TILT #35 Solo YOLO librarianship stories

Before you start blathering about innovation, walk a mile in these sensible shoes


Last week I worked as a solo librarian. What a week it was!

I’ve had a number of library jobs over the years but no long-term full-time library job. I am mindful that there are things about the work that I flat out do not know. This includes basic stuff like different technologies and systegms, but also the deep community knowledge that you get from working with and for a community for decades. I can only talk about why this sort of thing is important, not what it’s like. But I think sharing these stories has value. If you’ll indulge me, a few anecdotes from the week….

I drove to work in a snowstorm. I literally did not know who to call to say I wasn’t coming, and the weather report said the storm would clear (it didn’t). I strapped my phone to my GPS holster and this was my drive at 6x speed (click for video). I got to the library right on time and there were people waiting outside.

I spent a lot of the day shoveling and salting the ramp.

But also tried not to get too braggy.

One day Betsy, the former long-term librarian — who retired eight years ago because she didn’t want to “learn all the computer stuff” — shared the space with me doing some volunteer book-covering work. She was cranky, really cranky, whenever the work she was doing required interacting with the computer (“They better hire someone who knows Koha, because it’s just impossible…!”)
 
 On the other hand, she knew everyone in the library by name, who their families were and where they lived, and what books they liked to read. One man came in just to make a photocopy of a collage he’d made on the back of a cereal box. The woman in the image is his late wife. I had a brief conversation with him about this, but Betsy had actually known her.

In a larger library you could have a librarian like Betsy and a librarian like me. In a smaller library often you have to choose. You see different libraries all over Vermont making different choices.

A developmentally disabled man came into the library with his caregiver. He really enjoyed picking through the boxes of donated books heading to the book sale and wanted to keep one. Now, technically, this is against the rules. Realistically, it’s a non-problem in a small community. Fifty cents we don’t earn? So what? Getting to say “Nah, go ahead and take that book if you like it… and keep it.” was one of the joys of my week, in striking contrast to other corporate responses to rule-breaking this week.
 
 If you enjoy this sort of thing, consider the Dangerous Librarianship conference put on by ULU in NYC in a few weeks. I’ll be talking about how to break the law.

One of my special skills is identifying and remediating shameholes. I wish I had taken an “after” photo of this under-desk nook, because it is now a thing of beauty. Nearly every library has a space that looks like this. I also cleaned out the closet.

Apparently shamehole is one of those family words that is not commonly understood, so we all had a good time on Twitter talking about that.

One day I shared the space with the children’s librarian. It’s sort of a miracle that a library that runs on under 55K a year can have two staffers. I told her about my other job working on summer reading program software for larger libraries (used by over 125K kids nationwide last year, about 20% of my state’s population) and she lamented that it might mean people weren’t visiting the library as much. Which may be true and yet only part of the story.
 
 I did a lot of shelf reading. The library has a great collection but a lot of it is barely touched. Which is normal. And let’s remember: library book circulation per user has been relatively stable since the 1850s.

One of my big discoveries wasn’t library-based but was library-facilitated. This sconce/vase/something was on the wall of the library next to a handwritten note that said “Gift to Chelsea from the Merci Train from France.

I didn’t find out the local story (yet!), but did learn about the history of Merci Trains, boxcars of thank you gifts, one for each state, sent from France in appreciation for relief supplies sent by the US after the war. Many of the boxcars still exist. I wrote up a MetaFilter post with links to more information and was happy to get to share this story of gratitude.

Last week I was also the person who got to be the voice of the ThisIsVT, a Department of Tourism rotating Twitter position held by a different Vermonter each week. I was excited to get to share what I love about the state and my specific nerdy interests within it. The Department doesn’t use “teams” for Twitter or anything sophisticated, they just change the password every week and give it to the incoming tweeter. I saved all my posts into Storify; its a pretty good summary and a pretty good story.
 
 I left Vermont to head to Computers in Libraries where I’ll be all week. Say hello if you see me, I’m sure I have more stories to tell. Thanks for listening.

Today in Librarian Tabs is written irregularly by Jessamyn West who also maintains librarian.net. It’s also available in your inbox via TinyLetter. Thanks for reading.