Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Something’s Gotta Give

A lot of librarians these days want libraries to change, to adapt, to add new services. The frustrated trendsetters (or frusties) want libraries to become part of every trend that comes along. Though the frusties get all worked up that every library isn’t blogging or tweeting, it seems to me that a lot of libraries have in fact been adapting and adding plenty of services. Sure, they might be a few years behind the curve, but only the clouded frusty mindset could expect every organization to change everything all the time without creating chaos and lowering librarian morale even more.

The question is, what to give up? Writing a blog or feeding Twitter or hosting Dance Dance Revolution parties take time and money. Instead of changing, libraries have just been adding, and I’m trying to figure out what they’ve stopped doing.

Many of the frusties would probably be happy to give up buying books, like they’re now doing in Massachusetts prep schools. Books are a pain. You have to buy them. Someone somewhere has to catalog them. They have to be shelved, quite possibly over and over again, since some libraries have self-checkout but none have self-shelving as far as I know.

The problem is, people still like books. There’ll always be kids wanting yet another Goosebumps or whatever’s popular these days, and there’ll always be some poor woman who simply cannot afford her romance-novel-a-day habit, especially with cigarette taxes being what they are. Every once in a while some school kid might actually need a biography of someone that’s still in copyright. Books are here to stay for most libraries for a long time.

Libraries haven’t given up any services. Reference service has simply added ways to communicate with librarians, even if nobody wants to communicate with them. They still host book groups. They’ve added videogames to their stock of board games, and even though librarians were never expected to teach patrons how to play chess or backgammon, for some reason librarians are even teaching patrons how to play videogames. Some libraries have even retained some quiet spaces, where people are expected to stop yammering on their cell phones or shouting at their children so other people can read quietly.

Not only have libraries added computers, but they’ve been teaching people how to use them for years. The frusties seem to think that the entire world consists of laptop-carrying, iPhone-using, social-networking gearheads, but it doesn’t. Most people do not have smart phones and are not on Facebook. There are still plenty of people in the country, especially the old and poor, who are still on the other side of the digital divide, and libraries struggle to help these people as well.

And it’s not like library funding has shot through the roof. Sure, in richer counties and municipalities some libraries do quite well, or did until recently. But we’ve long been hearing stories of library budgets declining, even in the boom years. The booming people don’t need libraries until they lose their jobs and can’t afford their ISP anymore.

I’m not singing a paean to libraries and all the overworked, underpaid library workers out there, though. I’m seriously asking, what have libraries given up or can give up to plunge into every trend that comes along? Do they just turn a reference position into a digital something-or-other position and let some loner play with his digital toys in the library basement to shut people up? Or is everyone just now expected to do everything all the time?

New demands arise but old demands don’t erode, and, as Johnny Mercer pointed out, something’s gotta give. I suspect that something is librarians themselves. You might recall the story from a couple of years ago where a public library director fired the librarians and then hired them back at reduced salaries as clerks. Others speak of library degrees only for those who manage libraries. And why not? Outsource your book selection and cataloging to vendors, your reference to the Wikipedia and Google, and what do you need librarians for? You don’t need librarians to charge books out to library patrons or teach people how to play videogames.

Personally, I’m not that concerned. I plan to die off before the obsolescence of librarians, but there’s a little space in my hardened librarian heart saddened by a brave new world that has no librarians in it. Maybe in libraries it’s simply that the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. I wonder if the looming obsolescence I’m assuming is the way things really should go, or just the way they’re going because too few librarians want to be seen as romantics by insisting that books and buildings are just as socially important as bits and bytes.

Sanguine I’m not, today.


Contact the AL:



  1. Radical Patron says:

    One thing that has to give is the mainstream portrayal of the replaceable librarian. I’ve analyzed some of the major news stories in 2009 and suggest they foretell the obsolescence.

  2. You plan to die off? God preserve us, are there more of you???

  3. TRUE librarians do not want change.

    If you do, then you are not a TRUE librarian and have to get out of the profession and get a job in marketing.

  4. We gave up books-on-cassette and vhs tapes.

  5. Garden State says:

    This reminds me of Peter Drucker’s 3 questions that a manager should be able answer but often can’t – What business are you in? What is your product? and who are your customers?

