied/offended with your selections.
  • “Books I hated that everyone else loved” would be a very popular display. Remember in Early Book class when they talked about how, way back when, the Catholic Church would publish an index of banned books, and how they became wildly popular titles as a result of the controversy?
  • However, it’s not the best idea to publicly announce to a patron if you hated a book. It could alienate the patron you’re helping, as well as any patrons nearby who might overhear your conversation. Patrons could end up avoiding you because they don’t think you’d be able to recommend them titles they’d like, or they could be ashamed that a professional disliked something they loved and they wouldn’t want to approach you. Either way, it negatively affects your accessibility and the service you deliver as a professional. (I’ve been nicely honest up to this point, saying I don’t personally read certain genres or I didn’t think such-and-such a book was as good as another and why, but it’s worth thinking about other ways to further remove my own tastes from the equation and mask my own preferences. Even if it’s a familiar patron who would love to hear my own opinion, there are still other patrons within earshot. Food for thought.)
  • Use neutral language to suggest books. I do say things like “that book has been very popular” if I haven’t read it. You can also do “my coworker couldn’t put it down.)
  • If you dislike a title, you can still suggest it. RA is not about you, it’s about the patron and connecting them with the right title. After all, “the first rule of RA is listening.”
  • Some patrons view circ-desk RA as an invasion of privacy. I happily tell patrons I enjoyed a book or movie in their checkout pile or ask them if they’ve read/watched anything similar (patrons are awesome RA), but I should probably use a little more discretion in choosing which patrons to engage.
  • There are lots of RA-specific roundtables out there, like Readers Advisory Round Table in Western Massachusetts, and the Chicago-area Adult Reading Round Table (they were the inspiration for #rauncon)
  • Pretty much everyone loves the Awesome Box idea from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab. For the visually inclined / lazy, they have a cute little slideshow that explains the concept.
  • In addition to having regular good book reviews, Entertainment Weekly’s Shelf Life occasionally does reviews tagged “I read it so you don’t have to!” for pop titles. Think Game of Thrones cookbooks and Snooki-penned novels.
  • Almost all of my previous conferences had been through state-level organizations, but when a library goes out on their own, it attracts out-of-state attendees. It seemed like the place was filled with professionals from Massachusetts and New Jersey. Surprisingly few attendees were from local systems. (A more traditional RA conference was happening a few miles away in Westport, so maybe that’s where they all were.)
  • That might be because tech-savvy conferences beget tech-savvy attendees. Almost all Darien communication went through Tumblr and Twitter, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that the out-of-state librarians were also the most active Twitter participants.

So, very much looking forward to my next unconference!


Every once in a while – usually around the end of winter before spring really kicks in and it’s miserable outside – I have sudden bouts of feeling like I’m in a rut personally and professionally. I mope around for a couple days, convinced that I’m some sort of 21st-century version of the Lithuanian stockyard workers from The Jungle, and I’m perching on the edge of personal disaster. (That book was ridiculous IMO, and so is my train of thought.) Then suddenly I say “screw it, I’m going to be financially irresponsible!” and I end up doing something totally worth it. Like taking a week off to see my family. Or buying a car that enables me to live in a better apartment and get better part-time jobs in other towns and visit state parks on a whim. Or, in the case of last Tuesday, getting a Samsung Galaxy S4.


At any rate, it’s not like the initial $100 at Best Buy and the extra $30 a month is really going to catapult me into bankruptcy / homelessness / spiraling into alcoholism and then becoming a socialist.

As an information professional, it was about time I take the leap (my mother concurred when she called me on her iPhone). And I’m so glad I just finally did it! I’m still using a paper planner because I love having the “coherent mental map” of my schedule (see this super-interesting article), but I’ve almost eliminated the handful of other little notebooks that used in an attempt at organization. Shopping lists, DVDs to see and books to read, and even my recipes are already in my pocket when I go to the library or the grocery store. With the GPS, I no longer have to print / handwrite directions, attempt to read them while driving, and hope there won’t be construction or traffic or I won’t make a wrong turn. I no longer have to spend an hour recreating my routes in MapMyRun so I can figure out my pace. Instead of half-assing my food diary and wasting time looking up the calories in broccoli, Lose It! does all the calculating and holds me accountable to a firm number each day. I’m still spending time staring at screens, but I’m reading Julie and Julia with my Kindle app instead of mindlessly refreshing my email. I have a good camera with me all the time, and instead of sitting there, uploading, then emailing or posting the photos, I can immediately share them with friends and family. My day-to-day life is honestly better with the smartphone.

