Archive for A Day In the Life of the Lighthearted Librarian

A Day In the Life: Talk Like a Librarian

Like any other organization, libraries have developed a specific vocabulary to describe those procedures unique to our day to day business.  While you may hear most of these terms at any given library, the definitions may vary somewhat.  If you’re ever uncertain what the librarian is trying to tell you, please ask!  Despite my best efforts, I find myself slipping into library-speak too often;  I tend to use a lot of acronyms, like AMM for Art, Music & Media.  Luckily, I usually catch myself as I’m saying it and follow up with the full name of the department.  I’m just thankful that I’m not a processor like Chandler from Friends—remember the WENUS?  Weekly Estimated Net Usage Statistics?  On the other hand, acronyms like WENUS might curb my love of acronyms!

Now, let’s see if I can define some of the most common library terms without using more library terms—probably not, but I’ll do my best!

Call Number:  Think of this as the postal address for a specific item in the collection.  Generally speaking, we like to organize educational/informational/non-fiction materials by subject and we do this by assigning specific numbers to specific topics.  A typical call number looks something like this:  025.431 D51D.  Fiction tends to be easier—most of the time.  We organize fiction by the author’s last name—most of the time.  We *may* separate it by type of fiction (classic, fantasy, inspirational, mystery, romance, western) or we *may not*—it’s always best to check the catalog.  If it’s a collection of stories by several authors, we *may* shelve it by title rather than author.  A typical fiction call number looks like FICTION LARSO.  If it’s a mystery, the call number will look like FICTION MYSTERY CHRIS .

Catalog:  Also referred to as Card Catalog or OPAC (online public access catalog).  An online listing of a library’s holdings.  The library I work for has a keyword search box so you can enter whatever you know of the item (title, author, subject) and you’ll receive a list of results.  Some libraries may have separate lines for author, title and subject searches.

Circulation Desk:  Also referred to as the Checkout Desk.  At my library, this is where you want to be if you want to

  • apply for/replace a library card
  • update information on a current library card
  • ask about/pay fines
  • purchase library bags, ear buds and flash drives
  • check out materials

Database:  An electronic collection of organized, reputable information that a library pays a subscription fee for in order to offer to its community.  Okay, that’s a dry definition but it is accurate.  A database tends to look a lot like a regular website—the main difference for you is that you know librarians consider it to be a reliable source of information.   Depending upon the contract we’re able to negotiate with the database provider, we may or may not be able to provide remote access to the database:  in other words, you may be able to access the database from home if you enter your library card number, or you may have to visit the library to use the database. is a database that typically has to be used inside the library.

Fiction:  Novels and Stories fall into this category.  Whatever real-life details it may contain, it is largely the imaginative creation of the author.

Hold:  Also referred to as Reserve.

  • To place your name on a list for an item that is not currently available.
  • To request that an item at one library be sent to another library in the same library system.

Interlibrary Loan:  To borrow an item from outside the library system.  This process involves searching WorldCat, submitting a request to a library that owns the title in question, waiting for a response, and resubmitting to another library if necessary.

Kiosk:  Is it just me or is this one of the worst?  At this point in time, my library has 3 Kiosks, or stand-alone, self-service points.

  • the Parking Kiosk is a black machine located near the Checkout area which enables you to validate your parking ticket.
  • the Registration Kiosk is a pair of computers in the Checkout area which enable you to apply for a library card and update the information on your library card.
  • the Visitors Bureau Kiosk is located across from the Computer Center and allows you to print out coupons for local attractions like the Zoo.

Non-Fiction:  Whatever the topic, the information is presented in a factual manner.  Theories on Atlantis, Bigfoot etc are found in the non-fiction section (usually around 001).  Not all non-fiction is researched equally well–you may want to check Reviews.

Periodical: Merriam-Webster defines periodical as “published with a fixed interval between the issues or numbers”.  This definition would apply to most magazines/newsletters/newspapers as well as many almanacs.  When my library uses the term Periodical, however, we’re referring to our collection of magazines that we keep as Reference copies (which means you can read them inside the library or make photocopies but you cannot check them out).

Reference Collection:  Generally speaking, this refers to those materials that cannot be checked out and have to be used inside the library.  Why can’t they be checked out?  So that there’s something to refer to in the event that all of the other materials on XYZ happen to be checked out.

