The Reference Desk: An Awful Idea

It seemed like such a great concept. The library had a problem: it had no central reference area. Or, rather, that area was me. When a patron wanted tech help, they hunted me down. When a patron had a question, I had to get someone to cover the circulation desk for me. When I was “off-desk,” that is, doing work in the staff area, I was invisible. I might as well not have been there. Lame, right?

When we updated the library, I begged my director to install a reference desk. I’d spend all my time there, I enthused, and that way patrons would have 100% access to tech help. I could bounce down to circulation for instant readers’ advisory recommendations. Best of all, I could keep stats on computer use! Wins all around! I made Google Sketchups of our space with various desks and cost estimates. Finally, my director got me the Ikea Malm pull-out desk. Boy, was I excited! I was going to put out multimedia, display extra handouts, and just generally rock everything. You should have seen my proposal. It was a thing of beauty.

Sad face

There are so, so many reasons that I now regret all of this effort. I’m not even really sure where to start.

First of all, no amount of signage will make the general run of patrons come into the reference room. I have three signs, each progressively more blaring, begging patrons to ask me questions. While patrons will comment on them, they will generally do so while passing by on their way out the door. When they do come over, it feels like I’m on a throne and they’re approaching as supplicants. There’s a runner on the floor that I thought was classy, but looks like a red carpet, and the stairs are right in front of that, just like a dais or an altar to the classic Hollywood spinster librarian. It’s so, so unfortunate.

There are other logistical problems with this thing that I’ve really come to hate. First, because the library is located in a pre-digital building, there’s no way to put a wired computer at this desk. There’s just no jack, and even if there were, there’s no room. Instead, I use my personal laptop and the public wifi. Not only is my laptop tiny, but it is unable to print to any hardware that we have in the library. Even its appearance is a problem, because having a MacBook sets me apart from the rest of the staff. Try explaining to a patron “why that librarian is different.”

Without spending time at the circulation desk, I don’t know what people are reading. It turns out that the circulation staff is more than happy to do RA at a second’s notice. Calling me just takes too much time. My readers’ advisory incidence has gone from a high of ten per day to zip all the time. Even passive RA is tougher now, since my computer can’t print the pamphlets and bookmarks that I used to make on the networked desktops. I’ve been Google Driving everything and then retrieving it on a desktop, which is weird since I no longer really have dedicated computer space.  Thanks to the setup I vied so hard for, I now budge my coworkers off their machines whenever I want to get anything done.

Finally, but worst of all, I no longer get to talk to patrons. There’s just no opportunity when they don’t come over here and I don’t go over to circulation. They don’t see me as friendly or approachable anymore. This kills the joy of my job dead. Life was a fecund jungle when I was at the circulation desk; now it is a desert. A desert called REFERENCE DESK.

If I had an option, I’d dismantle my desk and send it right back to Sweden. But it’s too late. I’m leaving in less than a month for my new digs, where my job will be very different, but where I will absolutely insist on spending time on circulation. As for my current job, all I can do is hope that the next reference librarian will use the damned reference desk for kindling.


Links of the RA Unconference

To begin with, the Readers’ Advisory Unconference was just great. I wrote up a blog post/summary for the organizers here at their excellent Tumblr. Go check them out! Hashtag on Twitter was #rauncon and there’s a sweet Storify collecting all the tweets. Meanwhile, I’ve compiled all the links tweeted (and as many that were mentioned as I could remember) into this handy dandy list.

Here is your juicy linkage!



ALA report: Blog use tapering off in libraries 

LJ poll of RA activity in libraries



Beth Reads: Binge watching? How about binge reading?

Books, Yarn, Ink, and Other Pursuits by Kristy Chadwick (@booksNYarn)

Entertainment Weekly’s “I Read This So You Don’t Have To”

Massachusetts Library Association RA Genre Study Blog

RA for All: Becky (@RAforAll) posted about RAUncon and the Awesome Box!

