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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Take That, Bobst Librarians!

A Kind Reader sent in this amusing article with the subject line, “Take that, Bobst Librarians!” Obviously, I liked the subject line. Bobst is the main library at NYU, and at least one NYU student is very disappointed in the librarians there.

“I need a great librarian, and I’m miffed that Bobst doesn’t have any,” writes the student.

Insulting the NYU librarians by saying that none of them are great isn’t the amusing part. Okay, maybe a little. But the really amusing part is why the student thinks none of the librarians are great.

Here’s meat of the complaint:

The reference librarians are wonderful at coming up with bibliographies for my papers (and sending me research on quirky questions I think up in the middle of the night) but when I tried asking for a book recommendation, the librarian at the desk looked slightly concerned.

So apparently the Bobst librarians are great at the things they’re actually supposed to be doing. But it goes on:

Did I want to read for fun? Yes. Had I tried the leisure collection, the area on the second lower level that hold popular novels and non-fiction books? I had, but I want more than shelves with books — I want recommendations from people who love to read. The librarian ended up recommending a website. The whole conversation was depressing. We were surrounded by books, but there was nobody to help me pick one out.

The poor student didn’t know it, but what she wants is a reader’s advisory librarian. Perhaps someone at NYU could have explained that to her.

Helping students learn how to do research for essays is one thing, but to be a truly “great” librarian you have to be able to recommend some leisure reading for them, too.

Actually, it’s even more than that. This bit is quite revealing:

But there’s a special role for the librarian who knows your tastes and seems to have read every book in the library. She knows when to hand you a hard book you’d never have tried on your own. She knows (even when you don’t tell her) that you just got dumped and that you need the silliest, most distracting book known to man. She knows because she asks each time what you thought of the last book.

Goodness, that’s a tall order. Librarians not only have to have read every book in the library, but they have to be able to read minds as well.

Reading most books might not be that hard for the public librarian in the children’s or YA section of a small to medium public library, which I assume is where this ideal was nurtured. However, when considering most academic libraries, especially big university libraries like NYU’s, it borders on the ridiculous.

According to its website, the NYU library system has 5.1 million volumes. The Bobst library alone “houses more than 3.7 million volumes, 58,000 serial titles, and over 5.4 million microforms.”

Even at the rate of one book per day, which is relatively easy for YA novels but quite a feat for a lot of scholarly books, it would take a librarian over 10,000 years to read all the books. No wonder Bobst doesn’t have any “great” librarians!

And it’s not like there aren’t public libraries in New York City, after all. Not only do New York public libraries provide reader’s advisory service, but they even have a website to help more once the knowledge of the librarians is exhausted, which is inevitable since the NYPL system has many more books than NYU.

Maybe that’s a problem, too. If no librarian has read most of NYPL’s tens of millions of volumes, then darn it, they just aren’t “great.”

It might have been even better if the student had encountered a subject specialist who “loves to read.” “You should try this new book on the history of foreign relations between Turkey and Japan. It’s quite good.”

It seems to me that the only thing the Bobst librarians interacting with this student could possibly have done better is explain that different types of libraries have different functions and redirect her to a public library. What was really needed here wasn’t reader’s advisory, but user education.

The whole thing is comical because a student looking for a smallish public library stumbled into a big research library and had drastically misguided expectations.

Instead of admiring the immense resources put at her disposal, which with ILL would include the majority of anything ever published anywhere, she’s “miffed” at not finding a service that academic libraries almost never provide but that’s easily available elsewhere.

Or maybe the Bobst librarians should just start reading every book in the library for the next time something like this happens, at least if they aspire to greatness. They probably have a while.



  1. Frog the Librarian says:

    The complaint is a bit unrealistic, but I think the interaction between the student and the librarian is an example of inadequate service. Seriously, the librarian recommended a web site? And what is this trend nowadays with librarians shunning books?

    I’m an academic reference librarian and although reader’s advisory is not a regular part of my job, I occasionally recommend books to students for leisure reading.

    By the way, I recommend this librarian read “Reading and the Reference Librarian: The Importance to Library Service of Staff Reading Habits” by Juris Dilevko and Lisa Gottlieb.

    • Students (and all patrons) often use the term website and database interchangeably. She could have been recommending something like Novelist which would be a great resource for that kind of question.

    • Ann Robinson says:

      She might have been suggesting Goodreads, which sounds like what the student was looking for and is *gasp* online. I use it took pick books for myself, and I know myself quite well.

    • The Ditlevko book is a TERRIBLE RA book – the guy has never worked in a public library. He would probably frown on whatever the student wants to read. Much better to read anything by Joyce Saricks; she also stresses the need to be well-read but also to be concentrating on what the patron wants to read and not what you think the patron should be reading.

  2. MedLibrarian says:

    I think it depends on the type of website that was recommended. She may not have been shunning books but simply offering a website where the user could find recommendations or reviews for books.

    • Frog the Librarian says:

      Novelist or book reviews are still not the same as receiving a personalized recommendation based on the student’s interests. No wonder he or she was disappointed.

      Reader’s advisory is about our professional expertise as librarians.

