Tag Archives: debate

Office pitfalls…except when they’re not

3 Apr

Gossip, fraternization, and politics.

We’ve all been warned about the dangers of these pitfalls, and given reasons we shouldn’t participate in them.  Conversely, we’ve all been given legitimate reasons we should engage in these behaviors.  So what the heck?

Every person you’ll ever meet will have an opinion about pretty much everything.  But here’s how I see these three big office “no-nos”:


  • Idle gossip is pretty useless to the work place.  But gossip that’s come down from the grapevine about institutional changes, or staff turnover, or policy problems?  That I definitely want to hear, and I’ll share it with people who are impacted by it.
  • If there’s going to be staff turnover, and gossip tells me the likelihood of that is high, I want to have a head start polishing my resume if need be.
  • Big change, such as weeding a lot of the collection, or changing LMS systems?  I want to know so I don’t inadvertently create more work for myself in the near future.
  • A new policy being implemented, or an old one removed or revamped?  I’d like time to figure out how that changes my job, if at all, and to think about the impact on existing policy.  Just because I’m not an administrator doesn’t mean I don’t have a stake.
  • Serious personal problems for a staff member?  I don’t need to know what it is, but knowing something is going on will help me being forgiving if they make some errors.  This one is iffy, for so many reasons, and I would opt to share my personal woe with one or two trusted colleagues so they can go to bat for me if I find myself in the position of needing some leeway.  If you happen to have a great boss, that’s the person I’d tell.


  • Dating/relationships in the workplace need be conducted by two discreet adults.  If you wouldn’t describe yourself as such, don’t do it.  Be honest – are you capable of conducting yourself professionally, and leaving home at home, all the time?
  • I get a lot of librarians live for the job.  A lot don’t.  I understand it can be hard to find someone, and that you spend a lot of time with colleagues.  Your boss is not your colleague, your reporting staff are not colleagues.  Date, if you must, on an equal playing field.  Preferably with someone in a different department.
  • Aside from dating/relationships, realize not everyone you work with is your friend.  You don’t need them to be; you need them to be good coworkers.  It’s fine to try to make friends in all venues of your life, but realize there are lots of people out there who view “work” and “personal” lives and two completely separate entities, and never the twain shall meet.


  • Oh, that old library school saw.  “The ‘L’ in ‘librarian’ is for ‘liberal’!”  It’s mostly true, though not always.  Conservative librarians tend to keep their mouths shut.  Librarians, as evidenced by some of the more controversial blogs and their comments (hello, Annoyed Librarian over at LJ!), can censor dissenting opinions, or come down in force on disagreement.  Tread carefully.
  • If you do hold some dissenting opinions, realize this: no one really cares what you think.  Unless you’re explicitly being asked, by a thoughtful and respectful individual in a low-key manner, chances are good that the other person is already thinking of their next comment.  Is this a disagreement you want to get into right now?
  • No matter your stripes, repeat: if someone does disagree with my most excellent and correct opinion, it is not personal.


Now, go forth and pitfall!


For more information on porn in libraries

8 Feb

There is a fabulous website/blog, called SafeLibraries.  Be warned, they don’t talk about the ALA in a flattering light, and like any writing, there is a clear viewpoint and the thesis and discussion points are designed to support that view.  It does link to facts, and everything is cited, so at the least you’ll be equipped to decide for yourself after reading through the citations.

Annoyed and Annoyed

8 Feb

I can’t tell you how angry situations like this make me.  You might love Annoyed Librarian, you might hate her (him?), but you can’t deny there are salient points in that blog post.  Go read it.  Seriously.


Ok, now that we’re all back here, let’s break this down.  In a list of 41 rules in 5 categories, we restrict people’s behavior in ways that clearly have no impact on the mission of the library, assuming they define that as “access to information.”  It’s designed, they say, for the “comfort and safety” of the patrons and staff.  Well, things like moving furniture could be for the comfort of the patron, but against the comfort of the staff – they’re the ones moving it back to where it belongs.  Here’s a thought: what about the comfort of the mother bringing in her two elementary school children for story hour or to do homework, and the children see a woman spread-eagle?  That’s not comfortable for her, and she’s just as much a patron as the viewer of the porn.  But viewing porn, in a public area, is “information” the patrons should have a right to access, according to the creators and defenders of this policy.

No, it’s not.

