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A quick question - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
A quick question
And pass it around, please. I'm curious.

I won't give my own opinions just now, because I really want to hear what other people think.

What do you want and expect from your public library? In terms of collections, services, amenities, etc? And is there a difference between what you want and what you expect?

I feel a bit...: curious curious

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webbapettigrew From: webbapettigrew Date: July 27th, 2004 10:41 am (UTC) (Link)
What do I want in a library?

Well, ideally, I'd like a place with books...but I'm assuming you mean things besides that. I like libraries with computers. Especially if some computers are in the children's section and some are in the adult section so I don't have to listen to kids snap their gum while I'm looking something up. I think the card catalogue should be computerized--I live in an area where it's not yet.

I like photocopying services and the ablity to print things off. I want to be able to fax something if necessary. I am willing to pay for these services on a "need" basis.

I want books on lots of topics--not just the ones indicative of my rural area. We don't have a copy of "Writer's Market" in our library and that's a shame.

I would like a library to have reading time for little kids once ot twice a week too.

Does that help?
mafdet From: mafdet Date: July 27th, 2004 10:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Your icon is Teh Kyoot. I <3 kitties.
mafdet From: mafdet Date: July 27th, 2004 10:47 am (UTC) (Link)
A safe and hygienic place free of ill-smelling and belligerent street people. (Can you tell I used to frequent the Berkeley Public Library?)

Aside from that, I like having librarians who are real, trained librarians who can help me find books and materials (as opposed to just checkout and shelving volunteers and high-school students). I like having a variety of current materials, and access to periodicals and journals, including back issues. A good, cheap interlibrary loan service is wonderful. I am doing a lot of historical research right now - as opposed to just using my library for pleasure reading (I do that, too!).

I agree with webbapettigrew that plenty of computers, including in the adult section, are nice. As is a well-set-up catalog.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 3rd, 2004 07:55 am (UTC) (Link)
But you have to admit that the Berkeley Public Library is a beautiful building.
sue_parsons From: sue_parsons Date: July 27th, 2004 10:49 am (UTC) (Link)

In terms of metting the needs of my students...

Children's books should be gathered and/or labeled by readability. I want my kids to go to their public library and be able to select a book they can read.

Even the beginning first graders have been told which Running Record Level they have passed most recently. They can find books in the school library, initially with the assistance of our librarian, that they will be able to read unassisted. They also can challenge themselves by selecting a book that is the next level or two up from that. Even the resource, non-fiction books that are for kids should be clearly indicative of reading level. Nothing frustrates a child more than selecting a book based on interest and discovering that they have to find an adult to read the vast majority of it to them. For my kids, my demographics, that can be problematic.

In addition, my school library has purchased Accelerated Reader books, mostly from Permabound, that are labeled by grade level and point value. Kids can check out a book, read it on their own, and take a computer comprehension quiz in the library or back in their classroom, receiving points based on how difficult the book was and how well they scored on the test. Points are cumulative throughout the students' school career, and, yes, there are levels to be reached and awards to earn.

Recently our local library has been working on providing this information, leveling, for students. I cannot tell you what a boon that has been for us. If literacy is your end goal, this is a wonderful way to help kids achieve that.

sue_parsons From: sue_parsons Date: July 27th, 2004 10:51 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: In terms of metting the needs of my students...


MEETING!!! I can't edit my commment!!! MEEEEEEEEEETING!!!!

*shakes head*
kelleypen From: kelleypen Date: July 27th, 2004 10:52 am (UTC) (Link)


I expect all of the classics, as well as whatever is currently popular and what has some enduring qualities. I expect there to be solid general research materials. I expect a large children's section. I want local research too--pioneer diaries, early maps, city charters, etc. Since most of us have the internet at home, I don't need too many computer stations, but a few hooked up to strong research sites are a plus. I also want good movies, music, and books available on tape and disc.
What do I get? popular junk, a few classics, limited research, no local research, decent children's section, a few computers, but not one's connected to research, some beat up audio and video tapes.
mincot From: mincot Date: July 27th, 2004 11:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Library

I agree--I want a local library that has a decent ILL service, and a librarian who can differentiate between academic and popular sources as well as showing people how to use both.

I'd like a library that sponsors interactive reading--reading and reading and reading and writing and talking about the books and more reading ... for both adults and kids.

I'd like a library that isn't the county's third stepchild and so last in line for resources. Pooling resources in consortia like ORBIS or PINES is fine, as long as the books appear on time.

I'd like a couple of computer stations that could be reserved for specific times. Other people could use them with the understanding that when the reservation time comes and the user appears, the current person has to step down. Can't tell you about the number of times I have said to students with older computers or no compyuters, "Go to the library!" only to be told that they can never get on the few public terminals ...

