on the merits of self-checkout

Public libraries do it, why shouldn’t we?

I implemented self-checkout last school year purely as a self-preservation measure. I only had an assistant for 75 minutes a day, all of my classes had 25-30 students, and I think it’s important for me to be available to help kids select books – it’s way less important for me to operate a scanner.

When we started, I went over the self-checkout steps with all my students. I also deputized a few kids in each class to receive extra training so they could help their classmates. The first few weeks required a fair amount of oversight from me, but now – more than a year later – it’s glorious. I’m free to recommend books and help students with their work, as is my assistant, who is now in the library all morning. Students are able to help themselves when I’m in a meeting, or if I have to step out for a minute.

Plus, they love it. It’s kind of empowering! They love using the scanner. They love knowing that I trust them. They love helping their classmates when problems arise (as they inevitably do).

This works because I’m not super possessive about books, and I don’t freak out if a book gets checked out to the wrong kid now and again (and I’ve been surprised by how rarely that happens). You definitely have to be willing to relinquish some control. But it is so nice – for me and for the kids.

Here’s the instruction sheet I keep next to the checkout computer. This is a good reminder for all of our kiddos, and is awesome for new students too – no joke, I had a new sixth grader this year who never even asked how to check out books. She just walked right up, read the directions, and did it.

Like I said: glorious.

Why I like being a librarian

It occurred to me the other day that I run into librarians way more often than I ought to. Obviously I see them at work and school and when I go to library-related events. What’s weird is how frequently I encounter librarians in real life.

Example: I’m currently taking a guitar class. One of my classmates is a librarian. When I went to a make-up class last week, TWO of the other people were librarians. I know two adult skaters who work in libraries. One of the guys in my choir works in tech services.  There aren’t that many librarians in the world. People are always telling me, with a charming combination of surprise and derision, that they didn’t realize librarians still existed. So how is it possible that I am always around them?

It’s not a coincidence, as it turns out. Here’s a fact about librarians: they like learning. That’s one of the best things about this job. Pretty much every day someone needs help researching something I’ve never heard of, and then I get to learn about that topic along with them. That’s an awesome job for someone who’s been known to spend hours trawling Wikipedia for weird and mysterious articles.

So really, it’s no surprise that other librarians devote their free time to learning new stuff, which is why I run into them all the time. It’s why we’re interesting people. Seriously, when is the last time you had a boring conversation with a librarian? We read a lot, both online and in print, fiction and nonfiction. We have access to tons of information all the time, and are responsible for connecting other people with that information. Clearly we engage in lots of other activities outside of work (although you may not want to start a conversation about figure skating with me, because it’ll go on a lot longer than you want it to). We’re good people to invite to a party – we’re well informed and we’ve chosen a job where we have to be personable all the time. We’re great at giving gifts (at least to book lovers). Librarians are awesome.


So, in case you’re wondering, Mockingjay totally destroyed me. (I mean, in a good way. But still.) I finished the book last Tuesday (it’s possible that my roommate and I both bought the e-book at midnight, and then read it until work, then bought it in hardcover and read the rest on the way home) and have been more-or-less unable to accomplish anything since then. We discussed it at book club last night, and some of my library school pals have arranged a conference call (not kidding) to talk about it again next week, and I get to talk about it constantly with my co-workers and our fabulous t(w)een patrons, so…maybe at some point I’ll be productive again. But probably not for a while.

Plus, the library’s been closed for a couple weeks. We’re open again and back on our feet, but we will be playing catch-up for a while.

Upcoming programs for the fall: back-to-school party (in two weeks – maybe I should get on that); a program about fantasy books, which no one here reads, but I’m still determined to increase circ because come on, who doesn’t like dragons; a Wimpy Kid release party (and why is Jeff Kinney suddenly being so vague about whether or not this is the last book in the series?); and lots of fun things for the tweens: gaming, crafts, book club (we’re reading Gregor for October – I’m so excited), and a murder mystery party. We loved solving the Sammy Keyes mystery, so that should be a lot of fun.

Maybe I should plan those.

…or I’ll go think about Mockingjay some more.

News from the outside world

1. Dora the Explorer celebrated her 10th birthday yesterday, to great fanfare. We’re celebrating here with a Dora book display and, of course, some very adorable Dora coloring pages.