Reviews:  Publications like Choice, Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly post reviews of new titles.  These summaries/short evaluations are written by individuals who specialize in the subjects they review.

Shelf-Read:  To review every call number on a shelf to ensure that everything is in the proper order.

WorldCat:  An online, global catalog of library collections.  You can check it out yourself at

So, what acronyms/strange words do your librarians use that leave you wondering what planet we’re from?  Or, better yet, what acronyms/strange words does your profession use?


Comments (4) »

A Day In the Life . . . Wherever I May Roam

I began the day in our Business, Science & Technology Department.  A sampling of the questions answered:

  • I need modification of custody forms.
  • I need something that shows me how to fix the air conditioner in my Ford Thunderbird.  *We began with a Chilton’s repair manual but it didn’t have what the patron needed.  We then gave one of the online databases a try (Auto Repair Reference Center)—still not what the patron needed.  We finally hit the target with Mitchell’s On Demand.
  • I want to learn how to make yogurt (several books on the shelf–yay!)
  • I need to know the trade-in value of my car (Kelly Blue Book)

I had a little time off desk and began putting together the next Staff Picks newsletter.  This is a new project for me and I’m still learning how to use BookLetters.  Patrons can look forward to lots of new book recommendations soon!

I ended the day at our General Reference desk.  A sampling of questions answered:

  • I need the phone number for —
  • I’m looking for books about the Bible
  • Can you show me how to use the scanner?
  • I need to create a resume

Leave a comment »

A Day in the Life . . . Server Crash!

What happens when the library’s server crashes?  Bad things.  What happens when the server takes more than a day to rebuild?  Worse things.  I’m not a techie person so I really don’t understand the behind-the-scenes details.  Like most of our patrons, I only know that I’m not able to access the internet.

What this means for me while I’m working is that I don’t have access to our online resources, one of which is  our online catalog.  This in turn leaves me unable to answer one of the most common questions of the day:  is book XYZ currently on the shelf?  What I can do, is guide the patron to the general area and scan the shelf.  If it’s fiction, it’s fairly easy as we shelve those in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.  If it’s non-fiction, it’s a little trickier—I can guess a general call number based on the subject but that’s a broad guess at best.  For example, if someone is looking for the book Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior, I’ll hazard a guess that it’s 158.something as this is the general location for Psychology titles.   As we have access to the catalog today, I can tell you that this covers over 7,000 titles at our Main branch–even with a significant amount checked out or in storage, that’s still a lot of book spines to scan!  Now if I were willing to pay for a smart phone, I could have relied upon its superpowers to search the internet for a call number, but that’s simply not part of my budget.  Which leads to another perspective . . .

What this means for the patrons.  Aside of not having access to our catalog or our excellent collection of online resources, patrons who rely upon the library for their internet access are unable to go online to apply for jobs, apply for unemployment, file taxes, etc.  For me at least, I’m already at the library 5 days a week—it’s simply a matter of me coming in early or staying late to take care of my personal business.  For others, coming to the library is something they have to work into their day/week/month.

Which leads back to another way my job is impacted by the crash of a server:  angry patrons.  We were fortunate–most people were dismayed but understanding—the first day.  However, as Day Two of No Internet Access began, irritation was more visible.  Times are hard and like it or not, we are dependent on the internet to conduct much of our personal business and/or stay connected in a hectic world.  And as times are hard, we’re dependent on the library to provide that access.

Leave a comment »

A Day in the Life . . . Roaming, Roaming, Roaming

Morning: I worked a shift in our Business Department today.  I connected patrons with medical resources, legal resources and auto repair resources.  I also located a recipe for Rhubarb pie, looked up phone numbers and checked the active warrants list in response to patron requests.

Late Morning: I met with one of our Senior Managers to offer a suggestion regarding the large number of replacement card applications we’ve been receiving.

Lunchtime! I usually enjoy spending time with friends during my lunch hour, but, as luck would have it, our schedules simply did not mesh today.  I took the opportunity to read Warren Graham’s book, Black Belt Librarians (55 pages).  Excellent.  If you ever have the chance to attend one of his sessions, I highly recommend that you do so.  The book is a good preview/review of what he discusses during his speaking engagements.

Early afternoon: I began the afternoon with a shift in our Young Adults Department.  There were only a few teens in the department when I arrived and they were all quietly working.  A mother came in looking for writing and algebra resources for her 8th grade daughter; the daughter stopped by the desk and we also found a fiction series to her liking.

