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Diary of a Librarian: Stuff I Think We Should Loan

I’m not going to bore you with another list of Rokus and cake pans. Everybody reading this already knows five librarians who are loaning hotspots. I’ve got half an hour before I jet off to celebrate my anniversary, so you’re just getting a piece of my mind today, nothing deep.

Here’s some stuff we need to loan and why.

Knitting and Crochet Supplies

Dude. Keeping knitting needles in stock is intense. Each quality set costs ten dollars and if you’re serious about cozies you’re going to need at least ten sizes. Crochet requires hooks, and honestly, who has the time or storage space for a number 1 needle set that you’ll use exactly once? On top of the cost of yarn, it ain’t worth it.

But what if we could *borrow* knitting needles and crochet hooks? What a wonderful world it would be! We could even start a yarn exchange while we’re at it and then I could crochet at work.

Medical Devices

Hear me out. Imagine that you need a CPAP machine. Imagine too that you pack this CPAP into your luggage and travel eight hours to your dear old grandma’s house to spend Thanksgiving, whereupon you discover that you have accidentally left the power cord plugged into the wall in your bedroom at home.

In a perfect world, you’d be able to borrow a CPAP power cord from the library! Same with wheelchairs, crutches, and reading glasses. For some of these potential lends, I envision a collaboration with a social services program that gets people permanent wheelchairs, eyeglasses, etc. and connects underserved patrons with affordable ownership alternatives. Obviously we wouldn’t loan anything biohazardous, but there are a lot of medically-specific and important items that don’t generally get blood or other yucky stuff on them.

Art Supplies

Good paintbrushes are mad expensive. We should just loan them. Easels, too, and maybe a really nice camera and some good lights.

Bicycles

Initially I wanted this section to be “cars,” but there’s too much going on there to be practical. However, some library somewhere should definitely lend bikes, bike helmets, bike carriers for cars, and trailers that attach to bikes and let you haul stuff around. The infrastructure for this kind of lending is already sort of in place. My own hometown of Salem accomplishes municipal bikeshare by partnering with a service called Zagster, apparently with great success. As long as libraries don’t unleash electric scooters on the land, we’d be doing a big service.

Solar Panels

Little portable ones! Ones that go on top of your car! Ones that go in your window! People are curious about solar panels but they don’t often get a chance to actually try them out themselves. Until they do, they won’t buy, but once they realize the reality of making power from sunlight for free, you won’t be able to hold them back. Libraries: saving the Earth again!

Meal Kits

Not with actual food, but with pictures of the food you need to make an awesome meal! I envision a large bag or box that is mostly empty to start except for a curated set of recipes that represent one whole, healthy meal; a laminated shopping list; and a dry erase marker. Don’t know what to cook tonight? Grab a library meal kit! Fill the bag with your ingredients at the store and off you go. Maybe we could even include some prep supplies, like good knives.

Come on. We loan $3,000 telescopes, for Pete’s sake. The patrons can handle some good knives.

Lockers

We could charge a small fee for these and use them to make some money for the library. Think $5 a day or $7 a week. Will people use them for crime? Yup. Just like they illegally pirate the CDs that we freely loan and do all manner of horrible things using our free wifi hotspots and in-house webcams. We should do it anyway. Even at my library, which is somewhat hard to reach without a car, we have enough latchkey children hanging out after school that having a place for them to dump their stuff – or stash stuff they’ll need, like an extra sweater or a change of clothes – could be really useful to them. Frankly, it could be a service to the homeless as well.

Party Kits

Who doesn’t want to throw a nice party? Nobody! Who has nice party stuff these days? Nobody! That’s expensive! That’s why libraries need to stock party packs that include washable plates, bamboo silverware, reusable bunting, etc. Zero waste partying for the win!

OK, that’s it, half an hour of alternative collection ideas. Comment to snarkily inform me that you’re already doing this at your library or that the lockers are completely impractical.


Diary of a Librarian: Please Do Not Touch The Librarian

It just happened again. A patron grabbed my arm.

Most people have a little gauge in the back of their head. It indicates whether or not it is appropriate to touch somebody else in a social situation.

touch gauge

Looks like this.

Police officer? Do not touch. Mom? Do touch. Bartender? Ask to touch. Librarian?

Experience suggests that some people think it’s totally OK to touch the librarian.

Patron touches happen way more often than I like. In fact, not a month goes by without some kind of surprise physical contact from someone I’m helping. This latest one, which happened less than an hour ago, came from a patron who referenced an autistic family member and therefore should have known not to touch strangers without asking.