2. It turns out that the adults-who-read-YA book club I’m in here is not as unique as I thought! There are lots and lots of adult women (and men!) reading and enjoying young adult literature. And no wonder:

“A lot of adult literature is all art and no heart,” [Amanda] Foreman, who is currently working on a book about British involvement in the American Civil War, said. “But good Y.A. is like good television. There’s a freshness there; it’s engaging. Y.A. authors aren’t writing about middle-aged anomie or ­disappointed people.”

This is where they are never turned away.

From the Chicago Tribune today: Kids find summertime haven in libraries, parents find day care

“Librarians … they are the hidden stars of our communities,” [University of Michigan education professor Susan] Neuman said. “Librarians act as substitute mother teachers. They have taken it upon themselves to fill this role. They are doing it and doing it well, even if it is not something they wanted to do.”

And from the  manager of the Austin branch library:

“When they tell their parents they’re at the library, it alleviates anxiety,” he said. “This is where they can get a cold drink of water. This is where they can use the restroom. This is where they are never turned away.”

Libraries are useless? Tell that to the 50,000 kids in CPL’s summer reading program.

So after this idiocy, in which some Fox News reporter asked, “Are libraries necessary, or a waste of tax money?”, Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey sets her straight. This “reporter’s” argument was that, because some particular section of the stacks (non-circulating bound periodicals, for the record) was not in use during the particular time that she was there, libraries are a waste of money. After all, everyone was “just” using the computers.

“And yes, we proudly provide free access to the internet because so much information today is found online, something you should know from your own work. … There continues to exist in this country a vast digital divide. It exists along lines of race and class and is only bridged consistently and equitably through the free access provided by the Chicago Public Library and all public libraries in this nation.”

Also this:

“Chicago’s schools offer the shortest school day in the nation. As schools slash their budgets for school libraries and shorten their classroom teaching time, thousands of children flock to Chicago’s public libraries every day afterschool, in the evening and on weekends for homework assistance from our librarians and certified teachers hired by the public library.”

Thank you, Mary Dempsey, for being super awesome.

Conkey’s Book Store

I was lucky enough to grow up in a town that was home to one of the greatest independent bookstores in the country. Conkey’s Book Store has been a fixture in downtown Appleton, Wisconsin for more than a hundred years.

This Friday is its last day.

Its closure can be blamed on a lot of different factors: the giant Barnes and Noble out by the mall. Amazon.com and the Kindle. The general decline of pleasure reading. Conkey’s loss of their contract with the local tech college.

When I found out that Conkey’s was closing a few months back, I was devastated. Conkey’s had been there for so long – it never occurred to me that it would close. That I’d no longer do my Christmas shopping there, or benefit from their always-spot-on staff recommendations. That I wouldn’t get to take my kids there and show them the place I loved so much when I was small.

Conkey’s is next door to Heid Music, another Appleton institution, where I took piano lessons for eight years. Every Wednesday, after my lesson, I went next door to Conkey’s. Sometimes, if I’d particularly impressed my piano teacher, my mom would buy me a book. Every week, I spent a half an hour or so sitting in the coffee shop. They used to serve SueAnn’s bagels at the Conkey’s coffee shop. SueAnn’s closed a few years ago, too. I still remember the thoroughly pierced-and-tattooed girl behind the counter: how cool I thought she was, how much I wanted her job. I think her name was Abby.

The coffee shop also sold greeting cards and assorted knick-knacks. I loved this stuff. Every year for my birthday, for Christmas, there was something on the list that could only be found at Conkey’s.

Conkey’s also threw the best Harry Potter parties. The store and coffee shop opened onto a back alley that, when decorated, bore a strong resemblance to Diagon Alley. Conkey’s had butterbeer and wands and live owls. The giant party in the mall food court, the huge crowds at Barnes and Noble: they paled in comparison.

Walking into Conkey’s was always like entering a magic shop, whether or not a sign reading “Ollivanders” was posted over the door. Bookshelves reached all the way up to the ceiling. There were rolling ladders and narrow corners and nooks and staircases.

I still haven’t totally accepted Conkey’s fate. I used to work for the Post-Crescent, the local newspaper, so I’ve always been a devoted reader. Lately, though, I spend more and more time scouring its website for news that someone has stepped up to buy the store.

It hasn’t happened.

I know that it won’t. Really, I do.

But I’m still waiting for the loss to sink in.