Late afternoon: After working in the Young Adult Department, I moved to the Reference Desk  in our Humanities Department.  While there, I connected patrons with GED test prep materials, fiction titles, literary criticism resources and local history resources.  I introduced one patron to our online research resources and helped a few other patrons with basic computer questions.  The biggest challenge of the afternoon has been trying to identify a nonfiction book that came out either late 2009 or early 2010.  According to the patron, the book focuses on Allied covert operations during WWII.  Still working on this one . . . the titles I’ve come up with so far have not sounded familiar to the patron.

An hour off desk? Another day perhaps—we have an author visit this evening and the library is hopping!  Even though it’s been a full day, it’s been a good one.


Comments (2) »

Library Pets

Reading Dewey reminded me of the guinea pigs we had at the Rossford Library.  I loved taking care of the little guys but I constantly had to remind children to NOT a) bang on the cage b) feed the piggies erasers c) yell at the piggies d) any number of other things.  One of the good things that we did do was start a ‘Buddy’ program—with parents’ permission, I worked with a couple of buddies at a time to introduce kids to pet ownership.  Once a week, the buddies helped me clean the cages and then we all took some time to pet the guinea pigs and let them scamper about for a little supervised cage-free time.

When I was managing the DeMotte branch, someone abandoned a kitten in our parking lot—this briefly brought up the thought of having a library cat.  Half of the staff wanted me to ask the Director, half did not.  I personally love animals—and this kitten was beyond adorable—but I decided not to raise the question.  Some people don’t like cats, some are severely allergic—and some lose their interest, particularly as the animal gets older—this was one of the hardest sections to read in Dewey.  As he got older, thinner and more scraggly, people wanted to replace him.

Comments (3) »

Librarian Night Before Christmas . . . another reason to subscribe to Publib

‘Twas the night before Christmas, not a book to be found

Not a textbook, a paperback or tome, spiral bound.

The stockings were hung from the chimney with care

In hopes that the Librarian soon would be there.

The children were gathered, bored silly in their beds

For no books could be found out loud to be read!

There were toys and games and puzzles and maps

But nothing to read – might as well take a nap!

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter!

We sprang from our beds to see what was the matter

Then, what we saw – what was that? Rats?

No! A miniature bookcart led by eight tiny cats.

With a gorgeous driver, by the name of Marian,
I knew in a moment it must be the Librarian!
Faster than speed reading, the cats flew with perfect aim
And Marian whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

Now Gatsby! Now Holden! Now Lorax & Grinch!

On Rhett! On Scarlett! On Atticus & Finch!

The cats echoed their names to one and to all.

They flew to the roof and they flew to the wall!

And then, from the roof I heard tiny paws
The prancing and preening of kitty cat claws
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Marian came with a bound.

She was dressed in her work clothes, from her head to her foot

The bundle of books she carried was covered in soot,
She had come straight from the library where books are free.

To patrons with cards it’s a book potpourri!

A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
She distributed books and left nothing unread!

She spoke not a word, but went straight to her work,
And filled all the stockings; She was more than a clerk!

Then she sprang to her bookcart, to her team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard her exclaim, as she drove out of sight,
“Season’s Readings to all, and to all a good-night.”

Parody by Lisë Chlebanowski

Comments (1) »

Shushing . . . It’s Not Just for Librarians Anymore

There was a brief power outage downtown yesterday—inside the library lights went out, computers went dark and, as an added bonus for staff in workrooms, doors slammed shut.  Not much rattles librarians but power outages do generate atypical librarian behavior.  We gather in groups at department desks because it’s our best chance of learning a) what caused the power outage b) how quickly power is expected to be restored c) what the plan of action is.  Business as usual has just been thrown into a tizzy—it’s an online world and everyone’s plan for the day has just been thrown out of whack.

Or so it would seem.  Amidst the general confusion—patrons staring forlornly at dark computer screens, people roaming the building in seek of answers, librarians gathered at the reference desk—someone unconnected with the online world was still trying to work and the daylight streaming in from the windows was sufficient for her needs—but the talking at the reference desk was really getting on her nerves.  It was a tough call to make but someone had to make it—she shushed the librarians.

The librarians are still blushing.

Comments (1) »