True Crime + LA + Libraries = Heart Eyes | The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library BookOn April 28, 1986 there was a huge fire at the LA Public Library. While this was obviously a big deal, the news got lost as Chernobyl happened the same day. When Susan Orlean moved to LA with her husband and son, she discovered this largely untold story and started doing some investigating. This book details the history of the LA Public Library, the fire itself, and the arson investigation that took place afterwards. Woven throughout that narrative is Orlean’s love letter to libraries themselves.

TL;DR – Orlean seamlessly intertwines several narratives. LA history, arson investigations, and the day-to-day of public libraries are all presented as equally fascinating.

eBook | Hardcover

First, let me say for anyone thinking about purchasing this book, it is GORGEOUS. Definitely bookstagrammable. However, if you decide to get the hardcover on Amazon (link above) just be warned that it does come with that “Reese’s book club” stamp (eye roll) which is not removable. If you would like an unmarred copy, I’d suggest getting a copy in person and B&N or something.

On to my review. My love affair with non-fiction continues! My husband helped me to discover recently that I’ve really been enjoying non-fiction books written by journalists (see Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, and recently Kirk Wallace Johnson). Susan Orlean was a journalist for the New York Times before writing this book so she fits right in my wheelhouse. Plus libraries, so it was always going to be a slam dunk.

This story is actually so fascinating, but the parts I loved most about this book were the descriptions of the day-to-day life of the library. At the very beginning when she’s writing about the library opening for the day, I legitimately got chills. I loved seeing all the different departments from her perspective and I could definitely relate to some of the stories.

I also really liked how she opened each chapter with some catalog listings that fit what the chapter was going to be about. I just thought it was a really nice touch and I liked guessing what kind of stuff was going to be in each chapter.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. If you love libraries, read this book. If you love true crime, read this book. If you love LA, read this book.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

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6 WORST things about working at a library!

Some of you may remember that I started working at my local library towards the end of last year. I’m an Adult/Teen Services and Reference Librarian. I LOVE my job. It’s basically my dream job, but no job is perfect, right? (Related, if you know of any perfect jobs, hmu in the comments). Now that I’ve been there for about 6 months, I’ve noticed some things that are…not so fun about being a librarian.

1. You get sick more often

Just working with the public means that you’re coming into contact with a lot of different people and a lot of different germs. We have these huge bottles of hand sanitizer at the reference desk which I utilize often, but still. Since I’ve started, I’ve probably had like 4 minor colds and 1 major one. I made sure to get my flu shot, but it’s still a little worrisome since I’ve got a baby at home and I’m trying not to bring home any extra germs if I can help it. I always sanitize right before I leave work and wash my hands first thing when I get home.

2. Being surrounded by books all the time

This may not sound like a big deal–it might even sound like the best thing in the world! (Who am I kidding? It kind of is). But, being surrounded by books all day means that my TBR just grows and grows and grows. All the time, I find myself coming home with books that I wasn’t planning on picking up and adding them to my already enormous stack of library books.

3. Having to remind patrons of library policies

Oof. This is the hardest one for me. I do not like confrontation at all but there are times when we do have to approach a patron and ask them to follow our library rules. An example: our second floor is our quiet floor (there are signs posted literally EVERYWHERE) and you’re asked not to talk above a whisper or answer your phones on that floor, but you can totally do those things on our first floor. Well, despite our plethora of signs, people routinely break that rule and I have to shush them. 75% of the time, they’re really good about it, but some people get so grumpy! I’ve also had experiences with other, more concerning behaviors and it is NOT fun. I envy Circulation, because they don’t have to deal with this.

4. Maintaining a balanced collection even if you don’t personally agree with materials

The other day I was looking through a list of books from my collection that have gone “missing”. One of the titles is clearly on the racist end of the spectrum, but when I looked it up, I saw that it’s circulation numbers were pretty good (which is…alarming). If this were any other book, I would immediately replace it. As it is, I’m struggling hardcore with feeling strongly that I don’t want to add it to my collection, but also feeling like I probably should. But that’s what being a library is about–having a balanced collection despite personal beliefs. Obviously there are lines and I’m trying to decide which side of the line this particular book falls on.

