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Library Basics

Nov 7 2011

Libraries of the Future

by Jesse M

Are Automated Book Delivery Systems (ABDS) the future of libraries?

At many libraries throughout the country, space is at a premium. The problem of storage and access to library materials, especially rare and/or rarely used collections, has been approached in a number of different ways. Some libraries choose to simply store these less frequently utilized materials in massive warehouses, sending couriers to retrieve them as needed (in some cases, such repositories are shared between multiple branches in a given region). Other institutions have embarked on mass digitization projects to transfer their bulky print collections into electronic formats which are easier to store and access. And then there are libraries such as the University of Chicago’s new Mansueto library, which have taken advantage of technological advances to create automated book delivery systems.

This New York Times article provides some details about the operations of the Mansueto library and other ABDS like it. Materials are kept in steel cases roughly 50 feet below ground until requested, at which point a complex system of cranes and elevators retrieve the needed text and delivers it to library staff.

At this point, you might be wondering, “But what about the serendipitous experience of browsing upon the perfect book by happenstance?” Luckily, many of these ABDS come equipped with some variety of virtual browse feature such as that found at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at NC State University (a description of their virtual browse system appears about 1:20 into the linked video). Additionally, ABDS exist partially to free up space on the cramped bookshelves of the main libraries which they are associated with, so the traditional browsing experience is still available in most cases as well.

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Oct 19 2011

Friends indeed…

by Dea Anne M

This week, October 16-22, is National Friends of Libraries Week. Library Friends groups across the nation will be promoting their libraries and libraries themselves will be staging special events and other appreciations of  the Library Friends who help them so much. DCPL branches will be offering patrons the chances to show support by purchasing a “leaf of support” for $1 each. We also have many events planned. Go to our own Friends of the Library page for more information.

I’ve known people who take the existence of public libraries for granted but, as recent economic news has shown, it’s best not to take too nonchalant an attitude, that is if you value your library and what it can provide to you and to your community.

How long have public libraries existed in the United States? As early as the 1600’s, churches and private individual established libraries in towns and parishes through donations of books. In 1731, Benjamin Franklin helped establish the Library Company of Philadelphia which was a subscription library lending to those who paid to become a member. True public libraries, as we know them, began emerging in the 1800’s when New Hampshire establishing the first tax-supported public library operating under the motto “open to all and free of charge.” However, it wasn’t until 1881, with the establishment of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy, that the U.S. saw the vast expansion of the public library system that so many of us enjoy and benefit from today.

If you’re a library buff in general, be sure to check out The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World (mentioned in a previous post by fellow blogger Jesse). There are some truly spectacular libraries featured in the book including two of my favorites: Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland and the New York Public Library. Also, don’t miss Library: the drama within another book of photographs presenting a variety of libraries—from the grand national library in Paris, to prison libraries, to tiny branch libraries in small towns.

For a very readable history of libraries and the important role that they have played in history, try Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battle.

What’s it like to actually work in a public library? Free for all: oddballs, geeks, and gangstas in the public library by Don Borchert is an amusing account of life on the front lines of a public library in Los Angeles told by a man who has truly seen it all.

Remember, this week is your chance to come out and show your support for your local branch and the wonderful Friends groups who provide so much of their hard work year round. Buy a leaf for a dollar at any branch of DCPL and show your love!


Sep 28 2011

Banned Books Week

by Joseph M

We’re currently in the middle of Banned Books Week, where we take a moment to think critically about topics like access to information and censorship.  Something that always strikes me when I’m looking at the lists of the frequently challenged and banned titles is the number of books I read and really enjoyed in high school, such as To Kill A Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies.  It’s hard for me to imagine not having the opportunity to read and discuss these classics just because someone else out there thinks they are inappropriate.  What are some of your favorite banned books?

In keeping with the theme, I’d also like to take a moment to mention a little something called The Library Bill of Rights.  Adopted by the American Library Association council in 1939 and amended over the next six decades, it is especially relevant to this topic, so I’ve included it below:

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries that make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

As someone who is passionate about providing access to information for our communities, I feel heartened knowing about these guidelines.


Sep 26 2011

Toughest Reference Questions

by Jesse M

One of the most interesting parts of working in a library is the questions you field from patrons. In addition to being known as a place to get books, music, DVDs, and internet access, the library also has a reputation for being a place where you can get an answer to your question. Any question is fair game, no matter how convoluted, random, or off the wall.

Recently, the Christian Science Monitor featured an article wherein the author asked librarians to send him their toughest reference questions. Here’s a sample to give you an idea. A librarian was asked about astronomical phenomenon of November, 1831:

“Back when I worked at the American Museum of Natural History, I got an e-mail from an author writing a biography of an amateur astronomer who crossed the Atlantic from London to New York during November 1831, asking what notable astronomical phenomenon he might have noticed.

