DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Sep 6 2013

Librarianship by the book

by Dea Anne M

I just finished a book—the type of book for which the coinage “unputdownable”NOS4A2 was invented in the first place—in which a librarian plays a pivotal character. She has purple hair, dresses in a decidedly punk style, and uses scrabble tiles to spell out the answers to the questions that she asks. The character is Maggie Leigh and the book is Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. If you’re a fan of horror fiction (which I am), I cannot recommend the book highly enough. I couldn’t wait to get home everyday to start reading again, and though the book (at nearly 700 pages) is hefty, it is well worth every spine-tingling second you’ll spend reading it.

I started wondering…what other fiction features librarians as characters?historian

There are many fictional portrayals of librarians as it turns out. Not so flattering is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova which features a librarian/ vampire.  And you wouldn’t want to run into Ardelia Lortz from the novella “The Library Policeman” in Stephen King’s collection Four Past Midnight. She is as horrific a creation as you are likely to find anywhere.

un lun dunLibrarians can be adventurers too. Consider Margarita Staples “Extreme Librarian and Bookaneer.” As part of the fantastic world that China Mieville creates in Un Lun Dun, Margarita, and her fellow librarians, use ropes and pick axes to climb mountain size shelves—sometimes battling shelf monkeys—in order to retrieve needed volumes.  Or check out Alexander Short, the beleaguered, and somewhat obsessive, reference librarian who undertakes a commission to search for Marie Antoinette’s missing watch—the title object of The Grand Complication, the very well-received 2001 novel by Alan Kurzweil.

loveIn Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife , Henry DeTamble, the time traveler of the title, works as a librarian at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Or you might try Elizabeth Peter’s popular series featuring irrepressible Nebraska librarian Jacqueline Kirby. Die for Love and The Murders of Richard III are two of these titles at DCPL.

If you’re a fan of smart chick-lit, you might try The Dewey Decimal System of Love by Josephine Carr or Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi.

One of my favorite collections of graphic novels is the Sandman series written by Neil Gaiman. A recurring character in the series is Lucien who watches over the Library of Dreams which contains every book that anyone has ever dreamed of writing.

Finally, who says that librarians can’t be superheroes? Not James Turnerrex whose Rex Libris series of graphic novels feature a titular character who is both Head Librarian at Middleton Public Library and an immortal gifted with special powers. Rex does battle with samurai warriors who attempt to take out books without library cards and tracks down galactic warlords and their overdue items. At all times, he vows to “fight the forces of ignorance and darkness.” Start with Rex Libris: I, Librarian then move on to Rex Libris: Book of Monsters.

Do you have a favorite fictional librarian?


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.


Sep 15 2010

I Love My Librarian!

by Joseph M

Libraries are more than just the materials on their shelves, more than the myriad databases and other electronic services offered on their websites; libraries also consist of the dedicated individuals who staff the branches. While all library workers can and do provide excellent service to the public, librarians in particular have devoted considerable amounts of time and resources to earn a masters degree, so as to better provide excellent service to library users. The American Library Association (with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York and The New York Times) has established the I Love My Librarian Award, now in its third year, to recognize outstanding librarians in public and academic settings. Has a librarian touched your life? Visit this website to nominate worthy individuals and learn more about the award.


Mar 22 2010

Good luck, Ladies!

by Patricia D

This post is purely self-indulgent.  It isn’t going to give you a snappy list of titles we have in our collection.  It isn’t going to direct you to something useful on our website and even though it is in fact National Goof-Off day, I am not going to carry on about how you can kill a few precious minutes messing around on icanhascheezburger.com.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics “over 2 out of 3 librarians is over the age of 45.”  An article in the Journal of Academic Librarianship called it the “graying of librarianship.”  Here at DCPL it has become a vivid fact.  Last week we honored a colleague who served DCPL for 23 years.  This week we will do the same for another colleague.  We lost several library “elders” last year and will be losing several more later this year.

We miss these folks, we  notice empty chairs at meetings for a while, and call their names during discussions.  Patrons ask after them, sometimes stunned by their seemingly abrupt departures.  Their absences create gaping holes in the fabric of our community but they leave us all, staff and public alike, with an extraordinary gift.  Each one of our retirees spent countless hours during her career coaching and coaxing young, dangerously enthusiastic librarians in the fine art of Service to the Community.  They took the time and considerable trouble to share hard won knowledge.  They pushed where pushing was needed to get talented support staff headed in the direction of library school (www.ala.org in case you, too,  have an interest in joining the ranks.)  They did everything in their power to bring up the next generation of  library leaders and to ensure that the provision of services to the public would continue in an unbroken line.