There is no informative value you derive from porn in a public setting.  The ALA and I have a disagreement (that they’re not aware we, specifically, are in, though they’d have to be nuts not to realize there are librarians out there who find their stance on porn access distasteful) on this in the worst way.  I don’t think there needs to be any access to porn in libraries, and Annoyed makes an excellent point: is there a law requiring libraries to provide Internet access to porn?  I rather doubt there is such a thing, but I do know there are laws about common decency and community morality.  I know that, because the ALA lost a Supreme Court case about just such a topic.  I know that, because it’s how police officers arrest non-intoxicated people for public urination.

So why is the ALA OIF and the ACLU pursuing this agenda?  I have no clue, and I’m not sure I want to understand why organizations so devoted to “access to information” aren’t devoting more resources to keeping libraries and librarians in schools, where students need the information provided and the help librarians can offer.  I can see that porn in libraries is more politically glamorous, but which is more heroic?

The more I read about eBook lending, and pornography in libraries being viewed in public, the more I’m convinced that access to information is a concept very badly misunderstood by those whose professional duty is to provide it.  Access to information is providing that which your patrons find of value.  The community informs the library about the material from which it derives value, and if you get people complaining about the type of information to which you’re providing access, then you are not doing your job.  By the way, every community I’ve ever read about that challenges the access to porn policy of a library has overwhelming patron support.

So, what can we do to change the way we perceive “access to information”?  My first thought is for librarians to stop assuming we know what will best benefit our community, and start listening instead.  What are your ideas?

How much is too much service?

9 Jan

I’ve taken a lot of heat for my views on a certain topic.  Ever since entering library school, I’ve been one of the few who felt this way, and probably the only one who was willing to speak up in class about it.  Whenever librarians get together and pat themselves on the back for “teaching”, or for having a high-minded, lofty mission statement or goals list for their libraries, I shake my head.

You see, the view I’ve taken criticism for is: librarians often provide too much service.  We’re so concerned with our goals, missions, and our desire to help out our patrons and foster information independence, that we forget the business we’re in is customer service on a basic level.  We overlook forests for trees, and alienate some of our patrons because of it.

Some patrons adamantly refuse to become information independent; you know these people, the elderly person who complains about how much simpler things are on paper, the average (or below average) student who declares at the reference desk, “I am computer illiterate” before even asking a question.  There are some people you just can’t reach, teach, or show.  They just want you to give them their answer and send them on their way.  Assuming this isn’t a young child, I venture a guess and say that they’re not likely to have a lot of reference questions.  Strictly from an ROI standpoint, it’s a better strategy to just answer the question.

Then there are others, who have a mid-level enquiry and want some assistance.  We love our databases, ILL and resources, so we tell them all about our services…only to have their eyes glaze over, because we’ve given them a deluge when they wanted a trickle.  Pointing them in the direction they want to go, and giving a basic tutorial is generally sufficient.

The last patrons are the ones who can never have too much service.  Seasoned researchers, professional academics, people for whom finding data and synthesizing it into information, creating conclusions and contributing to a field of study are worth the time it takes to go in-depth and tease out questions, expanding and contracting research focus in order to find just the right resource.

But the bottom line: know who you’re dealing with, and be sensitive to their actual needs, not just the needs we’d like to think they have.

Do versus Ought

5 Dec

Last week, I told you about the reorganizing of our materials and how standard systems had let me and my patrons down.  This week, I want to follow that with the question that’s at the heart of the matter.

What does and what should your library do for patrons?  Are they the same thing?


I say no.  In our case, it was using a standard cataloging system without examining whether or not it met the needs of our service population.  As I said last week, the root of the reshelve was that our patrons don’t do pure research, and the cataloging system is designed to facilitate pure research.  There are only two options with this: you push pure research onto patrons who don’t do and aren’t comfortable with it by doing “reference instruction” and workshops on using the library.  Or, you observe what your patrons are already doing, and how they use information, ask for their feedback, and make changes to accommodate existing behaviors and needs.

I’m not saying we should let our patrons stagnate, but you know that saying about horses and water?  It applies.  We can’t force patrons to care about research the way we do, and our sense of professional integrity shouldn’t hang on the converts we’ve made, but the people we’ve helped.

I leave you this entreaty: examine what your patrons need from you, discarding any idea of what you want to give them, and see if there are ways you can improve the system by which you meet those needs.