To answer this question, I had to create star charts for the beginning, mid and end points of the journey and then check records for eclipses, occultations, conjunctions, auroral displays, meteor showers and whatever else I could think of.

As it turns out, the Leonid meteor shower was notably strong on Nov. 13 of that year (although less impressive than the following two years) and would have been visible in the east in the mid-Atlantic in the early morning as the nearly full moon set in the west. Weather permitting, of course.”

As you can tell, librarians often go to great lengths to provide answers to the queries posed to them. The search for an solution can be a lengthy and often frustrating process but eventually finding the answer your patron is seeking highly rewarding experience.

If you’re interested in reading more about interesting reference questions librarians get asked, I recommend checking out blog of the Swiss Army Librarian, specifically his reference question of the week. There are archives going back several years.

For readers who are library workers, what are some of the toughest references questions you’ve fielded? For readers who are library patrons, what are some of the difficult questions you’ve asked?


When the economy is down in the dumps, the library becomes an even more valuable part of the community. Not only does it help people find jobs with job search classes and resources, not only does it educate children so that they become productive members of society, the library also gives back immediately to your pocketbook! Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) recently created a Value of Library Services Calculator.  Just fill in the fields and it will tell you how much money you are saving by using the library.

We recently posted the same link to our Facebook page, and asked people to post a reply with the results of how much they were saving. Six people responded, and the average amount saved was $557.72 per month!

How much are you saving? Feel free to reply to this blog post with your amount saved.


I recently came across a very interesting post from the Oxford University Press blog which presents census data and analysis about librarians in the U.S. from 1880-2009. The article tracks the myriad changes in the profession over time, including the growth (and recent decline) in the number of librarians, the breakdown by age, gender, location, and race, and also wage/income data. I will summarize some of their findings below, but you can also review the full article here.

One of the interesting points from the article is how much the library profession has grown over the years. Back in 1880 when the U.S. Census first collected data on librarians, they counted only 636 nationwide. 110 years later, in 1990, the number of librarians reached its peak with 307,273 identifying themselves as members of the profession. Since then, the number of librarians has actually decreased significantly, to 212,742 as of 2009.

Another interesting change over time has been the predominant gender of the profession. While today women comprise 83% of librarians, back in the 1880s 52% of librarians were men. The percentage of men dropped to its lowest point in 1930, to 8%.

The article also discussed the change in librarians’ marital status. In 1880 1 in 3 librarians were married, and the marriage rate had declined further by 1920, to 1 in 10. In the decades since, however, the popular notion of the “spinster librarian” began to fade as marriage rates increased. Today 62% of librarians are married, the highest rate reported to date.

It is apparent from the article that the profession has changed a great deal over the years, although the commitment to serving the community and acting as stewards of knowledge remains the same. Considering the many changes that have occurred over the past 12+ decades, it will be intriguing to see how the profession continues to evolve throughout the remainder of the century.


I recently paid a visit to a local bookstore.  I don’t visit them too often these days because I generally can be content with borrowing my reading material from the library (yeah, I know, go figure) but this was a huge sale and who can resist a bargain, right?  We made our selections, mostly things the junior member of the household—who holds an advanced degree in manipulation—begged for.  Her beautiful little face threatened to become tear streaked because we were talking about a copy of Llama Llama Misses Mama for her very own (oh, and a bunch of Disney Princess paperbacks she knew better than to mention)  and she actually said, “aren’t books the most  important thing in the world to buy?”  This is how I found myself buying more than I intended because truly, she can beg for a lot of things she’s not going to get (ponies, a BB gun, television in her room, a Mustang)  but she’ll get a book every time she asks.  The pain was lessened by the very pleasant woman at the cash register who chatted so knowledgeably about books.  Then she surprised me by saying that she was not looking forward to using the library once she was unemployed because library books “creeped” her out.  Turns out, she’s got a thing about handling books other people have used.  “You would not believe what people do to books and then try to return them to us,” she told me, shaking her head sadly.

Well, I would believe it because I’ve seen some strange things in books.  In every library system I have ever worked (six to date), I have kept a big envelope on my desk with all the stuff  found in returned books.  Let me tell you, it is staggering.  There are the usual things—money, postcards, fancy bookmarks, dried flora—and then there are the surprising things.  It’s astonishing how many people use their financial documents and family photos for bookmarks.  I once found a letter from the author (dead, highly collectible) tucked in between the flyleaf and the cover.  I’ve also found personal hygiene products, a bag of stuff I’m going to believe was parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but that we flushed anyway, and one heartbreaking letter someone wrote to her mother, detailing the breakdown of her marriage. I’m not the only person in the world to do this.  Richard Davies has posted his own list.

