Slirt is a librarian by day, car nut by night. He was kind enough to answer some questions I've always had about public libraries. I've learned a lot, and I think you will too!
1. Tell us about your background as a librarian.
I did not grow up as a big reader, nor go the public library very often as a child, only on school trips; in fact, i do not recall my parents (both college-educated) ever taking me. I fell into it as a profession; it started with a college work-study job, then 12 years as a para-professional (f/t library employee w/o the Masters degree) for a large urban library in the Pacific Northwest, then graduate school to become a Librarian, and finally to a VERY large system in the greater L.A. area for the last six years as an Adult Services Librarian. My liberal arts B.A. in American Studies was the perfect background, although it was completely unintentional.
2. How has technology-- cheap and easily accessible books via Amazon and Kindle, for example-- affected libraries?
Libraries have long been on the forefront of technical evolution: standardized MARC (MAchine Readable Code) records with punchcards & mainframes in the '60s, OPACs (Online Public Access Catalog) replacing physical card catalogs in the '70s, CD-ROMs in the '80s, and web adoption in the '90s... heck, I've had work email since 1994.
Libraries have been offering ebooks for a decade or more now, but the problems with ebooks right now is the lack of industry standards (different file types for different devices/OS, DRM, etc) and the battle between authors, publishers, and retailers. Libraries aren't really in that mix, and we'll just have to roll with the evolution as it happens. I'm sure we've lost some users to the ease & convenience of online ebooks, but since we offer them for free, including Kindle titles, I'm sure we've also gained some new users as well. And now some libraries are starting to circulate e-readers (hardware) too, so libraries are adapting as we always have (see above). My system's ebook downloads are now more numerous than our busiest location's physical circulation, so it's obviously in demand and been embraced by our users. Besides ebooks, my system also offers downloadable music, digital magazines, and even streaming movies - all for free.
3. What is the state of the Dewey Decimal System? Are there strong competitors? Is there a move by librarians to improve or replace the system?
The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system is 138 years old and still in very wide use by English-language libraries the world over for cataloging non-fiction works (fiction is most often just alphabetical by author name). It is limited by its 000-999 number range, and also somewhat by Mr. Dewey's 19th-Century worldview, but has been updated many times (current edition is 23rd). The Library of Congress developed its own classification system (LC), from what I know mostly to address DDC's shortcomings, and LC has been adopted by most academic libraries in the United States, while public libraries have retained DDC. A few public libraries have toyed with the "bookstore" model and tried to arrange their collection more like a retail environment, with mixed results. I know DDC quite well and am quite comfortable using it and think it still meets the needs of most public libraries. Viva Melvil.
4. Besides loud talkers, what are some other pet peeves of librarians?
Leading with a stereotype now? Please realize there are many different types of libraries, and the 21st-Century public library is not a quiet space; academic libraries, on the other hand, still have a necessary expectation of quiet, but rarely have i ever shushed anyone, so one pet peeve of mine is library stereotypes! Another pet peeve is people "forgetting" their library card; I don't care that they "know the number," everything is much easier with a physical card since we have scanners, so keystrokes and related errors are avoidable. Also, like gas stations, banks, and now grocery stores before us, libraries are moving to a more self-service model, thanks to technology and budget cuts ("doing more with less"), but some people are very resistant and refuse to learn how to do things themselves, insisting upon help repeatedly; I don't mind that if they're elderly or impaired, but the rest of the able-bodied adults need to get with the program! End /rant.
5. Many libraries have homeless people using the restrooms. I imagine most librarians are sympathetic, but how do they combat this issue?
Public libraries have an open-to-all policy across the board, so what it comes down to is behavior, and as long as an individual is not violating any behavioral policy, then all are treated equally. It is not an issue to "combat," it is an issue that needs clear and realistic policies written and enforced. Library restrooms are for all for their intended use, not for loitering, clothes washing, or bathing (behaviors), so most libraries (should) have written policies to address this.
6. When I was a kid in the 1980s, public libraries were open ten hours a day, six days a week. A library now is lucky to be open 20 or 30 hours a week due to budget cuts. Will this be the new normal?