    I suspect most managers of libraries can’t answer these questions and don’t want to answer them.

  6. to garden state: baloney.

    Another back seat manager, who of course, would know exactly what to do if he were manager.

  7. Fancy Nancy says:

    hbf8h – you took the words right out of my mouth. If I wanted to do marketing I’d have majored in that, and I’d be making a lot more money to boot!

    Have to wonder why so many people chose to work in libraries who don’t seem to like libraries very much. Or at least not the traditional kind.

    Soon at my library we will be expected to wear name tags. I’m already practicing “you want fries with that?”

  8. I am not a technophobe either.

    Library 2.0 crap does nothing for getting GOOD information into the hands of the people who need it.

    It is a smoke screen of being hip and trendy.

    God Bless and have a Nice Day!

  9. SpongeBob Librarypants says:

    One of the best comments I ever heard concerning the media’s hype about the demise of books and libraries came from a State Librarian. She pointed out the fact that, with the advent of the internet in libraries in the early and mid 90’s, newspapers often featured articles about the demise of print and how libraries were doomed. Now, several years later, it is newspapers that are on the verge of disappearing and books and libraries are still around.

  10. Careful you don’t smug yourself out of a job.

  11. What has got to give is lazy librarians working at half speed all the time.

    If it were a male dominated profession, you would really see some hustle out there.

    Pick it up, ladies.

  12. My library system offers videogaming, movie nights, anime clubs and such. I guess this is why so many cities now have their libraries under the Parks and Rec division like we are. Libraries are just an extension of the parks system without the pools. Our management also just decided we have too many librarians compared to area communities (acutally we are below average on librarian to patron ratio)so it has been decided that when a librarian quits they’ll be replaced by 1 or 2 less expensive paraprofessionals. I was a paraprofessional for 12 years before I decided to get what seems to be a worthless degree. I think the future of the library is a huge computer lab, gaming room, storytime room, and a rack of bestsellers.

  13. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Fancy Nancy, nametags can be considered an invasion of privacy, particularly if the include one’s first and last name. I refuse to wear mine because it has first and last name on it. If it had just Ms. NotMarianTheLibrarian on it, I’d be OK with it. Seeing as how I’m old enough to have birthed ’em, I don’t want our freshmen calling me by my first name.

  14. another f-ing librarian says:

    they’ll kill us all off; then in five or ten years, some genius will ‘invent’ us.

    publishing can whine all it wants about running two models in parallel (print & electronic). libraries will be managing the dual-model model from here on out, i’d bet.

  15. Public servants have no right to privacy when it comes to names. Anyway, all someone would need to do to find out your name was hang around awhile until someone called you by it. I wouldn’t put last names on tags, though. Worry about name tags is silly. Any stalker worth his salt wouldn’t be much deterred by the lack of one.

  16. SpongeBob Librarypants says:

    A previous post mentioned that the person’s library was now a part of the Parks and Rec Department. I have been surprised that we have not seen more of this type of consolidation between public libraries and parks and rec departments, especially in this recession. Shared facilities, shared staff, shared programming opportunities, this could be a major money-saver for some city or county manager. A wonder that it has not been tried in more localities.

  17. Lllibrarian says:

    Not trying to insult anyone here, but I’ve found in my district that the younger stock of librarians seems able to handle these new technologies with an ease that allows them to keep pace very well. As the culture changes, so libraries must adapt. But it’s not all bad. Sometimes the changing technology can benefit librarians personally, too. For example, blogging. (Hallelujah for this realm!) And even websites like the merry librarian that give librarians a place to vent and be entertained by the ins and outs of the job.

  18. Male librarians hustle? Well, that’s one way to put it. They usually are hustling the higher-up female managers, who of course eat it up. Their female peers get to do all of the work.

    Today is a bad day for this discussion. I’ve pretty much reached the end of my rope. We’ve had layoffs, so I’ve been gifted with more work, yet I’m supposed to “crosstrain” so that the circ staff (several of whom either think they do our work already or have no clue how much we have to do) can keep up with the double-digit circ increase. Which means we get to help with it also. So if you want to know what’s going to give, it’s the public service librarians.