I like literary-related exhibits in libraries.

akilika From: akilika Date: July 27th, 2004 11:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I expect to be able to find pretty much any book that takes my fancy, though I don't expect it to always carry more popular things. For a long time, I expected them to have physical card catalogues, 'cause the one at my elementary school library did--it was kind of nifty, to have this huge "box" (more like a shelf or drawers, I guess) with all these cards that'd point you to anything. Computers are easier and more convenient to update, but I've always felt that there's something undeniably nifty about a card catalogue . . .

*cough* Er, back to the point. I expect the books to be ordered correctly, and in fairly good condition. (You know, they might have yellowed pages or a bent cover, but all of the pages are there and none are falling out.) I expect everything to be easy to find, and I expect it to be quiet. I expect to be able to get help finding a book (in this or another library) if I need it.

Beyond that, I'm not quite sure is specific to my library, and what is universal. I figure most libraries *probably* have a public notice board and such, and I wouldn't be surprised if several had bus schedules available, but I don't want to expect it because I just don't know.

As for whether my expectations are met?

For the most part, they are, but I can't always find the books I'm interested in 'cause it's a rather small library. Also, I've never been quite able to sort through the non-classic, non-young-adult/kid fiction section--it's difficult to tell where the mysteries cut off and the sci-fi begins, for instance, which is a pain when you're looking for a specific author. The Young Adult fiction section is mostly easy to manage because it's so small--though it could just be that the paperbacks are on that cart, and that the rest is in the kid's section.

(For some reason, I'm a bit leary about heading into the kid's section--not because I'm embarrassed to like children's books, heavens no, but I'm anxious about whether someone thinks I'm there to read or . . . I don't know, whatever teenagers do to children. Not logical, but I'm still a bit leary.)

To it's credit, though, the classics are easy to see and navigate through. The biographies are easy enough to find, though the section seems much smaller than it should be. I don't know why they put the biography near the adult fiction, though. I mean, wouldn't it be more comfortable with the rest of the nonfiction?

Er . . . without exception, though, the books have been well-ordered (well, except the young adult paperbacks, but I think that's mostly due to the young adults being careless when putting them back) and in very good condition. And the librarians have been quite helpful. (Though I don't generally go to them when there's a line.)

Oh, yeah, amenities. I forgot about that.

Er, I expect to be regarded politely when asking a question or if I need to get out of the way so that they can get through. For the actual checking out of books, I don't actually expect much more than that they do it. *shrug*

When breaking the rules, I'd like it not to be assumed that I'm doing it on purpose just to be difficult. (I know it sounds kind of obvious, but I really didn't know I wasn't supposed to have a lolipop in the library. ^^; ) But that's a general peeve of mine in any circumstance.

And librarians, for the first two occassions, have exceeded my expectations. :) And I've only got one that I took issue with for the second.

Um, and services . . . beyond expecting them to be able to call books from other libraries, keeping the place clean, and keeping the books ordered . . . I don't think I have any other expectations.
vytresna From: vytresna Date: July 27th, 2004 11:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd like the real loremaster Jeopardy-contestant librarians - those are everywhere, though, except in big cities. So I expect that.

I want fiction sorted alphabetically with no distinctions, except for little kids' books. The line between fantasy and sci-fi in particular is kind of weird, and I don't want to look silly in the kids' section to read, say, Roald Dahl. (Guilty pleasure at my age, but I have to minimize that.) Don't expect that.

I want non-fiction sorted by pure Dewey - it tends to group similar things much more tighly than Library of Congress. None of these weird scattered sections for cooking and pets and stuff like you see in bookstores. Do expect that.

Strong bags to carry books home in. My old library had the most flimsy plastic bags you could think of.

Amenities? Cleanliness is all I ask for. Bathrooms would be nice, but not essential.

Microfilm and microfiche and all those archives are what really put the icing on the cake, though, that this is a cool library.

And, of course, a convenient computer catalog. How the Hogwarts students manage...

thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: July 27th, 2004 11:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Bags? I've never used a library that gave you a bag. Country library in a mobile classroom, city centre library, university library. Nope. I usually have a bag to begin with because I'm returning books.
(Deleted comment)
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: July 27th, 2004 11:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Books. Lots and lots and lots of books. A good non-fiction section; I supposed I've been spoiled by my having access to a university library. A fiction section that does not entirely consist of Mills and Boon large-print. Also, good not merely popular CDs and videos.
Computers are good but not entirely necessary, though if they are there they should have fast net access. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to research on a slow computer. Separating the adults from the weans playing Shoot the Spaceship online would be great too.