I’ve experienced the following types of physical contact from patrons at various points in my career, all unsolicited:

  • Hugging
  • Arm grabbing
  • Shoulder patting
  • Hand holding
  • Hand stroking
  • A finger running up the back from lumbar to shoulders
  • Knee to knee contact under a table
  • Foot to foot contact under a table

Some of those were legit creepy sexual harassment attempts. But Anna, I hear you chirp. Hugs aren’t so bad. What could be so bad about an innocent little hug? Well it so happens that I’ve thought a great deal about this. Allow me to expound.

The Slippery Slope

If a patron is allowed to grab my arm without asking, I can at least expect more grabbing. I may also expect other types of escalation. The patron who stroked my hand in a disturbingly sexual way that was definitely and absolutely a bad touch? She’d started by brushing my arm to get my attention. While not all unwelcome patron contact comes with a preamble, I have noticed that a pushy patron will sometimes test the waters with casual contact before grasping, petting, and otherwise getting all up in my business. This isn’t uniformly the case. The particularly upsetting back-stroking incident, for example, happened as the patron in question basically ran by. Nevertheless, initial exploratory contact happens often enough that I now try to head it off at the pass with a polite but direct “Please don’t touch me.”

Respect The Librarian

Touching without asking indicates an inherent assumption of entitlement to the librarian. In this case, it’s not just that the patron considers themselves to have special social privileges that you do not have – because they do, that’s a given – but that you’re below the social level where they need to think of you as a human with preferences and concerns. It is a sad fact that some people afford more respect to expensive vases than they do to people who work service jobs. Unsolicited touching also implies that the patron assumes that there’s nothing you can do to protest their behavior if you happen to dislike it, so that possibility isn’t worth wondering about. They proceed to treat you like a thing, and a cheap thing at that, through the vehicle of unasked-for physical contact.

Inconsistency Is Doom

A patron came to the reference floor a couple weeks ago and ended up crying because of some unrelated life stresses. She then asked if she could hug me. I let this happen partially because she had asked nicely before just grabbing, but mainly because I was afraid of what would happen to her emotionally if I refused. It wasn’t a great experience, but I endured and nobody dissolved into actual screaming. Greater good served. However, what if that patron had been male? Call me sexist, but I wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable hugging a man I didn’t know. That’s a policy based on my personal feelings! If I refused to hug a guy who knew that I’d agreed to hug a woman, I’d be revealing a prejudiced attitude on my part that could impact whether or not the patron continues to use the library. It’s also a good passive-aggressive way for a creepy guy to do his creepy thing and try to socially coerce a librarian into an uncomfortable situation.

I Just Don’t Like It

I don’t have autism and I wasn’t abused. I’m not trying to perform some hypermasculine butchness routine and I’m not too cool for normal people. I just like my personal space. I’m sure I’m not alone. You may feel differently. Feel free to share your strategies, philosophies, and thought on how to manage the touchy patron situation. However, no matter how you cut it, physical contact with patrons is not part of a public librarian’s responsibilities. Don’t let a patron edit your job description on the fly.


Diary of a Librarian: The Charging Cord Blues

I’ve had a lot of burners on the stove lately. In addition to the biggies, which I won’t discuss because they will bore you, I must keep my Libby-based digital audiobook stash fresh. This means zooming through The Cuckoo’s Calling at 2.5x normal speed so I can read whatever’s just downloaded from my holds list.

The things that stress out librarians.

Also stressing me out is the cost of replacing our charging cords. At my library, we hand out charging cords in exchange for a collateral ID card. Usually, the people who need charging cords are kids, and usually, they don’t have any ID on them.

What am I going to say? No, foolish child! Go file for a state ID and then come see me about this $30 cord after a seven-to-ten day wait for shipping! Ugh. Obviously I let the kids take the cord, and they’re generally pretty honest. I have them write down their name and phone number just in case they forget to bring the cord back, but that would be tough these days. I’ve figured out a way to wire a laminated tag to the plug housing in such a way that it can’t be gotten off without breaking one of the wires.

From now on, any disappearances are definitely theft. Conceptually, disappearances might have been happening before now, but one cord looks very much like another and we’d incorporate enough found cords into our little collection that our supply remained fairly stable. Not that it’s not theft to swap out your busted cord for our nice one. I wouldn’t be 100% surprised if this is why our cords have been aging so fast, because they have been aging fast. One day, the cord is brand-new; the next, it will not charge for god or country.

