Sunday, September 04, 2016

Thoughts on Reading the Bookshop on the Corner

Yesterday, I reviewed Jenny Colgan's The Bookshop on the Corner. (By the way, in England, it's called The Little Shop of Happily Ever After, which I kind of like.) I loved the story, and, most of all, I loved Nina Redmond, the librarian turned bookseller. But, here are my thoughts. In some ways, it was a depressing book because Nina Redmond had to become a bookseller in order to continue to share her love of books.

It was just happenstance that while I was finishing Colgan's novel I read an article in the August 29, 2016 Publishers Weekly, "We Need to Talk About Reference" by Andrew Richard Albanese and Brian Kenney. It's an article that angers me and breaks my heart, as Colgan's book does sometimes. In talking about library education in the PW article, Andy Woodworth says, "It needs a customer service revamp with a side of social work and a generous helping of interpersonal communication and psychology." In Colgan, one of the reference librarians says, "It was lovely. People coming in to share stories or books or things they liked. Now, it's people coming in because they're desperate. They're cut off from the world because they don't have the Internet or their benefits have been taken away and they can't make ends meet, and nobody is left out there to care...I'm a librarian, and now I'm an IT support worker with a side order of psychology, addiction counseling, and social work."

You want to know something? I didn't go to school to get a social work degree. I'm glad I'm no longer in direct public service. I want to be Nina, but Nina as a librarian. Nina's dream is "Helping to match people to the book that would change their life, or make them fall in love, or get over a love affair gone wrong." What's wrong with that? In one of my libraries, I did that. I knew the community, and my customers, and they asked for book suggestions. People still want to read, but libraries, in their attempt to stay "relevant" may have forgotten that. Computers and makerspaces. What about the people who want a good book? While we're so busy being social workers and IT staff, the people who want to read are drifting away from libraries, the people who always supported libraries. Why the popularity of Little Libraries? Because those are still collections of books.

I love to write my blog, where I can talk about books with other people. I love to go to mystery conferences because people get excited about books and authors. Here are the best parts of my work life. Once a month, I talk books with other librarians and publishers. Once a month, I go to a school and read to third graders who are still excited about books. And, the highlight of every week is on Twitter when librarians from all over the country participate in #AskaLibrarian. People tweet, asking for book suggestions from librarians. And, it's so popular that it tends to trend every Thursday between noon and 1 PM ET. And, people follow me after I suggest books! Just imagine. I suggest books to readers, and they get excited! And, I order books and see all the books that come in, and I get tons of books at home, but the best part of every week is that hour of #AskaLibrarian.

Some people still understand that. Rivkah Sass, Executive Director at Sacramento Public Library, is quoted in the PW article. "In fact, most people who meet librarians socially want to know what the librarian is reading and want to hear recommendations. Since reading is so important to everything we do, why not celebrate our power to help everyone find just the right book?"

I'm still a librarian in everything I do, in my blog, my book reviews, my discussions with family members (we talk books!), discussions with friends. As I said, I'm glad I'm no longer on the floor where I wouldn't get to talk books. I'm finding my own ways to do what I want, as Nina did, "the only job she wanted: finding the right book for the right person."

22 comments:

Kay said...

Lesa, this was lovely and sad. 'Finding the right book for the right person' was the highlight of my library career. The very best part. I loved being known the as 'Fiction Guru' at my branch and loved that even the other staff would tell people, let me get Kay, she'll help you find the right book. I miss that.

I attended an orientation yesterday for a volunteer position at another local library. It will be almost all checking in the materials, sorting them, and shelving them. And my husband said, 'you'll love it because while you are shelving you'll come across people who have questions about books and you'll get to answer them or point them in the right direction'. He's right.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Amen!

Our local libraries here have totally gone the way of technology. On the good side, I can now go online, check the catalog, and put a book on reserve, and it will tell me when it comes in. I can also download a library book directly to the Kindle.

But go into the library and what are the librarians doing? Siring behind the desk, seemingly doing nothing. We have to check our books in - and out - ourselves on their machines (which often don't work as they are supposed to) and then put them in the return slot. Librarians have DVD's that have been reserved behind the desk, but only really help if the machine isn't working (and, frankly, some of them act put open to be bothered). Not all of them are like that, but that is the default position.

It's sad.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

"put upon"

Lesa said...

I got that, Kay. At 22, I was Director of my hometown library, and I followed some wonderful directors, including the one I will always be grateful for for training me. But, because I talked books with the patrons, years later my mother would still hear, "Lesa was the best Director we ever had." Not really. I wasn't the best director. I've never been the best director or branch manager. But, I could talk books with customers, and I would at the drop of a hat. I talked books with them in the library, the grocery store, the post office...It's what I'm passionate about.

Lesa said...

I know, Jeff. I love the convenience as well, of putting a book on hold whenever I'm thinking of it. And, I'm definitely not one to complain about the convenience of computers because I'm on mine at home all the time. But, I miss assisting customers with reference, and talking to them about books. My favorite customer at my last branch? One who refused to get a computer but would call with some of the most interesting questions. And, he could direct me as to where to start looking. Brilliant man, and we'd have such fascinating discussions. But, I also built up my brown bag lunch group from a couple people to about 15 who would come, not for a book discussion of one book, but so we could talk about 15 new books to read. We loved to talk about books! I tried it here, and it just didn't go. I'm sorry we seem to have lost some of our book readers from the library. I know they're out there, though.

Carol N Wong said...

