Of Free Books and Flinchy Librarians

And, lo, it rained librarians and authors and books for forty days and forty nights. Well, actually only three days, but yoiks! It sure seemed like a biblical flood of books and book-related paraphernalia.

In January 2009, I went to my first American Library Association’s MidWinter Meeting because it was held in Denver. I had my camera with me, but I was too bedazzled to take photos. Plus, I would have needed to be on the International Space Station to get it all in the frame. I don’t think my day-pass would have allowed that.

I was an ALA virgin, but proud to say I figured out fairly quickly how to blend in—GRAB FREE BOOKS!!! Humiliation at my unbridled avarice didn’t stop me from acting like the biggest glutton at the buffet. After filling a couple of tote bags, I had to undo the top button on my pants.

For those of you who don’t know, ARCs are Advance Reading Copies of soon-to-be or recently released books. They’re given away to people who will read them, then create buzz about them before they’re released into the biblioworld.

Something I found fascinating at the ALA … aside from the $10 chicken strips and the sharp elbows of prim librarians … was seeing the booths of the companies trying to sell librarians stuff for their libraries. It’s a huge trade show as well as a meeting for librarians, so there were folks there selling shelving, very cool chairs, and tons of software for libraries. I am a big fan of libraries, having visited many in my lifetime, but have I ever considered how they acquire things like that? Why no, no I had not. Until then.

Recently I found myself at a high school library. My, how things had changed! They had cozy ultra-modern looking chairs for snuggling into, but also some nifty chairs around tables. You know how kids are always tipping their chairs back, often falling over backward in them? These seemed to be a happy marriage of allowing for some tipping, but with thingamabobs to stop the chair from going all the way over. I suspect with this purchase, the school librarian became infinitely less flinchy.

Now that my library mindosity had expanded, I vow to visit the comfy chairs at every library. Every. Single. Library. But only after I quiz the staff about their spine label printers, their staff and desk scheduling tools, which database they use for primary source materials from 18th and 19th century publications, and how many people have gone head over tea kettle in their chairs.

Besides the materials you check out, what’s your favorite thing about the library?

6 thoughts on “Of Free Books and Flinchy Librarians”

  1. The best job I ever had was when I managed the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, main library bookstacks. This 5th largest US library at the time had 4 million volumes of books, periodicals, maps, portfolios and more. That translates into 26 miles of linear shelving. I made a whopping $9,500 salary as an assistant professor and managed 40 student pages, 5 library clerks and 8 graduate assistants.

    The pages assigned to each of the 10 decks of the stacks picked up book requests from the pneumatic tube system, retrieved the books for those without stacks privileges, and sent them to the circulation desk by dumb waiter. Scholars, researchers and grad students were on waiting lists for study carrels that were steam baths in summer and cold closets in winter.

    Hard hats were required when we went to the attic or sub-basement. Dehumidifiers ran constantly in the sub-basement where — shamefully so — there were thousands of sem-rare books that would be in any other library’s rare book collection. We coordinated efforts with the binding and conservation department to repair, restore and preserve publications with worn bindings, deteriorating acid-based pages, graffiti (and some biologicals on photos.) When the state legislature didn’t approve funding to expand the building for its growing collection, we had to target books for withdrawal from the collection. That resulted in a student newspaper political cartoon of me shoveling books into a furnace. The library has since built the sixth stacks addition with compact shelving, and the conservation department remains state of the art.

    1. That does sound like a sweet gig, Karen. Hards hats, a whopping big salary, pneumatic tubes, no air conditioning, and rude political cartoons …. oh my!

      “Biologicals on photos” piques my interest ….

  2. One of my more embarrassing moments as the bookstacks librarian was when my mother visited to do genealogical research. A student worker came in with a book of erotic photography and — unaware of my mother sitting in a chair behind him — proceeded to ask what should be done about the pages stuck together by dried semen. That kind of biological. We also had mold, book worms, assorted other insects, bats, mice, and more.

    As the first woman in charge of the UIUC bookstacks, another embarrassing moment came when a library clerk asked if I wanted to be on the routing list for certain magazines that the previous librarian wanted to see before they were shelved — Penthouse and Playboy.

  3. The library I use most often use most often is in Hagerstown MD, it reportedly had the first bookmobile in the country. I’ll try to send you a Facebook post about it. They had a renovation a few years back and now have a beautiful staircase. They also have a lecture series that I occasionally attend.

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