  19. Techserving You says:

    So many of these comments are so dead-on. But I’ve got to take issue with describing this topic in terms of the ‘younger stock of librarians’ who ‘seem to handle these new technologies with ease,’ and, apparently, the old fogies who can’t handle the new technologies. I’m not an old fogy. I’m in my early-thirties. I’m on Facebook for myself. I’m pretty hip. I’m not obsessed with all the newest gadgets, but I get around to getting what I need. The problem here is the adoption of EVERY new technology (or trend/application like Twitter or Facebook) whether or not it really enhances the library in any way. There’s this obsession with, as Paula Abdul on American Idol (RIP) would say, ‘making it relevant.’ People somehow think that forcing every trendy new technology on the library will make people think, ‘oh wow, I never realized how cool the library is. It fits into my hip techy life.’ But it really DOESN’T work that way. That’s not the effect it has. Anyone who is truly technologically knowledgeable and advanced will see through most of the changes libraries make. Most of the time when librarians think they are so cutting edge, they’re merely applying some simple new (or not so new) thing a 10-year-old could do. Some librarians who apply simple technologies actually think they’re like computer programmers or something. And then they assume that those who oppose the stupid change they are making must simply not understand technology. And those who are not technologically advanced will either not use the technology, or will maybe marvel, in the abstract, at how cool the library is, try it once, and then not use it again. Of course I am painting things in broad strokes… generalizing. But I see this over and over again. We’ve done this very thing where I work, a prestigious academic library. NO ONE is using our facebook page, or reading our blog, or looking at our Twitter feed. We KNOW this and still we do it. It boggles my mind.

  20. NotQuietFrustie says:

    many good points that I just want to add to. But this should never be an age discussion.

    I am the type of person who does carry an iphone and netbook and loves to be on the cutting edge. I get frustrated at my work all the time cause I can always see ways to work faster and more efficiently and I get held back. But I work at the improvements I can and live with what I cannot.

    But what boggles my mind is the fact that higher ups see a new tech trend and jump into it without even getting to know what it actually does and how it will benefit users. It actually makes a worse impression then if we just stayed out and actually did what we are good at, and improved what was already existing! In a few years time when the technology is mature we should go in with *gasp* a plan!

    Sorry this topic gets under my skin all the time. And the people who think that working at half the pace just means they are doing it with more “quality”.

  21. While male librarians make up about 25% of the library field, they do 90% of the work.

    Women librarians sit around and bitch and moan about all the work while doing none of it.

    You want a real revolution in the library world, get more men into it.

  22. TechVolunteer says:

    I’m a volunteer tech consultant for my library. I develop & maintain the website and do other tech functions. The lack of tech awareness, proficiency in my regional library system is astounding.

    Sometimes it feels like the only internet sites this group visits are each others … and the local school systems (which also stink). I continually get requests like “can you add this gew-gaw to our website, the other library has it”. Or – why aren’t we using twitter, the other town is … when a quick click reveals that the library made about 5 tweets the first week and then moved on. Animated gifs are still the rage, though I have drawn the line at awful mp3s playing when someone visits our homepage.

    The in-library “tech” volunteer jobs are things like manually counting and then entering the hash marks the staff makes on scrap paper to record the categories of questions fielded at the service desk. I know the stats are rarely used, because I continually get questions on how to find the files … are they on the desktop, the server or that darn internet?

  23. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Techserving I think the fast adaptation vs. early adaptation of technology is a big problem resulting from a lack of general knowledge. People simply play catchup. All to often the people playing catchup are managers. I once heard one say last month that he has finally conclude the internet is here to stay. Or directors of other department since the election and Iranian turmoil talking about the need for Facebook or Trwitter accounts. They just feel hipper now. There is an interesting discussion the Dig-Ref list serve about Reference and Twitter. Most agree it dosnt work because its one way communications and or not private. But I know my boss isnt on the list serv and I am waiting for us to have to Tweet that they are cool. BTW if you want a good balance to this blog get on the Dig-ref list serv it covers technologgy and 2.0ers

  24. Technology is bad.

    For libraries.

    For people.

    For the environment.

