Sunday, September 20, 2009

Library Bytes:

I confess that I have not renewed my membership in ALA (American Library Association) for a few years now. It's not that I don't support the organization, but that I already belong to other library and academic organizations, and all those memberships take money which I don't have right now. The best I can do on occasion is help promote libraries, and I thought a post today on ALA and libraries might be an interesting way to do so. Did you know, for instance, that the ALA Store sells posters with celebrities holding books as part of their READ campaign? The image you see here is one of them, showing off my fantasy boyfriend Ewan McGregor with a book of tales by Beatrix Potter, which presumably was released about the time he co-starred in Miss Potter with Renée Zellweger (which, by the way, is a surprisingly fantastic movie that I highly recommend). While reading a news story on The New York Times online, I followed an ad for another of ALA's campaigns, The site advertises itself as a way to keep people informed about the state of libraries and to promote what libraries can do for Americans of every race, ethnicity, religion, class, and gender/sexual orientation. According to the site's Get Informed page, "If you’re looking for the heart of any community, look no further than the local library. It’s the one place in America where the doors are open to everyone ... providing everyone the same access to information and opportunities for success." (Note that for some of the webpages, there's a weird design flaw where you have to scroll down past the white emptiness to read the text.) The website even has a special feature right now called "Nominate Your Librarian," with monetary prizes for some of the best librarians in the country.

So there's no doubt about it. Libraries rock, as I've commented about before on this blog. Not all types of libraries are the same. They are usually divided into four broad categories: public, school, academic, and special. Public is self-explanatory, but can range from small-town establishments like the adorable Provincetown Public Library to large city systems like the Brooklyn Public Library. School refers to elementary through high school, while academic is colleges and universities. Special Libraries encompass everything from corporate to museum environments. From this breakdown then, you can see that the types of environments are very different, and you can imagine that the types of services and clientele are worlds apart in many ways.

I admit that I've always enjoyed what I've seen as the luxury of working in academic and museum libraries. I would never work in an elementary school (my migraines couldn't handle the screaming children). I would probably also quit working in a public library within the first week. When I answer a reference question, I need them to be intellectually stimulating questions, not smelly homeless people demanding the newspaper or crazy people masturbating in public (these are actual incidents I've heard about). I know I'm being judgmental, but I'm being completely honest as it applies to my idea of work satisfaction. That said, I have an incredible amount of respect for my friends and colleagues who do work in public libraries and can handle this type of clientele with such aplomb. They have to take on the role of social workers and psychologists without any professional training, and as my friend SVH has pointed out, the instances in which one genuinely helps an individual desperate for real information, like health news on a medical condition, legal information to fight a corrupt landlord, or simply useful books on Martin Luther King, Jr. for a high school research project, makes being a librarian in this environment one of the most rewarding careers ever.

So get online and nominate your librarian for the I Love My Librarian Award to thank him or her for everything they've done for you, and remember to support your libraries!

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