I also see now that just about everything on the Internet is optimized for viewing on mobile devices. Buzzfeed’s simple page setup, for example, works well for quick reading on the phone, and Facebook’s notifications and news feed finally make sense. Candy Crush Saga, which seemed cheesy and way too slick on my laptop, is somehow gorgeous on the S4, and it’s much more fun to tap those little pieces into place than to drag and click and hope I don’t have to hit refresh. And it’s a lot easier to keep up with blogs and news feeds when apps are automatically collecting them. Not to mention the popularity of image-focused websites with infinite scrolling, like Pinterest and some Tumblrs.

I’ve downloaded and played with and deleted many apps in the last week, and here are my favorite so far:

  • Google Keep – shopping lists, short-term lists, and memos in one place, and I like the interface better than Wunderlist, Out of Milk, and S Memo
  • Google Calendar – since I still use a paper calendar as my workhorse, but I like the agenda view for my special appointments and little memos. I don’t need the power of BusinessCalendar, and the Google agenda interface is nicer than Jorte or S Calendar.
  • Lose It! – food and fitness tracking, much easier than MyFitnessPal to enter custom foods like homemade dinners, but still does calculating for me unlike Simple Calorie Counter. Plus I love the cute little icons.
  • Evernote – just because I have it already.
  • Amazon Kindle – Overdrive Media Console has nothing on the Kindle app.
  • Feedly – it’s free and unlike Flipboard and Instapaper, lets me do my own thing and doesn’t seem interested in telling me what everyone else is reading.
  • Clock – it’s just so simple to set and alter my alarms, and I like that the timer is built-in. The clouds are cuter than the morose dark colors of Alarm Clock Xtreme Free.

And I typed the entire post on the S4 as well!

(April Fool’s… I made it to about 30 words before switching to the laptop. Typing a 750-word blog post on a smartphone would be maddening.)

Dewey Free.

So apparently the director of Darien Library is retiring. Why is this significant? Aside from me really, really wanting to get down there a couple years ago for a book signing by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame (I had to work instead… or possibly I chickened out at the thought of walking in an unfamiliar town after dark and waiting on the train station platform in late November*), it’s one of the most innovative public libraries out there today. I’m under the impression that Darien is the curve breaker of CT public libraries, and sometimes at big meetings I’ll hear somebody end an idea with the phrase “like what Darien Library did.” (Sometimes that phrase is followed by a jealous scoff from someone in the crowd.) Darien is known for its extreme customer service, and a few years ago it sort of got rid of Dewey in favor of a “glades” system that groups similar subjects together. Under Home, you’ll find gardening, cooking, crafts, and home repair, and Places is where travel and language books live. They’re still using the Dewey numbers to an extent, but they’re reorganizing the physical locations in a way that is much more apropros of browsing.

Public libraries without Dewey seemed to be like exciting magical unicorns, mentioned in library school as living in some far-off location, but never seen and without a live specimen to prove their existence. Sure, there are the roaming herds of academic horses using LC’s classification, and sometimes you’d come across a zebra like the Oriental Institute’s archives, whose organizational system was designed by a past archivist / historian for that particular collection. But now there are lots of unicorns, and one of them (at least, one that’s got the wings but hasn’t grown the horn yet) is less than 40 miles from me.

The idea of moving away from Dewey and coming up with a more browseable classification system like that of bookstores is thrilling to me. Libraries are paying attention to the usability of their websites, and it’s extended into exploring the usability of the library’s physical layout. Why not explore a more usable classification system? However, according to a 2009 online survey of public librarians, almost half of librarians still want to use Dewey, and more than a quarter believe that patrons should be able to find what they want simply with better signage. Nevermind that the resources on alcoholism, mental illness, and improving your mental well-being are at three different call numbers.

Less than 12% of respondents were in favor of going Dewey-free. There were some people who viewed leaving Dewey behind and moving towards a bookstore-like organizational system as a violation of librarian ethics:

Tom Eland, a librarian at Minneapolis Community and Technical College who teaches courses on the politics of information, thinks that turning to business as a model for libraries shows an uncritical acceptance of market capitalism. “Unlike customer service, which is done by private sector corporations on behalf of the profit motive, public service to library patrons is done on behalf of the civic duty of library workers to serve the interest of citizens and residents of the community who patronize the library.” He’s not surprised that libraries that drop Dewey often display materials using ideas from retailing. “Too bad for the people who are trying to do real research, or who want to explore a specific domain of knowledge by going to the shelves and browsing by classification area.”