    Just say NO!

  25. Why couldn’t the Parks department report to the Library?

    Our manager does some things well, but she couldn’t even begin to answer in any sort of convincing manner – those questions posted by Garden State.

  26. Cities and towns are getting smarter, that is why you would never let a library manage anything beyond a DDR party.

    If you put the library in charge of Parks and Recreation you would have empty pools, dead trees, and gangs of youths roaming the streets shooting innocent people.

  27. I’m with Garden State on this one. Most library managers are not managers. There is only so much you learn in library school, and one management course is not enough. You can learn things on your own, but the benefit of being in a management environment (be it in school, or as an apprentice somewhere) is that you gets people-time.

    A good manager knows when to tell these frusties that some service they want to offer is not within the scope of their services, or that they need to draft a full proposal and action plan and whatnot.

    You need good managers in libraries, now more than ever, given that money keeps getting cut

  28. 35e2e:
    Are you a troll or just trying to hijack the thread?

  29. MLS Fledgling says:

    TexasMLS’s comment got me thinking…I have a question to the AL and everyone else out there who cares to answer:

    Who really thinks an MLS is worth the money and the effort?

  30. AlwaysWanted2B says:

    Before we bash technology too much, would those of you in libraries with multiple branches really want to go back to the days of having to call another branch to see if their copy was on the shelf? Would you really want to be the person who has to run to the shelf and check and see? If you were a cataloger would you really want to go back to the days of checking the NUC? Would you really want to go back to the days of the card catalog and filing all those cards, or perhaps even go back to a book catalog that has to be rewritten many times a year? Yes the card catalog is a technology. Do you really want to go back to the days of having a student come and complain that the article they need has been torn out of the journal? Technology has brought many wonderful things

  31. This was a provocative posting by Annoyed Librarian, and I agree in part with the overall assertion that we must critically examine the consequences of adding new services without dropping those that don’t work. For quite some time, some of us in my library have questioned some long-standing library traditions. For example, it is considered “good” library practice to attend community fairs and events in the name of “outreach” and “publicity.” But when we took a closer look, very few people attending some of those fairs were in our service area, were motivated to look at library offerings, or bothered to come in after the fair. We cut most of them out in favor of more targeted marketing approaches – and registrations and circ have climbed. This is not to criticize those who do such fairs and events, but to indicate that one must always evaluate services both new and old.

  32. At the state library in the Keystone State they gave up half their staff this year. In Michigan their state library gave up its entire staff. Does that make Michigan’s state library twice as cutting edge as Pennsylvania’s?

  33. The book itself is a technology, for that matter. Would you rather be reading from a scroll?

  34. I don’t want any technology.

    I want Socrates to walk between each and every library and dispense his wisdom.

  35. Fancy Nancy says:

    The privacy issue (re: name tags) would only bother me if it included my last name, which the local yahoos don’t need to know. Fortunately it will be my first name only. It just seems so Wal-Mart-ish. Not to mention all the holes I’ll be making in all my favorite sweaters.

  36. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    “What has got to give is lazy librarians working at half speed all the time.

    If it were a male dominated profession, you would really see some hustle out there.”

    Have bad news for you…it’s the males here who won’t answer the phone, type a label, process a new book, weed the collection, shelve a book, shelf read…they’re the kisser-uppers who spend most of the day playing computer chess & jawing with the staff…..

    The females here work our buns off!

  37. The problem, Doctor Pepper, is that your suggestion requires not just management skills, but the possession of common sense.

    Aunti Nanuuq, we may work in the same library. Have you ever head of the “glass elevator”?

  38. Men work hard and move up.

    Women slack off and complain about how unfair life is.

  39. Fancy Nancy: Lanyards or magnetic badges should save your sweater. And they are helpful to patrons to know who is working where and to identify you to other staff later.