Digitizing collections

31 Oct

I know you’ve seen all the news articles and blogs about Google Books, digitization initiatives by colleges and digital collections in general.  Hopefully, you’re familiar with more than the fact they’re out there.  Librarians get riled by this issue a lot.  That being said, librarians generally have good reasons for being riled.

Well, this isn’t another librarian-angry-at-publishers/authors post.  This is a devil’s advocate post.

Digitizing collections is a major undertaking and unless you know for sure that you have the resources to do it, you shouldn’t.  It’s a full-time job, so be prepared to hire someone to do it.  If you happen to be at an institution that’s not too involved in technology, you’d better be prepared for the new hire to not quite fit in (historical societies come to my mind, because I’m not considering just the humongous Google Books project or others like it, but small-scale efforts as well).

If you’re going for large-scale, or really high quality, equipment costs.  Same thing if you’re dealing with really fragile stuff.  And that fragile stuff?  Shouldn’t always be digitized, even if there’s a large interest in preserving it.  You need to make sure you won’t cause damage to the item you’re digitizing, either by handling or by the process itself.   Again, that means you need someone who knows what they’re doing, so don’t think you can get by with an intern.

Over all these factors lies a sort of miasma, that digitizing is the wave of the future without any librarians or archivists stopping to ask “Why?”  What makes it worth preserving?  Should it be?  How high does the inherent value have to be to merit it?

We get lost in the litigation side of the debate, over the fair use and copyright arguments, over freedom of access and the digital divide, that we forget to ask if this is even something we should be doing.  Is some information more precious because it has a shelf-life?  Will people appreciate it more if they know it’s not always going to be available?*

I don’t have answers, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Are you pro-, con-, or neutral on digitization?

*Note that I’m not advocating for destruction of materials, but that some are valuable because of their birth.  Incunabula that are digitized aren’t often because of the content, but because they’re works of art.  Are they more valuable in person than online?

Book burning, deaccessioning, and all the hatred

17 Oct

The background to this post is found over at Annoyed Librarian, and Cracked’s article on why we’re in a book-burning period of history.  You don’t need to read it, but I recommend that you do.

I read the latter article late last week, and AL’s this morning.  I like Annoyed’s writing and don’t take it too seriously, so I found myself nodding in agreement as I went through her very kind rebuttal.  I found myself shaking my head at the comments on Cracked’s article.  Cracked is a site I enjoy in my off-time, its wit bringing a dose of hard-bitten ire or misanthropy to my day.  It’s a shame the readers are such fools.

I don’t say that lightly.  But their comments are, by and large, clearly from the perspective of someone who’s never had to work in a library or deal with excess stock.  Books are treasures, and I am a person who will hold out against e-readers for the foreseeable future (or until I need large print books).  But saving every book because it’s a book, because it’s old, or because it might be worth something, is idiotic.  The library is in fact a type of business, albeit a non-profit and publicly funded one.  Well, technically public libraries are government organizations, but they run more like businesses…so if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I’ll call it a duck regardless of nomenclature.  The readers of Cracked don’t seem to grasp that as they complain about noise level, or lost books, or weeding, they also demand more hotspots for their phones, free Wi-Fi, subscriptions, and an ever-evolving presence on the internet so they don’t have to come to the library itself.  You cannot demand both left and right simultaneously.

Perhaps it’s our profession at fault: have we done ourselves a disservice by encouraging a certain view historically, that minimized the fact libraries are susceptible to politics and government?  Was it a defense, where we endeavored to convince others we were independently valuable and that we were not at the mercy of government, so if need be the public would be outraged at meddling by politicians?  I don’t know, but I suspect the answer is at least partly “yes.”  When you create an ideal and then don’t live up to it (as no organization can), there’s outcry and indignation.

I understand what the readers at Cracked, and many library patrons around the world, feel when they discover items have been weeded.  But the point remains that librarians, archivists, and curators of collections, need to make decisions based on the needs of the whole, with input from the whole, and with a degree of professional knowledge developed by training in subject matter.  That’s what makes librarians, archivists, and curators, uniquely qualified to decide which books to deaccession, and our love of knowledge transcends a single volume.  We take the biggest picture possible: if it’s preserved out there in a format of some kind, and the current format isn’t inherently valuable (think Gutenberg Bible format), then we have done our duty to information and we must make way for new ideas and exchange.

So I toss the question to you all: what do you think of weeding?  What do you think patrons think of it, and what would be the best practice?