Review: Librarian Tales

Librarian Tales, William Ottens. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2020.

Summary: An entertaining account of the life of librarians, the different roles they fill and the usual and unusual problems they face.

William Ottens has worked in just about every job in a library from aide to director of a small library (which by definition involved all of these roles at some point or another). He has also hosted a blog on Tumblr called Librarian Problems since 2012, the source and inspiration for this book.

Ottens begins the book describing his own path to becoming a librarian. It started with a high school book club (run by the librarian) and a fictional library caretaker, Forney Hull. He describes his experience of library school including his realization that everything important, he’d learned in a high school job making pizzas and serving ice cream at a gas station (although he also describes some great skills in strategic planning based on his library school training). He tells us about landing his first job as a reference assistant at the Lawrence Public Library in Kansas and the call from Oskaloosa that led to being hired as the 27 year-old director of a small town library.

He then walks through the basic departments of the library and the unique challenges of each. In Circulation it is fines and the strange things that often get returned with books. Reference librarians deal with patrons’ questions including a little girl checking out a book on farts asking if the librarian farted! The big affliction for part of every year is tax forms and information. Youth services has to think about reading hours, summer reading programs, and sustaining teen interest, including the story of a highly successful Halloween party. Tech support helps computer novices and all those trying to download books to devices, an ever-changing field, and vital for people with limited access to these resources. Collection services includes stories of books requested, and books pulled from the collection and some of the reasons for that as well as the difference a label can make.

The third part of the book describes his experience as a library director, how he began his time in this role learning from all the people he worked with, wearing many of their hats as the occasion required, leading strategic planning and budgeting processes and working with city leaders who held the purse strings, and finally dealing with building issues, including the possibility of the two parts of the building separating from one another.

The final part is “Librarian Rants and Raves.” Rant number one is that librarians don’t sit around and read all day. There are a number of technical tasks that occupy their days and reading is a private time enjoyment. A chapter is devoted on what not to say to a librarian and other pet peeves including “I’m a tax paying citizen” (so is the librarian). Librarians also don’t like patrons who snap their fingers from across the room to get their attention. At the same time, Ottens loves his work–the joy of research requests, of weeding out books, of helping transform lives and creating spaces to be. He gives the last word to three other librarians who he interviews.

I thought this book an engaging read that gave a good behind-the-scenes glimpse at the life of librarians, the joy they take in their profession and their high sense of calling. Before opining on your local library (at least critically) this might be a good book to read. It makes me all the more eager to say a big “Thank you” to the next librarian I engage with. If I were younger, it might have even inspired me to become a librarian.

3 thoughts on “Review: Librarian Tales

  1. Bob, thank you for this review and your wonderful closing statements about public libraries and librarians. Many great youthful experiences and memories at public libraries, military post libraries, and later at college libraries, inspired me to become an academic librarian.

    P.s., I have Kansas connections, but when I read the mention of “Oskaloosa”, my attention was even further piqued – because of my familiarity with Oskaloosa Iowa. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: March 2023 | Bob on Books

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