Here's something I don't think anyone has said yet: public toilets. None of our local libraries seem to have them.
sannalim From: sannalim Date: July 27th, 2004 11:29 am (UTC) (Link)
First some trivial things.
A computerized/online card catalog is nice; I can reserve a book while I am at work and not have to actually go to the library until it comes in.
Copying services are good, too.

I like a library to have a substantial childrens section, preferrably with its own dedicated librarian(s). The best public library I've ever met had its childrens section divided into three areas: one with low tables and cushions, surrounded by shelves containing picture books and books for beginning readers; an area filled with tables for children to study at; and more regular stacks with the chapter books, which were sorted by reading level (elementary school in one section and junior high school in another) and by subject matter (ie mysteries in their own section, non-fiction in its own section). I volunteered with the "teens and kids" program for high-schoolers to read to preschoolers and with the summer reading program at this library for two summers.

This same library had four major areas of comparable size. There was the childrens library, which I've already described, a floor for YA and adult fiction (YA had about three rows on one end of the adult collection) and the music and video collections, a floor for non-fiction, and an open area with computers, study tables and chairs, reference works, and the information/help desk. This library was across the street from the high-school, so it got regular afternoon traffic. The adult fiction and non-fiction areas had study carels all along their outside walls, rather like a University library. I like a library to have lots of tables and study carels, especially when I am collecting many books on many topics for one project or another.

It's nice for a library to have a good adult fiction collection, but when there's a work of fiction that I really want to read, I'm likely to just go buy it outright. When there's a work of non-fiction that I'm interested in reading, however, I'm much more likely to look for it in the library. I tend to go through phases where I get deeply interested in one topic or another and check out a variety of books on that topic. The topics that I am interested in have ranged somewhat widely. Thus, I like a library to have an extensive and up-to-date non-fiction collection.

Asking for help has never been something I am good at, so I don't often interact with the librarians in the libraries I frequent, but when I do have so much trouble finding what I'm looking for that I need to ask a librarian for help, well, I want to talk to a Real Librarian.
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: July 27th, 2004 11:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I like to get a fiction book out of the library to see if I like it first, unless it's by an author I know.

Copying and printing are nice, too. I'm willing to pay someing like five pence a sheet (about nine cents at current exchange rate :-D)
liwy From: liwy Date: July 27th, 2004 11:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I want the main focus of the library to remain on books. Computer access is a close second but still definitely a second. Coffee bars and art galleries shouldn't even be in the picture.

When it comes to books, I think that the selection needs to be as varied as possible. The library should have a liberal position to accepting donated books-so long as it's in good physical condition, it should be considered for the shelves. Culling should be rare and thought about carefully.

In terms of computers, I think that the best system is to have all functions on all computers-search systems, internet access, word processing and other such applications. That makes it easier for patrons to get certain tasks done.

Back-issues of magazines should not be purged quickly; at the very least there should be three or four years of issues. Magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S News and World Report can be exempted from this, as can unsubstantial publications; but magazines such as Smithsonian or Games Magazine which are on a less frequent publishing schedule can, reasonably, be archived longer.

In terms of design, I hope for two things: that the building be well lit, preferably with natural light during daylight hours, and that the design be carefully thought out to make sure that the space is being used in the best possible way. Vaulted ceilings look nice, but they aren't really the best use of the available space, and in a public, taxpayer supported library, I would like to know that the budget is being used well.
liwy From: liwy Date: July 28th, 2004 07:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Further thoughts

I don't want books eliminated quickly, as stated previously. It's a credit to a library that they maintain a selection of older books. Not necessarily older editions of a book-more recent editions are acceptable-but sticking to books originally published since the 70s or so makes the collection really limited, and that's a big drawback when it comes to a library.

Amenities should be considered in terms of their relation to the function of a library, and whether they aid that primary purpose.
angua9 From: angua9 Date: July 27th, 2004 12:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, this is a subject dear to my heart. I don't know about expecting versus wanting, but this is what I want:

- Books. Books, books, books, books, books. I always get slightly appalled when a library (any library) doesn't have some book I consider a classic or a standard. And that goes for The Scarlet Pimpernel and Carry On, Jeeves and Dune as well as Paradise Lost and The Scarlet Letter. I hate that libraries have to get rid of books.

- Books on tape. Unabridged. These are so expensive I can't afford to buy many of them. I love to get them from libraries. They should have more, more, more, more!

- Movies. And they should have the classics, not a whole bunch of copies of whatever is hot at the box office right then. That's what Blockbuster and Hollywood Video are for.