Um, no. After working in retail for more than five years, I can say that libraries absolutely should be looking at corporate customer service models for examples of how to best serve the public. The profit motive is driving companies to innovate in customer service. I wouldn’t be half the public services librarian I am today if I hadn’t first learned how to build relationships with customers on the sales floor. Sure, it was great to make a huge sale, but it was more satisfying to me and my coworkers to make people happy and help them find exactly what they were looking for – which is the exact same end goal I have when I’m working with patrons at the reference desk. I could go on forever about how my retail jobs helped me learn how to get patrons to notice our hidden collections, and how to develop hype around our programming. Successful retailers are successful because they’re awesome at responding to customers’ needs, and Darien is successful because it’s also awesome at responding to customers’ needs.

Let’s not forget the reality that government officials and board members like seeing numbers just as much as corporate execs do. We’re here for the community, yes, but when the month ends we still need to come up with those circulation stats to justify our existence (and those numbers have gone significantly up in libraries that moved away from straight Dewey). When it comes to our bottom line, we do need to protect our funding. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take a look at what businesses do to make a profit.

I would also argue that most patrons who are utilizing the physical collections at public libraries, especially branches, aren’t trying to do research – they’re coming in to pick up some entertainment and go on their way. Patrons who want to do serious research are theoretically more likely to show up at colleges and universities or central urban libraries with research-oriented holdings, like Harold Washington Library in Chicago – places that have enough holdings to fully benefit from the complexity of Dewey or LC. Again, it’s all about the customers’ needs.

I’m not even sure why Dewey is used in public libraries, but somehow it’s become one of those sacred standards of What Libraries Are Supposed to Be that we have had to completely break down to stay relevant. Maybe this is the wife-of-a-historian voice in me, but Dewey is an artificial, subjective system with no intrinsic superiority over any other system. In our diverse and globally connected 2014, it’s definitely showing its age and its Eurocentrism. It’s telling to see in which order Dewey lists literature and languages: English gets the first 10 subjects, then German, Romance languages, Latin and classical Greek, then the hundreds of other Indo-European, Semitic, African, East Asian, etc. languages have to share 10 subjects. Not to mention the 200s Religion section: there are 70 subject numbers for Christianity, but Judaism is relegated to number 296. And Islam shares number 297 with Babism and Baha’i. Maybe I’m completely overthinking it, but what sort of message is it sending our patrons when church furnishings are found at 247, and the Quran is at 297.122 like an afterthought? At best Dewey is slightly outdated, and at worst it’s helping to reinforce biases such as racism. (Not that I can readily propose a better system, mind you.)

Plus, Dewey wasn’t even made for public libraries – it was designed in the late 19th century for academic libraries. Almost all academic libraries, from my little undergrad up to major research collections like Yale, have moved to the more sophisticated Library of Congress at this point.

I’m not saying that all libraries should totally abandon Dewey, but that Dewey is far from sacred. What is sacred in the library is the patron, and we could definitely serve our patrons better by looking at alternatives to Dewey that would make it easier for them to find materials they care about, and would better reflect our diverse communities. I’m really excited to see where Darien and other partially and fully Dewey-free libraries will take their classification systems and how we’ll revise them over time, and it would be awesome to someday witness a major classification change from the front lines.

* TANGENT: I’m still hung up on the cold train platform thing. Chicago does it right in winter. Metro North, take heed and start thinking of installing these:


Sometimes you’d share a lamp with a pigeon.

And in the search for a photo of the L’s heat lamps, I came across this awesome time-wasting page of L trivia. It answers all your burning questions about Chicago’s mass transit train system, questions such as Are the CTA railcars shorter than that of the NYCTA (New York City Transit Authority) or other cities? To me they look a lot shorter in length. and Why aren’t there public restrooms in “L” stations? I did always wonder that.

650.7 Collection Development

So I’m trying to weed out all our old books on job hunting and replace our way outdated books. Library Journal’s website isn’t helping me out much, just returning articles on library job outlooks and landing librarian gigs and things of the sort. Nothing on best job hunting books. Then again, Library Journal seems to focus on academic library resources more than anything else. Then again, aren’t there significantly more public libraries in the U.S. than there are academic libraries?…

So I’m using Amazon and going through the informative but very, very time-consuming method of searching our OPAC, going to our shelves, looking at what we have and what circulates, and trying to combine all of those. Also just going Google searches on best job hunting books of 2013 and such. One of the best resources so far has been a reference librarian who usually works downtown – he could tell me a little on what circulates and what people are asking for, and we do have a brilliant guy downtown who specializes in small businesses and the job resources. Wish I didn’t have to wait until Wednesday to talk to him. Oh well, doing what I can with the time I have.

If I had my way so far:

  • Occupational Outlook Handbook – newest version, 2 copies, one for reference and one for circulation
  • What Color Is Your Parachute? – newest edition
  • Knock ‘Em Dead – newest edition
  • Knock ‘Em Dead Resumes – newest edition
  • 301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview (2010)