It is easy to be passionate and joyous at the beginning of a career, before the day to day reality destroys all the pretty ideals of library school.   The greatest legacy from our retirees is this—they demonstrated that librarianship is not meant to be just a job, but a career that will sustain not only one’s self but that is meant to enrich the lives of the people we are privileged to serve.  They have retired, they are retiring and they will retire, but every last one of them still displays the passion and joy, now tempered by time, that this profession can bring.  Thank you, my friends.


Mar 10 2010

Musings of A Book Wrangler

by Jnai W

In brainstorming  this week’s blog post, I began wandering around the Internet and found a fascinating article on NPR.org. The article featured a blurb about a new book called This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson. It seems so insightful that, despite having requested it through the Library, I may just go out and purchase it for my own collection.

Lately, I’ve been really pondering what it means to be a librarian (or semi-librarian in my case, as I don’t have my Masters in Library Science yet). I won’t say that I have a hard time answering this question, especially since I’ve been working at the Library and learning more about librarianship in my day-to-day duties. But there are times when I’m at a loss for words when someone asks me “Why do we need librarians when there’s Google?” (Yes, I’ve been asked that, readers.)

The question of what it means to be a librarian is one that I’m always seeking answers to and the answers I’m finding are always fascinating. Here are a few books that spring to mind when I ponder my current occupation as semi-librarian/book wrangler:

Librarian as Bookmonger/Disseminator of Information: There was a book that I read about a year ago called How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard. I have to confess that I didn’t finish reading the book and here I am attempting to talk about it. Within the first chapter of this book, Bayard discusses a passage in a book called The Man Without Qualities (don’t ask me if I’ve read it) in which an ideal librarian is one who “never reads more of the literature in his charge than the titles and the table of contents”, lest a librarian lose perspective in his role as disseminator of knowledge. I found that quote so astonishing that I stopped reading to make note of it…and hadn’t really started back.

Librarian as Social Worker/Psychologist/um, Mall Cop: Free For All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in The Public Library is a fascinating and uproarious book about the rigors of public library work. I liked this book because I could relate in certain ways to author Don Borchert, a free-spirited wage laborer whose path into the library field was, well, non-traditional (read: a happy accident, really).

Librarian as Book Aficionado: The Library At Night is an intriguing book by author and bibliophile Alberto Manguel that features fascinating musings on his own expansive book collection and on libraries in general. Though not a librarian by trade and profession, Manguel is a man possessed of a deep appreciation of books themselves. He loves not only the wealth of knowledge and beauty within a book but also the sight, the feel and perhaps even the smell of books.  I can imagine that quite a few librarians are initially attracted to this field by their simple love of books.

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Nov 2 2009

It’s Hot in the Kitchen

by Patricia D

I spent my twenties wandering in the food service wilderness, toying with the idea of going to cooking school, dreaming of opening my own rib shack or bakery as I washed dishes in a country club kitchen, made toast and scrambled eggs for 300 at a church camp, worked the line in a hotel kitchen in a popular tourist trap and cleaned and shelled 60 pounds of frozen shrimp every single day at a nightclub. Cooking for a living is what I wanted and, for the young and energetic, food service is fun—it’s grueling and will leave you broke and broken, but there’s nothing like the adrenaline jolt of a hot, busy kitchen on a Saturday night when Chef is bellowing, “Let’s move it people, we’re in the weeds!”

Library work can be as physically demanding as kitchen work—you’re on your feet all day, lifting heavy stuff and working odd hours.  However, I’ve never gotten a second degree burn from accidentally bumping into a hot bookshelf and I’ve never nearly severed a finger doing storytime.  I now have a job that doesn’t leave me reeking of grease and gets me into my own bed well before 2:00 a.m. but I often look back on the pressure cooker days and nights of those various kitchens with a great deal of nostalgia. When the longing hits, I turn to our collection for solace. If you have a similarly checkered work history or just get swept up in the drama of TV cooking shows (YES, I’m talking about you Gordon Ramsay!) these titles are all in the collection:

Heat: An Amateurs’ Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker and Apprentice to a Dante Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford

Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America by Michael Ruhlman

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip—Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica

Service Included: Four Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch

Cooking Dirty: a Story of Life, Sex, Love and Death by Jason Sheehan

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin


Oct 2 2009

Library of the Future?

by Jesse M

library-without-books “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.’’

So says James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing Academy, a prep school located west of Boston with a student population of about 420. It is a radical statement, and one which is being followed to what some would consider a radical conclusion: the gradual transition from a 20,000 volume collection to a mostly bookless, digital library. Despite the small size of the school, the announcement has made waves throughout the library world ever since being reported on by The Boston Globe on September 4. Much of the reaction has been negative. Jessamyn West of Librarian.net writes that she is “skeptical”” of the idea. Commenting on the school’s decision to spend $10,000 to purchase 18 Kindle Readers to replace the library’s collection of books, Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of the American Library Association, worried that “unless every student has a Kindle and an unlimited budget, I don’t see how that need is going to be met.’’ Author Nicholas Basbanes had very little positive to say in an article for finebooksmagazine.com entitled Philistines at the Gate, wherein he suggested that college admission officers might look askance at an application from a student at a school “that does not require its students to read books at all”.