Funding is and always will be an issue; public libraries are mostly tax-supported (usually property tax) and budgets are often at the discretion of city managers and the like ("politics"); it varies WIDELY across the country, so richer communities and those with strong library support offer more open hours than poorer areas and those with less civic and academic engagement. It would be a pretty poor, and probably rural, area to only offer "20 or 30 hours a week," and I surmise that the average urban public library is currently open 50-70 hours per week, which may vary by location even within the same system. Funding is not always even across the board, and may come from multiple sources as well, so there are lots of variables in play. But in the past when a building was closed, there was no access to materials or information; in this digital age, many of our services are available online 24/7, so access has actually increased despite brick-and-mortar hours decreasing.
7. If a patron carelessly sticks a book in the shelves out of order, how does it get re-shelved properly? Does a librarian manually go through the entire collection regularly to pick out mis-shelved books?
It could stay mis-shelved for quite awhile, or hopefully an observant page (shelver) will notice it out of place when shelving nearby or when they are shelf-reading, a regular task to ensure shelving accuracy and designed to catch such errors. Or, when it is requested and cannot be found, it gets set to Missing status, and then a Missing Report is run periodically and the items searched for. Best case scenario is a library that has its collection RFID tagged and then the shelf is just scanned and the scanner will find the misplaced items: technology to the rescue yet again!
8. How can we, as the public, best support our local libraries?
Use them! And let your local elected officials, who control the pur$e strings, know that libraries are important to families, individuals, and the community. And then VOTE for funding when on the ballot. And libraries love volunteers, too.
9. Why do you love books?
I'm a TV guy, actually. Sure i read and love a good book, but I didn't become a librarian because I "love books." I love information, regardless of the format. I like that libraries provide free access to media that I do not want or need to own (fiction, DVDs) and/or cannot afford (e.g. coffee table books, LOTS of music CDs). I like the library as a "third place," away from home or work (for non-library employees), which are social, community meeting centers with lots and lots of free programming events (workshops, authors, presentations, arts & crafts, etc.); a public library is an invaluable resource for any family with young kids who devour books & DVDs, not to mention storytimes which are a HUGE draw for the preschool crowd.
10. You are a car guy. Tell us about your cars.
Grew up driving mom's 1969 Rambler American (2-door post; started "borrowing" it & cruising the neighborhood at 14) and dad's 1970 Ford Galaxie 500 Country Sedan (wagon sans wood) with a 390ci V8; also briefly had a sister's 1978 Toyota Corona, on which I learned to drive a manual.
Cars I've bought:
1975 Honda Civic sedan (no hatch, no CVCC), 1985-87
1981 Mazda GLC Sport (threw a rod), 1987-1990
1984 Honda Elite 125 scooter, 1993-96
1988 VW Fox wagon (rear-ended & totaled by hotel van; I was not present), 4-months 1995
1985 VW GTI (bought @ 197K miles, drove til 265K, then gifted a friend), 1995-2003
1997 Audi A4 1.8t (great car!), 2003-12
1985 VW Cabriolet (my L.A. sightseeing car, wasn't gonna live here w/o a 'vert), 2009-present
2007 BMW Z4 Coupe 3.0si, 2012-present
ALL MANUALS (except the scooter).
11. Why do you love cars?
As a small child in the early '70s my earliest car memories are liking the Jaguar E-Type, MGB-GT, Opel GT and Ford Capri. So I'd say I like cars for their aesthetics, exterior design, first and foremost. While my dad was not a "gearhead" per se, he liked cars and did note yearly model changes which we discussed, and he had a friend who bought a very early 240Z, which I thought supercool. I also have 4 older siblings, and I remember going with my dad and oldest sister when buying a '70 Beetle for her to go to college; my brother had a couple Toyotas, including a sexy brown '75 Celica, a Fiat 124 Spider, and a '68 VW Type 3 Squareback (he's now got a Tesla Model S); another sister had a first-year ('75) VW Rabbit and later a '63 Beetle, and the third sister had an '87 VW Fox wagon, so we've all had VWs at some point. Getting my license at 16 (I went ON my birthday), driving meant FREEDOM, of course; and while not exactly an adrenaline junkie, I do like speed, and enjoy spirited driving. Now I appreciate cars not only for their exteriors, but overall design and engineering, and performance (to a lesser degree); I am fascinated with the auto industry and all its complexities. I also love survivors; I don't really care what it is as long as it's old and original, although I must qualify that and say my interests are really '60s cars and newer; before that it's more academic and not so emotional for me. And the collector car world is also fascinating; if I ever won the Powerball or had a LOT of money, I'd have a serious car problem/collection.
Thanks again, Slirt!