Of course, along with finding interesting things in books I have handled items that are returned reeking of cigarette smoke, stained with what I will choose to believe is apple juice,  or are full of sand.  As the DCPL budget is now so tight the idea of starting an e-book collection is just a grand dream. I’m hoping everyone who shares the collection with everyone else in DeKalb County will remember that these are borrowed books, CDs, DVDs and magazines and will take a moment to shake out the sand,  clean off the spaghetti sauce and fan the pages to remove personal items before bringing the items back.  Maybe then we can lure in folks like the lady at the bookstore.


Apr 13 2011

Celebrating The Bookmobile

by Joseph M

It’s National Library Week (see also our previous post for what DCPL is doing for NLW), and today has been designated as a day to recognize bookmobiles. Bookmobiles provide outreach to communities which may not have access to library services. Although the first National Bookmobile Day was celebrated just last year, bookmobiles have a venerable history stretching back over 100 years in America (and even further back in Europe), as described on libraryhistorybuff.com:

The concept and reality of bookmobile service started in Hagerstown, Maryland in April, 1905 when Mary L. Titcomb, the Librarian of the Washington County Free Library, sent out the first book wagon in the United States from the library.

For more information about bookmobiles, try this article from Smithsonian Magazine, or read a related DCPLive blog post from last year. You might also want to explore this nifty documentary website about a bookmobile that travels the country dispensing free library materials in exchange for interviews about books that have changed people’s lives. The bookmobile will occasionally be driven by famous authors.

And last but not least, check out My Librarian Is A Camel, which provides kids with an introduction to the concept of a bookmobile by showcasing some of the more interesting and unusual forms it can take.


Apr 10 2011

Let’s Create Our Own Story!

by Jimmy L

It’s National Library Week (April 10—16, 2011)!  First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and libraries across the country. It’s a time to celebrate libraries and librarians.

Libraries are places for new beginnings.  Whether you are getting your first library card, learning new computer skills or planning a trip, the library is the place where your story begins. So, this National Library Week the theme is Create your own story @ your library.

The Library has a lot of programs planned for you during this week.  Click here to see the full schedule.

But that’s not it! We at DCPL thought it would be fun to create our own story by writing one together. Here is the first line to get you started:

One day at the library, Rory was flipping through a book when out fell a tiny folded note.

Please continue the story by replying to this post!  Make sure you read the the comments first so you can continue the story where it last left off.


Dec 29 2010

Why We Borrow

by Dea Anne M

One of my favorite non-fiction titles is Paco Underhill‘s Why We Buy: the science of shopping.  As someone who spent a number of years working in bookstores,  I have always been interested in what might be called the“science of shopping,” and Underhill’s book does a great job, I think, in illuminating the many ways, some quite unexpected,  in which our shopping experience can be, and is, manipulated to get us not only to spend more money, but to be happy about it.While public libraries are not in the business of selling books, it occurs to me that we are (or should be) interested in getting patrons in the door and providing them not only with an enjoyable library experience but also to encourage them to take the fullest advantage of the resources that we have to offer. I suspect that during tough economic times people might turn more and more often toward libraries to provide not only research, literacy, and job search assistance but as a source for entertainment that might at one time be purchased.

I think it’s interesting to consider how libraries can effectively utilize some of the “rules” that Underhill lays out for compelling design of space as well as other ways of helping patrons feel informed, welcomed, and satisfied. Here’s just a few:

1. Don’t put anything important (signage, displays, baskets) in the “transition” area. This is the area 10 feet or so around the entrance. The idea is that patrons (customers) don’t actually “see” anything until they get this far into the library (store) so anything put there is more than likely to go unnoticed.

2. Provide chairs. People will spend more time in places where they are comfortable. In the absence of formal furniture, people will improvise and sit on the floor, on window sills, on top of shelving units…you get the picture.

3. Provide the patron with what she or he needs. For libraries this might be items as basic as step stools, baskets, pencils and scratch paper, and staplers.  I think things like photocopiers and catalog computers fit in this category as well.

4. In terms of interior design, a basic, but often forgotten, factor is simply providing enough space for patrons to move in comfortably. Planning for this needs to involve considering patrons who move with walkers or wheelchairs as well as patrons pushing strollers.

5. Another design consideration has to do with the exterior of the building. Underhill’s belief is that a well-designed building is an advertisement for itself and invites you to step inside. One iconic library design is the 5th Avenue branch of the New York Public Library (at right) and check out these views of the Dublin, CA public library ( below).

What do you think of treating the patron’s library experience as similar to a shopping experience? How does a child’s happy library experience differ from an adult’s, or a teen’s?

If you’re at all interested in what motivates a shopper, then I think you’ll find Underhill’s book an absorbing and amusing read. Or check out these titles:

Shoptimism: why the American consumer will keep on buying no matter what by Lee Eisenberg.

Buy-ology: truth and lies about why we buy by Martin Lindstrom.

Treasure Hunt: inside the mind of the new global consumer by Michael J. Silverstein with John Butman.