This is a sentence: displays galore

Wrapped Up in Books: includes a lovely flowchart about humor in YA



Arlington Library’s LitUp program

Boxford Library’s Patron Video Book Recommendations:

Darien Library’s “You Are What You Read”

Darien Library’s Vimeo account

Jennifer Rummel’s (‏@yabooknerd) YA picks video 9made with Animoto)

Margin Project

Multnomah County Library’s My Librarian program

Nassau Libraries’ Book in a Bag program

NYPL Tweetwall

Syosset Library’s title swap


Resources & Tools

Allreaders: massive and extremely detailed book search engine

Animoto: make your own slideshow-type movies

Anythink materials merchandising guidelines: how to “sell” a book

Bibliocommons: a shared online catalog

EarlyWord: the publisher/librarian connection detailing books soon to be popular

Lauren Gledhill’s (@lubarlibrarian) list of nonfiction that reads like fiction: from RAUncon session

LibraryReads: books recommended by librarians

LibraryThing: online book cataloging

No Flying, No Tights: premier librarian-run comic book review site

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: reviews of romance novels


Social Media

Adult Reading Round Table: a great RT for RA

Fiction_L listserv: a longrunning RA listserv

Pinterest: Book Displays: best book displays evar

Pinterest: “Shanghai Girls” book club: best book club read themed board evar

ReadAdv discussion of Backlist: Best discussion of RA tools evar (features several conference attendees!)


Webinars & Education

Following patrons on Twitter: slideshare by Emily Lloyd, author of Shelf Check

Handouts from Readers Advisory: the complete spectrum workshop: RA appeal factors

Handouts from Readers Advisory: the complete spectrum workshop: Starter for book talks and reviews

Masslib RA webinars

Social media & RA webinar from conference attendees @helgagrace & @MarianLiberryan

The Awesome Box

Awesome Box

Brookline Library’s Awesome Box


If I missed anything or anyone, please say so and I will duly include it or them. Massive huge thanks to @bookavore (courageous leader of the whole shebang,) @booksNyarn, @lumbrarian, @sophiebiblio, @librarylinknj, @helgagrace, @yabooknerd, @alsnyder02, and @jenmalonewrites for providing all of those (except the ones that I, @evil_librarian, provided.)

What Twitter Is For

Today I am ill. I have been ill for about a solid week, and while I initially intended to soldier through like a model librarian, spreading disease to hapless hordes of children and the elderly like the Typhoid Mary of reference work, I eventually conceded that as long as I am a walking sack of infection, the reasonable thing to do would be to stick around the apartment with my Ebola and wheeze it all out. It has been a good choice.

On days like these, I feel terribly disconnected from the library-o-sphere. Sad and lonely is the ill librarian! That’s when I fire up Twitter and lurk to my heart’s content. Most of my library news I get from the Twit. I have a list of librarians which is doubtless incomplete but still useful. Included on this list is Spoonzy Pudín, who speaks the hilarious truth; Doge B. Rarian, who is a dog; and Satan Librarian, of whom I obviously approve and who was in an interesting battle of wits with Librarian Jesus for a while. I found it significant that Satan Librarian’s grammar was consistently superior to Librarian Jesus’ grammar. I attribute it to Biblical statements against witchcraft. Jesus must have never learned…to spell! AAAAHAHAHAHAHA oh ow laughing makes me cough.

See what happens when I get sick?

I must admit that my absolute favorite use for Twitter is livetweeting conferences. I started with the completely awesome Digital Commonwealth earlier this year and I’ll be livetweeting the RA Unconference later this week, at which time I will hopefully be well again.

I’m extremely excited about this Uncon. The organizers have generously given me a travel stipend. They are also allowing me to post on their blog at the conclusion, a decision that I am positive they will not regret. I’m never been to an Uncon before and this particular Uncon is about Readers’ Advisory, so my level of stokedness is indeed high.

Readers’ Advisory is the closest we will ever come to turning library work into a video game. My hit rate is high, but only when I’m dealing with recs I’ve actually read. I wince to admit this, but I find myself having to rely heavily on reviews and Novelist to keep up with what’s coming out. (When I must reference Novelist, I feel deep Catholic shame.) I also tend to recommend graphic novels to just about everybody because childhood church stuff. (Hey, did you know that exorcists still exist and Pope Francis kinda sorta approves of them? It’s true-ish! The one quoted in this article thinks Satanic lesbians are growling at him like Margherita pizza. Mm-mm good! Props to my totally sane Italian home religion of birth, LGBT solidarity, and the ever-entertaining Satan!) Anyway, I have faith that the Uncon will straighten me out, at least, as far as the books are concerned. It’ll be like a boost. My score multiplier will increase. And then I’ll be able to stop going to confession.