- Reference works. I like encyclopedias, indexes, newspapers on microfilm, concordances, almanacs, atlases, and really big unabridged dictionaries. I like these up-to-date as well.

- Good card catalogues. I have had a lot of problems lately with finding books even if I know the author and title. One problem is that the only way to find them is on the library computers, which are always (despite signs posted otherwise) taken up by people who are checking their e-mail, playing online games, or just surfing the web. The other is that the online indexes and search functions just plain don't work very well. You can search for keyword "hero, myth" or author "Campbell, Joseph" and find nothing, but then try another search for title "hero with a thousand faces" and find the book. This happens to me all the time on library search computers -- in three different library systems that I use. Sometimes I would give anything for the nice reassuring sight of a big wooden card catalog.

- I expect books to be well organized by the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress system, and to be where they are supposed to be. I strongly prefer fiction books to be alphabetized by author, not lumped in with all the 'A's together or put on rotating display racks in random order as the paperbacks, "Accelerated Reader," and all children's picture books are in my library.

- I want to be able to make copies from reference books or other sources with a copy machine that costs a reasonable amount, makes readable copies, and works. A change machine nearby in working order would be heavenly.

- I really enjoy current periodicals displayed, with comfortable chairs to read them in, good quiet worktables and chairs close to the non-fiction and reference books, a short line at the checkout desk, a staffed reference desk, clean bathrooms, nice long convenient hours, and librarians that coordinate with the local schools for reading list and research needs.

- But mostly... it's all about the books.
mrs_who From: mrs_who Date: July 27th, 2004 12:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Books, I agree. I, personally, don't use the computer at the library (other than the computerized card catalog) but they're always filled when I'm there, so obviously loads of people enjoy the computers. I don't want a library to look like Barnes & Noble with nothing but glossy coffeetable books and popular fiction. I like a variety of books and I think it's more important to keep up with the non-fiction than with the newest fiction titles, if you have to choose between.

The children's section should have a good, selective librarian. *lament* The Children's libraries seem to fall into two categories: either the ones which purge all the old books (including the good old ones!) and keep buying new ones, or they keep every bloody book, including the nonfic from 1955 with little cartoon men in space suits telling children how someday people might visit the moon. Those types of books are interesting snippets of culture, but when a child wants to research space travel, it would be better to have newer books in that category. So, a librarian who knows what to keep and what to pitch (because it's quite different in all the various categories) and who has an innate sense of worthy books is vital.

We LOVE audiobooks and being able to get hard-to-find dvds. So I don't really love seeing eight copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on DVD simply because it's available at the store or video rental place. However, I love that our system has loads of Shakespearean plays on DVD because, other than buying them, they'd be very hard to borrow and could get quite expensive.

We don't tend to linger in the library beyond browsing... I mean we don't sit and read or sit and play on the computer. We're usually actively engaged in booksearching so any of those nice little reading areas don't really appeal to us, and I don't like the play areas AT ALL. We're not there to play, we're there to look for books to borrow, but try dragging a four-year-old away from all of those toys and crazy other four-year-olds when you want to teach him how to browse books. It's sort of counterproductive. (For us, it seems to be wonderful for those harassed mothers who plunk their wild children in the children's section then go off to the adult section.)

rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: July 29th, 2004 11:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Had to chime in on this one. I'm one of those "keep 'em" librarians (although I do get rid of stuff carefully) and the "we'll go to the moon" example gets touted a lot as a reason to weed children's nonfiction. To me context matters. Is that book all by its lonesome? Or is it next to a book about "we went to the moon" and "we built space shuttles" and "we send out probes to planets", etc.? Maybe there's a reason it's still there. Personally, I once had a great title like that -- cartoon spacemen and all -- and in its appendices it had a list of every single launch the US had made up until it was published including rocket type, pounds of fuel, etc., and the clearest explanation of how rockets work on a fifth grade reading level I've ever found. I kept it for a teacher who did trivia quizzes that needed the list for the answer for years. But that didn't stop me from buying "To Space and Back" by Sally Ride... It's not the presence of old books that makes a collection out of date, but the absence of new books.
shellebelle93 From: shellebelle93 Date: July 27th, 2004 01:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, as others have mentioned, books. And complete runs of series. The only "complete series" of books our library seems to have is 20's and 30's romance novels all by the same author. *facepalm* I would like to see the return of the card catalogue...it seems like just overnight they were all gone, and the computerized ones just don't seem to work well enough. It's difficult, say, to search by topic.

I would also like the return of "quiet, please!" to the library. All the librarians in our library (and in turn, the patrons) talk at normal speaking levels at all times. Even with loud personal phone calls at the reference desk. *sigh*

Most of the things I'd like to see other people have already said, good local research materials, knowledgable staff and well-lit areas for (quiet!) study.
maidenjedi From: maidenjedi Date: July 27th, 2004 02:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you asked this question.