On the other hand, we also get cord donations occasionally. I’m fairly sure that these are well-meaning, but it results in a couple negative eventualities:

  • The used cords become busted cords more quickly anyway, and since we don’t know the cord’s age we can’t really guess when that will happen
  • We end up with irregular and off-brand cords that don’t work as well as quality ones
  • As bad as lookism is, it’s nice to have a consistent brand, and a random hot green cord disrupts our branding game
  • We always have a ton of Android cords and never have enough iPhone cords.

We’ve flirted with the idea of getting dedicated charging stations for the library before, and although they are fairly expensive, I think they’d solve some of the squirrelly minor issues with lending charging cords. Now that we’ve got to revamp our entire reference floor anyway, it seems like it might finally happen. That said, I sincerely hope that we get one for each floor so that people don’t have to glom onto just one unit.

We’re going to have to be conscious of replaceability if we go with a standalone charging unit a la conference or mall charging kiosk. The other reason that our cords might be aging out so fast might have to do with how patrons are using them. As usual, the root problem is data collection. We don’t really know what the patrons are doing to our equipment, though the imagination paints some interesting pictures, and if we don’t know that, we don’t know nothin’.

On the other hand, we could just gin up some shoeboxes with power strips inside. Added bonus: we could decorate those any way we wanted. Housing options are essentially unlimited. We could use a bread box, a basket – god, one trip to A.C. Moore multiplies the possibilities. There are myriad ways to hide a bus. Maybe we could borrow a few extra dollars from the replace-iPhone-cords discretionary fund for security measures. I figure a few wall anchors, some tastefully disguised chicken wire, and a padlock ought to do the trick.


Hail Seitan

I’m turning into a part-time cooking blog here. Oh well. In addition to crochet and punk rock, cooking is a critical part of my domestic goddess trifecta. I cook a lot and I have opinions aplenty about food. Today you get to hear about why I love seitan.

This delicious and versatile meat substitute is nowhere near as popular as it ought to be. I blame the recent gluten scare. Seitan is pure gluten, nothing but. Point of interest: gluten is the protein part of wheat. People with Celiac Disease can’t eat gluten, but most other people should be fine with it. About 1 out of 100 people have Celiac, only .4% have a wheat allergy, and a somewhat larger group (but still small – maybe 6% of the American population) is gluten-sensitive. So about 8% of the public shouldn’t eat wheat and wheat by-products.

Yet in 2013, 30% of surveyed adults reported interest in a gluten-free diet. Personal experience and this celiac expert suggest that people are self-diagnosing gluten intolerance inaccurately. This is sad! It means that people are unnecessarily opting out of seitan!

Screw bread. Bread can go to hell. You want on the seitan train, baby.

it’s no secret that I love Beyond Meat. But it’s also a treat: expensive, greasy comfort food to the max. You do need to eat leaner plant protein, and seitan fits that bill. It’s also much cheaper – you can buy a 22-oz bag of powdered gluten for six bucks or make it yourself from whole wheat flour. The yield from two cups of powdered gluten is staggering. I just made a batch that’s enough for about four days of lunches and dinners for two people – and one of those is my wife, who always takes a second piece. In the age of the BK Impossible Whopper, it astounds me that seitan isn’t emerging as a meat alternative.

Not chicken!

Seitan rivals chicken for protein content. This is why it was invented. Buddhist monks were the first to develop the technique of soaking and washing wheat flour until the gluey remains could be cooked in broth. (Remember, most of wheat is starch, AKA sugar. It dissolves!)

Bob’s Red Mill makes bags of gluten these days, which is convenient for adding spices. With the proper seasoning, you can make seitan taste like almost anything. The broth you boil it in matters too. As with most other things, you can go minimal and just boil it with soy sauce and molasses and it’ll be perfectly edible. But why not go overboard?

Personally, I like to make seitan nuggets for my buddies. My technique is a little loosely-goosey but I’ve never had a complaint.

This is from Wikimedia. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a crap photog.

I mix about two cups of gluten with some garlic powder, some onion powder, salt, pepper, and sometimes paprika. I find that paprika can give seitan a hammy taste. In a separate bowl, I mix water, soy or Worcester sauce, and just a tiny bit of liquid smoke. I add this mix to the seitan until it’s a gluey ball that won’t absorb any more. Then, I fill a pot with the remains of the liquid, more water (or stock, that’s even better,) sauce, and molasses.