Until then, I’m going to go drink some more orange juice and take a nap.

Note: I was so conked out on Sudafed that I completely forgot to tell you that I tweet @evil_librarian! Come say hi!

Cinco in a College Town

Of all the cultural events collegiate America might ever have appropriated, Cinco de Mayo is probably the one that gets under my skin the fastest. Originally a remembrance of the Battle of Puebla and a celebration of Mexican pride, it has recently, on college campuses and in college-y areas like the one where I live, degenerated into an excuse to wear politically incorrect headgear and not give a damn about how the hispanic Americans around you might feel about things. 


If that made you go “holy shit,” then we had the same reaction! We’re reaction buddies! Hi, friend!

I also had a reaction this weekend while watching college kids in Somerville getting blasted while wearing enormously stupid sequined sombreros and screaming “DRINKO DE MAAAAYOOOOOO!” 

Clearly, this whole culturally insensitive mess is just an excuse to drink on a weekday, but does that make it strictly right? Allow me, if you please, to do a quick, public thought experiment. (It is, after all, a blog.) How would a red-blooded American hick like me, originating in a military family and only now gaining control of my tear ducts as I think of our rousing national anthem, feel if space aliens from Alpha Centuri were to randomly decide that the Fourth of July was a great excuse to barcrawl in sequined pink tricorn hats and togas made from the American Flag, all the while calling it “Fourth of Whiskey?”

My writer’s imagination fails me. Luckily, there’s Google. Look, a space alien!


Experiment results: I’m offended! Hooray!

I propose an alternate holiday for collegiate celebratory purposes. Academic administrators, back me up! We’ll need all your support to turn students away from racist Cinco de Mayo celebrations and toward less offensive behavior. After all, if college students will use any excuse to drink and dress funny at odd times, then we may be able to feed them some festive options that don’t offend anyone’s cultural sensibilities. See if any of these ring your bell:


1. FIVE. This holiday celebrates the number five (5). Isn’t five (5) great? All of its multiples end in either 0 or 5. It’s a useful number for hands. To celebrate, people wear finger puppets, walk arm in arm five abreast on sidewalks, drink in multiples of five, and up-top total strangers for the entire obnoxious day. Five. (5)


2. Say “Motherfuckers” on YouTube Day. Participants get extremely drunk and break the great social taboo they have had to observe all throughout their lives: they get to scream the word “MOTHERFUCKERS” at the world through the medium of YouTube. Not only will this relieve stress, but participants will learn real-world lessons about social media and alcoholic spirits.


3. Artisinal Soda Day. This takes place on a random weekend in May, and it’s strictly for bartenders who have a problem with kids using fake IDs and acting like assholes in front of their establishments. In summary, all of the beer in the joint is secretly replaced with either high-end soda pop, (stuff like Reed’s Butterscotch Beer,) or non-alcoholic beverages. Then everyone gets to watch as the inexperienced young customers behave as if they’re drunk despite having had no booze whatsoever that night.


4. May Day. Anyone who mixes up the terms “can I” and “may I” has to do ten push-ups while wearing a party hat. I don’t actually think this one will fly, I just think it would be cool.


5. We Admit There’s Something Wrong With Undergraduate College When Students Will Take Pretty Much Any Excuse to Throw A Public Party Regardless Of How Well They’ve Thought Things Through Day. Also known as “We Might Have Lost The Point Of Investment In Education Somewhere In This Bar Day,” this day is typified by serious discussions about whether or not undergraduate education is more useful to students than, say, a year to blow off all the steam they built up during high school.


On thith fine thpring day, let’th all remember Thtar Warth and itth profound effect upon our culture. May the Fourth be with you!


Also, I didn’t get to a comic shop in time to snag any of the books I wanted yesterday. Let these two noble and beauteous lynx vocalize exactly how I feel about that.