Criticism of the plan is not limited to those outside of Cushing. Liz Vezina, Director of the Fisher-Watkins Library and librarian at Cushing for 17 years, expressed dismay. “I’m going to miss them…there’s something lost when they’re virtual…the smell, the feel, the physicality of a book is something really special.’’

[read the rest of this post…]


Sep 23 2008


by Heather S

Have a concern that you want the presidential candidates to address? Raise your voice!

Jim Rettig, the president of the American Library Association, recently sent the following plea to librarians:

“On Tuesday, October 7, one of the three 2008 Presidential debates between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain will be held at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. This debate will be a town hall format moderated by Tom Brokaw. The moderator will call on members of the audience as well as select questions submitted online.

During this election year, we are looking for librarians and library supporters from across the country to call attention to the value of today’s libraries in our communities, as well as the issues the library community is facing. We encourage all ALA members to submit questions. The Commission on Presidential Debates has partnered with MySpace to create a new Web site, www.MyDebates.org. This site will become available in the days leading up to the first Presidential debate on September 26.  The more questions submitted, the more likely a library question will be asked. This is an opportunity for the library voice to become an important part of the 2008 Presidential election.”

Starting on Thursday, September 25, you may submit your question. The website also lets you find the candidate you are most aligned with on the issues, such as education and homeland security. You will be able to watch the debates live on the site; or, if you miss the debates, you can watch them in their entirety or relevant clips of the candidates on specific issues later.


Jun 16 2008

Google Street View–Cool or Creepy?

by Nolan R

Even as a librarian and a firm believer in freedom of information, I have to admit I’m both fascinated and weirded out by Google‘s newest addition to their mapping product. I was trying to verify a zip code last week and since I was in a hurry, I just typed it quickly into Google. If you haven’t used Google for maps or directions, it’s very simple–you just type the address into the Google search box. Alternately, you can click on “Maps” and go there directly. This time, something new popped up along with the address and map–something called “Street View,” complete with a thumbnail photo. Curious, I clicked on it and felt a little like I’d invaded someone’s privacy. I then typed in my own address, and lo and behold, there I was staring at a photo of my own house from the street. You can click on the screen and rotate the view 360 degrees, as well as travel up and down the street. We think our picture is from the fall, because you can see pumpkins on our porch.  Which means sometime last fall, the Google car went down our street. Our cars are in the driveway, and our garbage can is out by the street, so we figure it must have been a Sunday afternoon.  Here’s a link to the street view of the Decatur Library.

Read more about the how, why, and where here. You can see a picture of the Google camera car, and see what they have to say about privacy concerns. I think Google’s Street View could be really useful in some situations, like checking out a new neighborhood while house-hunting (especially in distant cities), visiting a new doctor’s office, or driving to any address you’ve never visited before.  Google has a short instructional video and more info HERE.


Mar 10 2008

Librarian Saves Lives!

by Nolan R

A friend sent me an article from CNN.com this weekend about the power of librarians:

“When Mary Ryan’s 4-year-old nephew, Nick, landed in the hospital with a serious infection, her brother called her in a panic. Ryan isn’t a doctor. She’s not a nurse. She’s a librarian.”

The article, called “Tips for Savvy Medical Web Surfing,” actually contains some great tips for searching, although the opening sentence is somewhat misleading.  While librarians can and should direct a patron toward appropriate and reliable sources of information, we cannot give advice or interpret information relating to medical, legal, or tax questions since staff members are not qualified doctors, lawyers, or accountants.  What we can do, however, is help patrons find reliable information that might relate to their search and that they can take back to their doctor for further discussion.

The CNN article gives these tips for searching:Wiz_2

–It’s safe to trust info from government Web sites, colleges and universities
–The same is true for sites of large medical and research institutions
–Use search engines that screen out unreliable information
–Look at review articles in medical journals

Check out the CNN article for suggestions for good places to search for information, such as PubMed or MedlinePlus.  One of our recent DCPLive posts was about the Wellness Information Zone (WIZ), which is another good place to start a search for health topics.  Our Databases page has links to more sources, including GALILEO which can provide articles from medical journals.

I also found a website called Medical Reference for Non-medical Librarians.  While this site is designed for librarians, it can be used by anyone and provides links, lists of print resources, as well as a guide on how to evaluate medical information found on the Internet.

Many hospitals also have medical libraries for patients who want to search for information or learn more about a diagnosis, and these libraries are staffed by librarians trained to search for medical information.

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