5. Not always getting to attend events

My library has a ton of author visits (six this month alone!) but they’re often at night. Unfortunately, I work nights and weekends so I’m usually working the desk while these events are happening so I don’t get to go 😦

6. Writing book summaries

This might seem super trivial to some, but writing book summaries is HARD! At least, for me it is. And as a librarian, I’ve had to write A LOT of book summaries. Book lists, reviews, etc. It gets exhausting.

Fellow librarians/library workers: what’s your least favorite part of the job? Non-library workers: what do you think your favorite part of working at a library would be?

DISCUSSION: What it’s like to work at a library

Hello everyone! I’ve been so flaky on here lately and I APOLOGIZE. Life has been hectic to say the least. New baby, new job…you know how it goes. But everything’s good and everyone’s good and I’m finally ready to share a new part of my life with you!

I just started a part-time job at my local public library and I LOVE IT. I’d been sitting on my MLS for a couple of years without doing anything with it because I already had a full-time job with great benefits and I wasn’t finding any comparable library jobs opening up in my area. Then I had my baby and I’ve been concentrating on that for a bit. In September, I saw a listing for a part-time Librarian position and it felt like good timing for me to go back to work so I applied and I got it! I started at the end of September so I’ve only been working for a couple of months, but it’s been a really great experience so far.

Right now I’m working 24 hours a week as an Adult/Teen Services & Reference Librarian. Here are some of my day-to-day duties:

  • Reference desk – This consists of helping patrons face-to-face with questions or problems they may have, book recommendations, selling internet passes, and scheduling our private study rooms.
  • Collection Development – I’m over the 900s which is mostly Travel and History. I’m in charge of maintaining the collection and purchasing new materials.
  • Various library teams – I’m currently on teams for Supplies, Inter-Library Loans, and Booklists.
  • Programming – I have yet to do any programming, but my first active teen program is scheduled for February. I’ll also be doing some family programming.
  • Professional Development/Training – My manager puts out a job chart every month with various tasks like exploring our Special Collections, making sure we know how to use various services that we provide, etc.

One of the big things that stood out to me with this library is that all librarians, even the part-timers like me, are over a collection. I think that’s so cool! I’ve loved everything that I’ve been asked to do so far, but I’m a little nervous about doing programs. I’m not really a “stand at the front of the room” kind of person…so we’ll see how that goes.

Now I’ll toss it over to you guys, do you have any questions about what it’s like to work in a library? Or, if you also work in a library, what has it been like for you?

Parental Advisory for Books?

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Just a picture, not actually a warning for this post.

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you might remember that I did a post on parental advisory for books almost exactly a year ago. Within the last couple of months this post has seemed to regain interest–the views have really started to pick up–and I’m not exactly sure why. I reread through that post and the comments the other day and I felt like I needed to write a new post addressing the topic. Now that I’m halfway done with my Masters in Library Science, I feel like I have a little more perspective and a more concrete opinion on the matter.

Just as a reminder from the brief research that I did for my last post, I didn’t find that ratings or labeling content as “explicit” was required for any medium (movies, video games, music) but that it was encouraged in a lot of them. I’ve seen some books that have warnings as part of the summary, but they’ve all been books that I’ve found on Amazon and appear to be self-published or published by a small publishing house–not by one of the big five.

The last time I talked about this, I proposed that books be given ratings similar to movies and video games. I think a lot of people took that to mean that children would be restricted from certain books if the rating was too mature like they are from R-rated movies and Mature rated video games (which started to feel like censorship to some). As I’ve started my degree, I’ve discovered that librarians feel very passionately about censorship (I’m taking an Intellectual Freedom course next term). They do not agree with it and actively fight against it in a lot of cases. I too do not believe that librarians have the responsibility to censor material for their young patrons–that is the job of parents. Who am I as a librarian to say whether or not someone else’s kid can read Fifty Shades of Grey? I know I wouldn’t let my kid read it, but that’s my own personal decision. I realize now that I should have clarified something in my original post. I’m not proposing that kids be kept from reading certain books if they choose to read them. What I am proposing is that books be given ratings as a source of information for consumers (and parents of consumers).