Tomorrow (I Mean Today!) is Free Comic Book Day

When I wrote this, it was late, late at night. Unbeknownst to me, I crossed the dateline into Official Free Comic Book Day territory as the post was published! So for goodness sake, go get some free comic books. IT’S TODAY.)


If you like those comics, my friendly friend-people, then get thee to a comic book store (or Reuben Hoar Library) tomorrow, for it is FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!


I, however, shall be working. This, of course, SUCKS, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have fun. Go ahead! Don’t think of me, suffering in the shackles of capitalism for the sake of your information literacy. Go on!

Plus, I already have opinions about the freebies that I want.

Atomic Robo


Ohmanohmanohmanohman I LOVE Atomic Robo! Well, I love Doctor Dinosaur. And where Atomic Robo goes, Doctor Dinosaur is sure to show up eventually! Sure, Atomic Robo is basically Hellboy in chrome, but did I mention Doctor Dinosaur? Doctor Dinosaur makes everything awesome.


That’s from a comic that wasn’t free. Sadly, all Atomic Robo does in this FCBD issue, apparently, is check out Centralia. Doesn’t sound like Doctor Dinosaur will be there. I’ll have to get my fan fix on Twitter.

The Tick


I just want his nemesis to be Mr. Lyme or something. Anyway, their city gets shrunk by the Hoarder. WHAT WILL THEY DO? SPOOOOOOOON!

Guardians of the Galaxy


Hoogasaka! Featuring Crow T. Robot as Groot! This is a Bendis bit and likely to have all the trappings in prep for the movie. Honestly, expect it to go first. It makes me kind of glad that I already have no hope of getting these, as I will be at work. If I didn’t get a copy of this after going to all the trouble of deciding that I actually wanted it, I think I’d cry. There’s also a Spidey-Verse teaser in there, but Spidey and I aren’t talking right now because all my friends hated his movie and it’s awkward.

Steam Wars


It’s like STAR Wars, but instead of flying through the stars, they’ll fly through STEAM! How dramatic! I must have it. Except…I hate the art. Don’t call me anti-anime! I am not. Don’t call me a cretin! No! I just can’t get over seeing their faces all different again! There have been too many Star Wars cartoons, video games, and Legos! MAKE IT STOP!

I don’t mean that. Never stop, Star Wars adaptations. Do you. 😉

New Job’s a-Comin’



See that neat-o logo up there? That’s the official sigil of my brand-new professional digs! As of July 1, I’ll be the adult services librarian at Wilmington Memorial Library.

I am so excited for this position that I can’t even.

There’ll be a great deal of programming involved in this position. This is exciting: I have freaking AMAZING programming ideas. Many are set outside of the library, many are set inside of the library, and all have that there logo hanging over them on a big giant banner. It’s going to utterly rock.

In honor of this exciting event, and because I have been having nothing but ideas since I heard the news, here’s a list of library program starters from A to Z. It’s a smallish selection, but I’m still collecting from all my friends and colleagues. If you want to contribute, feel free to add ideas in the comments! In fact, PLEASE add! Invent new letters and add your own, use numbers and symbols, or just tack your own library programming ideas onto the 26 pre-agreed Roman numerals. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable.

And if you like any of them, remember to steal all of my ideas and never ever worry about attribution! Yeeeaah!




A: Astrologer in the library

B: Beer tasting

C: Cat training

D: Defense Against the Dark Arts Harry Potter night

E: Etsy for Businesspeople

F: Fruit smoothies

G: Glass blowing

H: Healthy Paleo dieting

I: Ink art

J: Jail in America: all about the federal and state prison systems

K: Kooks: debunking medical scamsters and frauds

L: Loving someone with depression

M: Meditation night

N: Nature in your Backyard

O: Organized crime: Boston’s sordid history

P: Pickling

Q: Quick carpentry

R: Raising exotic spiders

S: Spinning yarn from wool

T: Tax tips and tricks

U: Upping the ante: how to win at poker

V: Veterans’ visit and discussion

W: Wild Wilmington: little-known local history

X: Xylophone concert

Y: Yoga

Z: Zelda night: adult-only classic video game competition