The only thing I am not currently getting from my public library that I want is up-to-date collections.

I find it incredibly sad and downright pathetic that the only copy of "The Hobbit" is old enough to be falling apart and has crayon scribbles on about a quarter of the pages. That's just an example that comes to mind, but it's a much larger problem than that. I live in a city of nearly 100,000 people. The library is underfunded and in need of serious expansion. The non-fiction section is out-of-date and the fiction section needs an infusion of new copies.

I've moved around a lot in my lifetime, and been to all kinds of libraries (it's the second thing I look for in a new town, right after the church). I've never encountered one like this.

Is it unreasonable to ask that, once a book is reported lost, there be some sort of process for replacement, or at least to have it taken out of the computer system? Or, once damaged, a book is replaced if necessary? OR, books in high demand have duplicate copies available?

I don't know. I've been working on a proposal to take to the city council about improving library funding. Two tax bills have passed that were supposed to benefit the library, and we did get a new computer system as a result, but I don't think it's enough.

Do you have any insight into the other side of things that will serve to soothe these complaints a bit?
vytresna From: vytresna Date: July 27th, 2004 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Whoa, check Chapter Five of this copy of The Hobbit. If it's not what's set down in Lord of the Rings, it's a definite collector's item. Think it was changed to match LotR some time in the '60s...

But meh, my '70s edition of Two Towers has lost the cover and last two pages. Don't get your hopes up.

And definitely agree with you on the lost books. Or, for that matter, if books are over four months overdue...
narnian_dreamer From: narnian_dreamer Date: July 27th, 2004 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think what I want most in a library is a computerized catalogue and an inter-library loan system. My local library's system covers a few counties, so chances are pretty good that if my library doesn't have it, one nearby will, and will send it to my library within a week if I request it.

I also really like having a large selection of juvenile non-fiction, especially picture books. The large illustrations and photographs in them are great for projects even on the high-school level. (Used three of them senior year for a project on the Globe Theatre) It's a resource that I don't think enough older students avail themselves of.

Also, specialized Encyclopedia's and Dictionaries in addition to general ones are great, and few libraries have enough of those.

One thing I'd like that I don't get at my local library is an effort to buy complete series of books. I don't mean huge series like Redwall that may be expensive, but I think small series should be complete if included at all. There is little more annoying than getting into the first book of a quartet only to find that your local library has the first, third, and fourth books, but not the second, or that it has every book except the last one. I believe there is one trilogy that my library has the second and third installments of, but not the first. It's not a huge deal, but it's annoying nonetheless.
narnian_dreamer From: narnian_dreamer Date: July 27th, 2004 05:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, and I want copies of at least one newspaper other than the local ones on microfilm. It's nice to be able to see what was happening in Nutley during the thirties, but it would be nicer still to be able to look at a newspaper that covered national and world events, like the New York Times or the Washington Post.
siegeofangels From: siegeofangels Date: July 27th, 2004 03:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I want free interlibrary loan (or cheap, like a dollar). Right now my library charges three dollars per ILL. It's not worth it to me, so there are some books I've wanted to read but haven't.

I want to be able to check my account from home, including viewing holds I've put on books and my current balance, if I have one.

I want either a physical card catalog, or a computer catalog that loads as quickly as I can flip through 3x5 cards. I want several computer terminals dedicated solely to catalog purposes, and a bunch more dedicated to Internet and word-processing, with set times and sign-up sheets.

I want a chart of the Dewey Decimal System on the wall so I can browse nonfiction without having to use the catalog. And signs at the end of rows, telling me what's in that row.

I want paperbacks and hardcovers shelved with each other so I don't have to check three places for a book that the catalog says is in.

I want self-checkout kiosks (which rock).

I want new books on string theory, old books like Gray's Anatomy, unabridged books on CD, DVDs of classics like Shakespeare and The Maltese Falcon.

I want my librarians to be happy. (I am related to librarians.)

I want a clean building, with tables for research and a few comfy chairs for time-killing. Windows, if that's possible. Clean, well-lit bathrooms. Drinking fountains.

I expect that if the catalog says a book is in, it will be on the shelf or in the reshelving area, hopefully saving me from having to bother a librarian to find it.

I expect that a librarian will be able to help me with any question I might have.

I expect that areas of the library will be labeled, and that books are shelved in a logical order.

I would say that I'm happy with most of the libraries I've used, with the exception of the $3 ILL fee. I don't think I've ever been in a library that clearly disappointed me.
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