    • To reply to Frog the Librarian–I think it goes back to what AL said: that a huge research library is not necessarily the place to expect reader’s advisory. I never studied reader’s advisory in grad school. I’ve worked in an academic library for over five years (my first and only full-time librarian position) and I’ve never had occasion to perform that type of reader’s advisory. Booklists or directing the student to the browsing collection is exactly what I would have done, too. I don’t doubt the student was disappointed, but as AL said–they were looking in the wrong place to begin with.

  3. Skipbear says:

    The current generation of college students are hardly realistic when it comes to expectations. One would hope that a student who was smart enough or rich enough to go to NYU might have a clue about what a research library is for. The librarian there did the exact thing I would have done. the poor thing was not looking for an answer as much as someone to hand him or her a book and be a social worker and life coach. Nice to see we all have those issues in academic libraries. Been lot of years since I been in Bobst, but a lot of colleges and universities have made large portions of their libraries into coffee bar computer game play rooms. So you reap what you sow when it comes to expectations.

  4. InfoBitch says:

    I don’t know about y’all but all I do day in and day out at my liberry is READ BOOKS! That’s all we liberrians do is READ BOOKS! We don’t go to a shit ton of meetings all the time (Reference, Faculty, Faculty Senate). We don’t worry about publishing and presenting, going to conferences, professional development, meeting with students, faculty, teaching, etc. WE JUST READ BOOKS! Derp!

  5. Globetrotting Librarian says:

    I’ve yet to be confronted by such a question at my medical library (but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time, and we do get a lot of idiot questions!). The Bobst Librarians have my deepest sympathies, and I would have dealt with this student in exactly the same way – as well as directing her to the nearest public library or second hand book shop, or perhaps a clairvoyant!

    It’s a sad fact of life that often seemingly intelligent people have no idea what functions different kinds of libraries serve, or what a librarian actually does!!! People often say to me “Oh, what a wonderful job, you must love being able to read books all day!” and some of these are our own clients who come into our medical library, and think we have a lovely time reading the medical textbooks!!! I often have to explain that it’s actually a health sciences library, and we have medical, nursing and allied health books, not Mills & Boon!! Like InfoBitch, I’m not really a Librarian as such, but a “Libarian” (similiar to a Liberrian), and I work in a “libary” all day, reading books of course!!! In fact, there’s nothing I enjoy better than dipping into a heavy session with Pathways of the Pulp (we do Dentistry too) before morning tea!

    Vital skills for Libarians, Liberrians and even Librarians include Houdini-like superpowers; advanced ESP & mind-reading capabilities; encyclopaedic knowledge of every book ever published, plus the mind-boggling ability to walk to the exact spot on the shelf where the wanted item lurks!! I do possess the last to some degree, but only because I’ve catalogued and re-shelved all of our modest collection!! And of course the life-coach, therapist, nanny, social worker entity this particular student was so desperately in need of.

    I hope this student finally found her way to the public library, which is where she should have gone in the first place. Maybe she could consider buying a Kindle.

    Personally I prefer the hallowed halls of academia, or specialist “Libaries”. My one and only stint as a casual Libarian in a public Libary made me quite adamant never to darken one’s doorstep every again (except as a happy borrower of course!!). Fearful recollections of staffing the Childrens Reference Desk, and being asked by mothers to recommend kiddies books for little Johnny “who doesn’t like reading, but I want him to!! What do you think he’d like??”

    “How about Biggles?” I’d often be tempted to say, or would try and palm them off on the Childrens Librarian, who’d obviiously made a life long study of such matters. Most of the little horrors only wanted the latest Harry Potter back then, and I was moved to advise one young lad to “ask mum to buy it for you!”, after inspection of the catalogue revealed 48 reserves on one copy, and 78 on another.

    It’s never dull in Libary World!!!

  6. feldspar says:

    GL knows what they are talking about.!

  7. To so many people, a library is a library. (IMO, ALA is partially to blame, since for decades, they have been telling people how important we are, and what we do, but no one is listening.) They aren’t able to distinguish an academic library from a public library. (FYI, I work in an academic library.) While it is hard to second guess the response of the NYU librarian, I wonder why the student wasn’t pointed to the website of the NY Public Library, which in all probability, had a branch within walking distance of NYU.

    • As a public librarian myself, I agree with both you and Globetrotting Librarian. The only thing that I would add is that such a patron is not the easiest for anyone to deal with, regardless of whether it is in an academic, special, or public library.

      One thing that I regularly deal with is patrons who have the attitude that she/he knows more than any librarian (older person – even by at least five years) ever could. And of course, there are those who approach the reference desk intending to “stump the librarian” however it can be done. The mental game of being asked to locate or recommend something “outstanding”, without saying just what such a thing might be, is in cases such as this, a game, whether the librarian is clairvoyant or not.

      Unless there is more to the story that we do not know about, the NYU librarian probably did the best thing to respond to the information request of this patron.

  8. Ken Heycock says:

    If baby likes the color blue then choose a blue book.
    If baby likes the letter “B”? then choose a book written by an author beginning with “B”.

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