Dispatches From the Library Whirlwind

Still busy, but still here, observing, soaking it all in, thinking.  Focusing more on patrons than on philosophies.  Dulce et decorum est.  Contemplation ebbs and flows with action.  I am deeply, ridiculously happy.

The Winter Read-A-Thon fundraiser is all over but the collecting.  Fundraising = hard.  Quit that laughing.  It’s one thing to grasp a concept intellecutally.  It’s quite another to take a stab at actually doing something and finding out just how hard it is.  I did not make my fundraising goal, but I think that was a good experience for me to have.  If I’m ever crazy enough to try something like that again, I’ll know what to do better / differently.

The Eleventh Stack crew is giving away twenty-nine gifts for twenty-nine days to library patrons who comment on the blog.   This is our contribution to the countywide “One Book, One Community” effort, which you can read more about here.  The book we’re all reading is Cami Walker’s 29 Gifts, which is about how she learned to cope with her MS by practicing generosity.  If you scoffed at that, you’re probably too much of a cynic to thrive in Pittsburgh.

This is a pity, because Pittsburgh was just named America’s most liveable city again.  I’d been secretly wondering if my cheerful outlook on librarianship were due to the fact that I lived in a magical unicorn bubble of rainbows and happiness, and apparently it’s true.  Go ahead and roll your eyes, but this town sneaks up on you and surprises you.  We have amazing food options (vegetarians and vegans, this is your hidden Mecca, trust me), walkable neighborhoods, a world-class hospital system, some top-notch universities, thriving arts communities (both traditional and indie/progressive), roller derby, two newspapers in a time when print is supposedly dying, and, of course, Uncle Andy’s Palace of Wit and Wisdom, right around the corner from the Stillers-scarf-wearing Dippy the Dinosaur (formal name Diplodocus Carnegii).

So, yeah, I’m a little proud to be a small part of all that.  It’s not about me.  It’s about we.  Which is another reason why I’ve been writing less here at Alchemy, and saving my better efforts for In the Library With the Lead Pipe. Of course, by “best,” I mean, I think about the topic all the darned time, but don’t put anything on paper until the last minute, because I’m so darned busy; then I hope to heaven I don’t sound too much like a heretic. My personal mission as a library writer is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, but one should always do so with a strong sense of both justice and compassion.

Our latest effort, in which we debate the stealth librarian manifesto, has me all fired up about things I can’t quite articulate yet.  I believe public librarianship needs a new professional discourse, a new kind of writing, a new kind of way to express ourselves and demonstrate our value to our communities.  For the life of me, though, I cannot yet imagine what that might be.  Thoughts?  Opinions?

I also, heaven help us, have an idea for another library blog.  It would probably mean abandoning Alchemy, but….all things to their times and seasons.  It’s foolish to cling to flowing water.  Right now I’m still marinating the idea and waiting to see where it leads me.  If you’re intrigued and possibly interested in helping me shape what’s currently a vision, drop me a line…

I’m also still making my way through tiers and tiers of reference books, many of them old and filthy, trying to decide what to keep (and where to put it, if it’s worth keeping), what to weed, and what to reclass as circ.  A surprising amount of books are ending up in circ–talk about Second Life!  And nothing makes me happier than opening up a book and saying, “Holy crap, the world needs this–why is it closed ref?”  If you love your patrons, set your reference books free.

Reclassing/weeding is, of course, grubby work, which is why I do it mostly on Fridays when I can wear beat-up jeans and a snarky t-shirt with my obligatory librarian cardigan and my “purchased before hip” Doc Martens with the skulls grinning fiercely from the sides.  As I work, I think about different kinds of labor, and whose labor is valued, and why.  I think about where I came from (blue collar central) and where I am (white collar central) and where I’m going (qui sais?), and how I can make the most of what I have so that others can have nice things, too.

There’s more, of course.  I think about how proud of myself I am that I could walk somebody through downloading an ebook on virtual reference today, without freaking out or giving the wrong answers.  I think about the meeting I had this morning, and all the good insights I got from the group of people who cheerfully showed up and listened attentively while I pitched my next crazy idea.   I think about the book I’m reading right now — Julie Rose’s 2008 edition of Les Miserables — and how amazing it is.   I think about how I have to restrain myself from going around telling the people I work with how much I care for them, lest they look at me funny, and what a sincerely bad idea the “International Hug A Librarian Day” project is (Friends don’t let strangers touch friends.  That is all.)

But, mostly, I think about this fragment from Osho’s Emotional Wellness, a book I was reading earlier today:

The way of the heart is beautiful, but dangerous.  The way of the mind is ordinary, but safe.

Obviously we need the way of the mind in libraries.  But I still think we could stand to use a lot more of the way of the heart.  Our institutions need a little danger, a little passion, a little shaking up.  I’ll do my best.  You come, too.

Until goodness knows when, I remain, your humble servant, etc.


Library Alchemist


  1. Jo said,

    February 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Really interesting and thought-provoking post. I’m going to go back and re-read the stealth librarian manifesto when I’m at the library (working) next week. Admittedly. the term “stealth librarian” makes me think of a library ninja, sneaking around the library …. pushing books on unsuspecting patrons.

    And I agree with you on the whole move the Ref books into the circ’ing collection part…. have done some of that lately, myself. :)

  2. Tina said,

    February 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Great post LAV, and I agree with Jo “thought-provoking”. I absolutely agree with your last paragraph, “Our institutions….”

    Just lovely and well put!

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