While you’re not given the responsibility to tell people what they can and can’t read as a librarian, you are given the responsibility of recommending books to people when they ask. This is called Readers’ Advisory (I took a class on that as well). Part of the RA interview is to determine a reader’s comfort level in certain areas. Perhaps you have a patron that loves reading romance. She’s comfortable with some steamy scenes, but she’s not a fan of erotica. It’s the librarian’s job to recommend books that fall within her comfort level. With what I propose, the rating system will only help readers to get the same information that they might get from a librarian during an RA interview. We already have a summary of the book, why not a brief summary of its adult content as well?

Ultimately I see this as a help for the consumer when determining what to read, but also for parents of young readers. My mom was a great mom. She was a stay-at-home mom so she was able to spend a lot of time with me and my siblings and was very involved in our lives. That being said, with the rate at which my sister and I consumed books, there was no way that my mom could keep up with what we were reading. There were a couple of times when my mom caught wind of something “bad” in a book or series that I was reading and she made it clear that I was not to read those books. Honestly, I didn’t care. There were plenty of other books to read so I did what she asked (I mean, she’s my mom…what was I going to do?). I think if books had the kind of ratings that I’m proposing, my mom would have had a much easier time helping us to choose books with content that she thought was appropriate for us to be reading which is exactly what we as librarians hope parents will do.

So now that I’ve made some clarifications in my opinion, what do you guys think? Do you still think it’s a bad idea? Or would you find this kind of information helpful as well?

HW Assignment: Secret Shopper

This week’s assignment was to visit a library where the librarians do not know us and “test” them on their Reader’s Advisory skills. Here’s a summary of my report:

I went to the library hoping to get a good recommendation for an Adult fiction book that read similar to a YA book. The librarian on duty asked me what authors I enjoyed reading and I told her that I liked Sarah Dessen and, more recently, Morgan Matson. She said, “Okay, let’s see what we can find” and proceeded to start typing on her computer. After a couple of minutes of that, she turned to the other librarian at the desk and asked what she thought some good authors would be that were similar to Sarah Dessen in Adult fiction. The other librarian came up with a few authors and explained about their style while the librarian that I had first approached jotted down the names for me.

I liked that the first librarian I approached was very welcoming and helped made me feel comfortable in asking for a book recommendation. I also liked that she referred me to a librarian who seemed to know a little more about the genre I was interested in. It made me feel more confident that I would get a good recommendation.

The second librarian made an assumption about what I liked about Sarah Dessen’s books. And while I did like the aspect that the librarian referenced and based her recommendations off of, there are more elements of Dessen’s books and writing that I enjoy beyond that. I would have piped up and said something, but the librarian really didn’t give me an opportunity to. She gave a few author suggestions, but didn’t check to see if I’d already read anything by them.

In the end, it was recommended that I look into Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah (specifically “Firefly Lane”), Alan Bradley, and Anna Quindlen. Honestly, none of the Picoult or Quindlen books stood out to me as interesting—they all seemed to deal with women who were significantly older than me and in a completely different stage of life. I don’t really find reading about middle-aged women with teenaged children that appealing. I did like the sound of both “Firefly Lane” and Alan Bradley’s mystery series however.

I think I was expecting to be asked more questions about my reading preferences than I actually was. If I were in need of another book recommendation, I would probably give them another shot. It seemed like both librarians had at least some training and knowledge of Reader’s Advisory Services.

Overall, the experience was pretty good. I am legitimately excited to read both “Firefly Lane” and the Alan Bradley mystery book (I actually plan to use it for this class) but I’ll probably end up returning the Picoult and Quindlen unread.