  40. kattheripper says:

    I’m sorry for everybody’s frustration level, but honestly most of what I got out of this post was, “Young kids these days are so whiney, now listen to me whine about kids these days.” As others have pointed out technology and libraries are not mutally exclusive but also our budgets do not allow us to offer patrons every piece of shiney new technology. The key is setting priorities for our library services. A DDR tournament is not a viable option for some brances but perhaps a Yugioh card tournaments would cost little to nothing at all (kids bring their own cards, just need supervision, that’s it). There’s always an alternative low cost option and if there isn’t, be creative! And for the people who still won’t budge from their “technology bad” mindset, library programs in grad schools are incouraging their students to embrace a marriage to technology with our core values, and that’s what finally sold me to start going to school to become a librarian. If I’m out of line on this please tell me so I can stop shelling out thousands of dollars on a program that has no relevance past a certain generation.

  41. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    kattherripper Its not so much young people whiney as people who have lost focus of a libraries mission to educate not entertain. This argument has been going on for years and will go on as long as libraries are still here. Should you have adult, young adult and children programs that are both entraining and educational yes, should you have programs that are just entertaining I would say no. (remember some programs last all week so you can mix and match activities) The problem with technology more so then anything before in libraryland is it blurs the line and thus easily abuse. I pick on those who have abuse technology in the name of education when its really just screwing around.

  42. reads_a_lot says:

    Thank you, Annoyed Librarian, for a great laugh when I read your article. (I think technically it is a BLOG, which is a fairly recent technological innovation.) Anyway, I’ve been around long enough to remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth when libraries started collecting phonograph albums and added listening stations. Staff meeting discussions at my library went something like this – “How will we ever get our “real” work done when we are expected to be disc jockeys to anyone who wants to listen to a record? How much of our budget can we afford to media? We could spend all our budget on LPs and it still wouldn’t be enough! Something has to give! We can’t be all things to all people!” etc. etc. You know what? Phonograph albums went away, so did vertical files, card catalogs, due date cards with people’s names, and more. Libraries and librarians are adaptable and continue to be a vital part of their communities.

  43. Oh The Humanity says:

    To “…I’m a volunteer tech consultant for my library. I develop & maintain the website and do other tech functions. …”
    You need to not be a volunteer tech consultant. You are occupying a position that needs to be a paid position. Spread your largesse to the Junior League or something.

  44. What are we giving up? The Reference desk! Over my past 4 years @ 2 academic libraries, our fearless leaders are OBSESSED with clearing out the physical reference desk. They rather we bore the students of the handfull of instructors who bother to schedule “information literacy” sessions (how to look up a book class). We spend the rest of the time brushing off a barage IM reference from our cubicles. No one will notice when the desks are completely wiped out.

  45. I Like Books says:

    Re: Name Tags

    How are customers supposed to identify staff? Unless they have name tags, they pretty much have to wear bright vests or funny hats.

    Here’s one of those lessons from the business world for our libraries: if you’re going to do the customer service thing, identify to the customers those that will be servicing them.

  46. Thirty-one years in various para and professional library positions – Auntie Nanuuq is right on the money. The group of men I work with now is the laziest I’ve come across. Our manager is cleaning house in more ways than one now and the men are too stupid to see what’s happening. They’ve been told to weed and they sit and bloviate about how important the dust-covered tomes in a dead ready reference and reference collection. If they’re covered with dust, how important can they be? If you’re tasked with developing a new interface for students and all you do is complain about how hard it is, just how valuable are you? In this library, we could lose the men and do just fine, thank you very much. The women are doing their work anyway.

  47. Making generalizations about men vs. women. How juvenile. You sound like my middle school children. The individual can be a good worker or bad. But to say all men or all women? Ridiculous. Grow up.

  48. I won’t jump on every new techno bandwagon. It’s irresponsible to spend my limited budget and my time just to attempt to look “cool”. Most of us are smart enough to consider new technologies and quickly assess if they have value. Automated systems were embraced becuz we quickly saw the value. Twitter ? Give me a break.
    Web pages – you betcha. Newbies and some lazy veterans like the techno stuff cuz they can pretend to be “working” but they are not truly contributing to the organization. There, I said it.

  49. tummytime says:

    In my library system, a few of us have been trying to get blogs & facebook pages for our branches not so much because we’re “frusties”, but more because we have a horrible & antiquated website that our admin refuses to update. We’re just looking for any technology that we can use to circumvent such an inept interface and at least show people that we’re not stuck in 1996.

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