If people are asking for IT help and other non library things it means that the needs are not being met. When I was working for the Federal Government, when certain functions got the axe, other people had to do duties that had nothing to do with their jobs.

You should have to wear all those hats, that is not your purpose. I don't really like the do it yourself checkouts because I love to talk to people about books. Often, when checking out a book, we would trade book news.

Lesa said...

I'm with you, Carol. My favorite branch could never increase the circ at self-check because our customers would politely thank the trainer but say they liked to talk to the staff at the desk instead.

Kaye Barley said...


"I'm finding my own ways to do what I want." Lesa, I love this.

and I applaud you.

This was a beautifully written, perfectly stated piece, as well as an important piece. I hope you'll share it far and wide.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kaye! You don't know how good that make me feel, coming from you. I admire you, and the way you speak up. Thank you.

melanie edens said...

Thank you Lesa. If only we could start our own library. I left a job of 23 years because of all the points in your review. I now work part time at a college and not only answer reference questions but get to suggest good books to the students and faculty as well. And at least once a week someone at my Safeway will say "you're MY librarian! What's new in books?" and off we go.

Charlotte said...

Lesa, glad you have this blog to be able to express your feelings among book lovers.
My library has changed in so many ways. Opened one day less and shorter hours the days it is opened. Never quite and peaceful like it was years ago. Just about every book I want it has to be placed on hold and I have to wait for it while it comes from another library in another town. I can never get a book from my own library anymore, that is a shame I think. I do like checking on books, renewing books and placing books on hold at home on my iPad or IPhone that has been very helpful. Neat to be able to check out ebooks on my Kindle. Those two new helps that the library offers has been a great help to me. The people who work in my library are over worked since they cut some of the employees. It is sad what has happened. I hope we will continue to have our library since I love it and can't really imagine not having one for me and for our future families. I have used and loved libraries since I was a little girl and I am now seventy six. Of course I buy books and receive books for gifts, but you still can't beat going to the library. Such a special place. 📚📚📚📚

Deb said...

The definition of what a library is supposed to provide (much like what a public school is supposed to provide) has changed drastically over the last thirty years. Providing books for checkout to a well-read, essentially middle-class readership is now way down on the list of services needed by patrons. Our local library had to establish new policies regarding unaccompanied minors because children as young as five were being left at the library for hours (particularly in the evenings) when other childcare options were unavailable for parents. I suspect that as ebooks expand (many genre books, especially romance and SF, particularly from less well-known authors, are now almost always "ebook only" at our library), and as so many public services are cut to the bone, the idea that libraries were once primarily concerned with putting books in the hands of readers will seem incredibly quaint.

/And now I'm sad, depressed, and mad all at the same time.

Charlotte said...

Deb, I agree with every word you wrote today. The library has become a nursery and there goes the peace and quiet that I mention above. I have watched the librarians just ignore the loud and unruly kids because they would get in trouble if they say anything. It is not fair to others trying to enjoy the pleasures of the moment in the library. I like a lot of the old rules of the library. It is sad what has happened.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

In certain areas the library is also a hangout for the homeless, and sometimes that can be a real problem as well.

Lesa said...

Yes, you've all touched on the reasons why the one director felt librarians should have a background in social work. Children left alone, homeless in the library. But, is it our place to be the ones to take care of that in society? Perhaps that's the role of libraries in the future. If so, we just need to change the name of it, as they did in England, and become a community center or something else. This is the origin of the word "library". Library, traditionally, collection of books used for reading or study, or the building or room in which such a collection is kept. The word derives from the Latin liber, “book,” whereas a Latinized Greek word, bibliotheca, is the origin of the word for library in German, Russian, and the Romance languages.

Lesa said...

Melanie, as you said on Facebook, my heart hears you.

Sandi Lewis said...

THis was an oustanding blog today! LIbraries have always been important to me. WHen I move to a new place, I need to know where the library is lpcated. I!ve been fortunate in every place I,ve been, there was a good library. BUt a lot of things about libraries bother me today. LIbraries have become noisey and when I,m looking for books to read,I don,t want to be surrounded by noise. THere have been times I,ve had to leave early because of all the noise! MY favorite librarians have always been the ones I can talk books! SHaring new books or having someone say. HAve you tried this author or this was the best book l.

Reine said...

Love this blog!

The saddest thing I ever saw in a library was a book that was donated by a woman in memory of her son in the 1800s. He was a student at the school and had died in war. By the date I recall figuring it was probably the Civil War. There was no mention of which army he fought in. What was so sad was that it had never been checked out. I went to the main desk to ask about it, and the librarian asked if I would like to check it out. Amazing I thought, that I would be the first, after all those years to take that very old book back to my house, Divinity Hall, and hold it and read. The overwhelming feeling I had was no longer of sadness but awe and privilege, and a connection with the librarian who seemed to know everything about the library, its history, people, and the books. What did I miss most when I had to leave school behind? My friends? No. My private study carrel in the Widener stacks that I waited in line for, for 7 years! I have a bad case of library love. And you can't have a real library without librarians.

Lesa said...

Oh, Reine. I'm so glad you were the one to check out that book. I'm glad you have "a bad case of library love!"

Bonnie K. said...

I have fond memories of when I was a library clerk. I loved shelving books, and it gave me the opportunity to see what books there were which I may not have known about otherwise.

Lesa said...

I agree, Bonnie. I always liked working in the stacks.

Lesa said...

Sandi, I missed your earlier post, and I wanted to say thank you, and I'm sorry.