Then I pull the gluteny ball into five or six pieces and boil them in the pot for about an hour. They’ll blow up, so make sure you have room for them to grow if you try this! When they’re done, I drain (maybe keeping the remaining broth for the next batch) and cut the seitan up into nugget-sized pieces. Then I dredge them in cayenne mayo, give them a dunk in a bowl of bread crumbs that I’ve fixed with nutritional yeast, and fry them in oil. If you have an air fryer, consider using it in this case. Recently I’ve been experimenting with baking them instead because I always seem to set off the smoke alarm and/or burn myself when I work with oil.

There you go: the ultimate party food.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t leave you with some other seitan recipes. I don’t usually try to recreate meat when I cook from scratch, but I do respect the versatility of bacon and the universality of chicken, even when they’re both made from wheat, so these are all direct subs for various animal products.

So go make some wheat meat, my dudes. Hail seitan!


Diary of a Librarian: Continuing Ed

So I just sent a spec in to a librarian magazine in the hopes that I might become a regular review columnist for them. Yay! I’m incredibly happy to have gotten the opportunity, and even if they decide to go with someone else, it was nice to be asked. It was also nice to know that I haven’t been reading professional literature for all this time to no purpose.

We’ve got a tricky job as librarians. We need to be steady ships on rough seas, people who know stuff in a world where stuff is always changing. Our job has recently become far more challenging because of this, but I suspect that’s just a matter of degree. Public libraries really became a thing in the teeth of the Industrial Revolution, when a new invention was popping up to supplant a human worker every other year. Melvil Dewey, an utter bastard who you can read about in my Book Riot piece, noticed that people were unhappy with that and invented the library to pacify them with Christian values. No joke, dude was a tool. Dewey’s attempt to reify class structure through Bible stories lasted about as long as a snowball in Tahiti, but it still indicates a basic awareness that the needs of the public were changing and growing. Librarians after him did somewhat of a better job interpreting this omen. Hence, literacy programs and children’s story times.

The wheel of so-called progress has only revolved faster since then. I left library school ten years ago and I’m amazed at how out-of-date my education is already. For example, patrons are now interested in searching Instagram. That is something I most definitely did not learn about in school. When I graduated, we all thought that we were going to be uploaded into Second Life any day.

My point is this: it is incumbent upon us librarians to keep educating ourselves. If we fall behind, our patrons lose a critical resource. Whether about searching social media or pronoun use, we absolutely have to crack those ALA editions texts. We have to collection-develop them and assign ourselves reading.

And, when possible, we really ought to take classes. It almost doesn’t matter in what, although in my perfect world, all librarians could get complementary continuing-ed badges to that no library is without someone who’s familiar with the most common topics. I’ve found MOOCs to be difficult to follow through upon, but that’s me. Maybe if I were doing it in a group – and if it were my job – I’d be better able to stick to it. Meanwhile, a better strategy for me has been traditional school. I’m currently taking tech classes at a community college, ideally for an IT certificate but absolutely to improve my ability to work with computers, since that’s the role I seem to be falling into.

The idea that all librarians can just pick up and take a class is, of course, unfair. My library has a fund that’s paying for my classes, and Lord knows what’s going to happen to these lofty ideals when I pop out a kid. Even one class is a big ask. But burning through a Libraries Unlimited text twice a year? Reading American Libraries at the desk? Taking a MOOC as a group? Maybe doable.

So in summary, I have run out of things to say. I now have to go do my CPS 130 homework. It is due on Monday and at this rate I’ll still be hashing out the differences between a serial and a parallel port by then.


Thus Did I Make Beyond Meatballs

I’m an avid environmentalist. As such, I believe that the most meaningful action against climate change must come from large-scale governmental and corporate action with buy-in from a majority of the population. That’s why I’m so psyched about the appearance of good-tasting beef substitutes – that, and I frickin’ love burgers. I don’t eat beef at all because of its environmental impact, and I miss it, so obviously I’m a big Beyond and Impossible fan.

Since I am also Italian, the existence of a ground beef substitute begs one question: does this mean I can make meatballs again? The answer, my friends, is a resounding YES. It’s worthwhile to mention that Subway has already figured this out, but I didn’t know that when I awoke in the dead of the night with this brilliant idea. Beyond Burger also has its own recipe. Mine is based on the one that multiple generations of my family have made with dead cows. It’s also worth noting that part of my fancy schmancy DIY jerry-rigged Mad MAX librarian IRA includes something like four shares of Beyond Burger. Pretty sure I’m eating all the profits, but if that matters to you, there you go.

Ingredients

1.5 lbs Beyond Meat. I had to get three packs of burger patties, which was a pain, but hopefully Market Basket will start selling by the pound sometime soon.

2 eggs

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup bread crumbs

3 Tbs dried parsley

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 tsp garlic powder

Process

1. Defrost the Beyond Meat patties. (Or, if you’re a lucky tomato, your packet of ground Beyond Beef.) You will need the beefy stuff to be squishy. You can accomplish this with the microwave or by leaving them overnight in the fridge.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Mix the eggs and the water.

4. Mix the crumbs and the spices.

5. Mix the dry ingredients into the eggy water.

6. Using your hands, combine the defrosted Beyond Meat and the crumby eggy mix.

7. Shape the resulting wet doughy stuff into balls about 1.5 inches in diameter and arrange them on a cookie sheet.

8. Bake for 40 minutes.

Eat your heart out, recipe blogs!

In all seriousness, I’m pleased as punch about the success of this little innovation. I don’t have a picture because I’m in a cafe right now and the Beyond Meatballs are not with me. Anyway, I’m a crap photographer and have no designs upon the foodie blogosphere. I’m just smug. Try it and you’ll see why.

There are a lot of other recipes out there that use this stuff. Maybe I’ll try them. It’s Sunday, so I’m a cook today, not a librarian.


Diary of a Librarian: On Printers and Signage

About 90% of my job is walking people through the printer instructions. We do have signage up and yes, people do read it. Or, at least, they claim that they do. In reality, many of them either miss the existence of the instructions or barely glance over Step One and then proceed to get themselves kerfuffled. At this point, I swoop in.

This situation with our printer illustrates the weaknesses of signage. There are a few major reasons that patrons don’t pay attention to our lovely written instructions, and they are as follows:

  • The patron can’t read
  • The patron can’t read English
  • The patron is very tired
  • The patron is young
  • The patron is in a rush
  • The patron has an intellectual disability
  • The patron does not have reading glasses with them
  • The patron is taking a medication that inhibits their cognitive or visual abilities
  • The patron is sick
  • The patron has a mental health problem
  • The patron is in the early stages of dementia
  • The patron is used to using a different kind of printing system
  • The patron is lazy
  • The patron is high

It’s important to note that patrons are rarely at fault. Most of the time, when patrons can’t understand the instructions, there’s either a language barrier or an intellectual problem like ADHD. Not that I’m qualified to diagnose, but there are a few clear ringers among my patronage.

Don’t misinterpret me here: signage is still extremely useful when it comes to our printer. During the start of my time at this library, patrons routinely tried to print $25 jobs at a go. Since our bill acceptor can only handle $5 at a time, this meant that the enormous $25 job in question was lost and there were tears and misery all around. Then we changed the default desktop background on all computers to a custom wallpaper. This was simply a banner that read The printer cannot accept jobs of more than $5. Please print in batches of 33 pages at most or see a librarian. Or something like that. We slapped our logo on there, made it a jpeg, and hid the file so that nobody could mess with it once we made it the default background. And it worked! Once in a blue moon someone won’t read the sign, but that’s usually younger patrons and people in a rush.

This particular situation is aided by the fact that most people who come into the library to print just want a couple sheets. If everyone needed to print dissertations, maybe we’d have a bigger problem. Even so, that sign was effective at reducing incidents. Posting the printer instructions next to the release station really has helped too. It just also happens to have highlighted the cases where the patron is having a bad time because their entire day is actually going badly. We have become printer paramedics: we only ever see the emergencies.

There’s an unintended consequence here that professionals need to be aware of. Signage is most useful for patrons who happen to have their shit together on the particular day that they’re using the printer, so you’re never going to interact with that set. Instead, as I mentioned before, you’ll primarily see people who are busy, frustrated, and are generally having a bad day. Over time, this will skew your perception of your patrons. I have days when I need to work hard to remember that I’m here to help people who need help. Of course I’m going to get difficult questions, cranky patrons, and people who just can’t do it. That’s why libraries still need that human touch! As a certain wise professor of mine once said, librarians, man.

It can be tiring to show people how to use the printer again and again. However, I believe that it’s made me a better librarian and a more empathic person. The only thing I’d change is my training. In all my years of grad school, where I built databases, crunched large sets, studied arcane cataloging techniques, and learned how to preserve vellum, I never received the training that would have come in most useful at this gig. Namely, social work training. How to recognize and manage a patron with such severe OCD that a crooked photocopy is cause for a meltdown. How to deal with a teen who’s mad about a printer because he’s just been passed over for adoption…again. The telltale signs of a patron who can’t read and doesn’t want you to know it – and how to help them without humiliating them.

God help me, but I think librarians need yet another degree.