Self-Serve Information

Self-Serve Information: Now we’re all passive aggressive. I think there are two elements at play here, for me at least.
1. RTFM. How many of us have had the RTFM experience? (Read the F* manual!) This experience encompasses incidents like asking a worker at the library to recommend a good novel and having them wave dismissively toward the fiction section (which recently happened to a friend of mine and which I have observed happening to others), or having a computer problem and being snarled at by the IT people (either you did too much trouble-shooting or not enough.) How many active Internet users have asked a question on a forum only to be directed to a generic FAQ that usually doesn’t answer the question? Asking questions is a habit that gets shut down pretty early in life– the message is sent early on that if you have an information need, you’d better take care of it yourself. “Look it up!” And how many of us have walked into a library and been pointedly ignored? When the people at the reference desk won’t make eye contact, it sends a message that you’re on your own.

2. Upselling. In my experience, sales people are aggressive, pushy, demanding, and won’t leave you alone. Once you give them an opening, they will hound you until you die. Buying a car– what you want isn’t important. They have a green car with chrome trim and 900 miles on the lot and that’s the one they want to sell you at MSRP plus mark-up, although if you had been the one to put the 900 miles on the car, it would be worth half of what they’re currently asking. And you don’t even like the chrome, which costs extra.

You tell the realtor that your price range is 150K and you want an older home and she insists on showing you brand-new 200K Stylecrap houses with rooms the size of closets or worse, trying to convince you to custom-build. (No, we didn’t buy the green Saturn Vue, and yes, we finally found a realtor who got us into our 40-year-old dream house.) Even when you’re getting your habitual soy latte, the cashier has been ordered to try to upsell you on a baked good. It doesn’t matter what you want- it matters what they want to sell you.

It’s not a partnership where you find a mutually agreeable solution to your problem– rather it’s like being chained to a needy toddler who’s not even yours and who wants all your cookies. I would love to have interactions with salespeople where they’re not intent on upselling and getting me into something I don’t want. Although I am an introvert and I do like the choice not to interact with someone when I am feeling overwhelmed, I do find myself seeking out people when I am running my errands. I don’t use self-checkout unless it’s the only option. Sometimes, I even ask for advice (though this is difficult because I hate being upsold to and I can see it coming a mile away.) So if we have become a nation of passive-aggressive DIYers, it’s because we did this to ourselves.

3. I don’t know. Occasionally, despite my internalization of RTFM and my dislike of upselling and/or being urged to buy something that’s not what I want, I do find myself asking people for information. “Do you have a list of sewing machines compatible with this bobbin type?” (No.) “Where can I find a tool for removing a stripped screw?” (I don’t know. Do they even make those?) We get exactly the kind of information that minimum wage pays for.

Sometimes it seems like everything in our culture steers us toward DIY information.

Speaking of doing this to ourselves: Forbes asks if the library of the future has books. (Typical of Forbes, the writer makes assertions that make me wonder if he has ever been in a library, let alone understand how a library works: “While most of the 100,000+ libraries in the U.S. will likely continue to function as they always have, moving books around shelves and holding areas, to and from patrons — at least for the foreseeable future — some libraries around the world are changing and this could be the start of a trend.”) I’m not sure how the general public has gotten the idea that all that happens in libraries is books being moved around, but each time that assertion is repeated, it strengthens a misunderstanding of what libraries do. I suspect that the libraries of the future will indeed have paper books. They might not be the institutions currently considered libraries, but I would be surprised if book trading and book lending went away, not just because of significant and expensive problems with electronic book contracts. I’m fully aware of my tenuous “ownership” of my significant e-book library. I’m aware that these books can be removed from my device’s library and that all I can really consider them is permanently lent. I mitigate it by using the ebook for back-up or travel copies of favorite books, for free e-books, and for books purchased through deals like Humble Bundle, which I also receive in other formats.

To me, one strength of e-books for libraries is the ability to make available obscure and esoteric works that haven’t really earned a place a public library shelf. Electronic storage is cheap and plentiful. Unfortunately, that’s not the way I see e-books being handled. A reader who does like those obscure and esoteric books is better off scouring booksellers for the few paper copies and then hoarding them.

Meanwhile, a friend posted a link to this article for me: The Independent: How Spain Fell in Love with Books Again. The article focuses on a library that was closed two years ago, but reopened recently by volunteers and restocked by donations. I think this story is going to happen more and more often and that these kinds of citizen-organized libraries will be all over the States, especially if libraries keep making assumptions about what people want.

No libraries? Let them buy books!

Libraries ‘have had their day’, says Horrible Histories author | Books | guardian.co.uk.

Most writers love libraries. (Neil Gaiman, Phillip Pullman) Most writers love librarians even more. You only have to go to one ALA conference to feel the love swirling all around you. Not Terry Deary, though. It seems he believes the 500,000 UK readers who checked out his books from libraries last year would otherwise have bought them, meaning he believes libraries have taken 180,000 pounds out of his pocket. He claims, “The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?” He believes libraries are responsible for book shops closing down, apparently because everyone who checks out a book from the library is hoarding pockets full of money that they would otherwise be using to buy books. (Perhaps then, librarians should stop stealing from him by buying his books for their collections.)

And, because he has absolutely no idea what is going on in compulsory schooling nowadays, he apparently has the charming idea that compulsory schooling gives the impoverished access to books. (“Oh, they can’t afford to buy books? Let them go to a local school and borrow them.”– my paraphrase) Once you’ve graduated or been shuffled along, no more books for you!

Deary’s interesting take on libraries came to my attention within minutes of my reading this blog post: Final Post. Gail Briggs is also a writer. She also lives in the UK. She has a disability and foresees a time very soon when she will have to rely on a library to fulfill the government’s requirements for her to continue her Job Seekers Allowance (which she wouldn’t need if people weren’t so close-minded about hiring workers with disabilities.) Unfortunately, those libraries will not be there for her, thanks, in part, to the advocacy of people like Terry Deary.

Oh, and lest you think libraries, librarians, and library users are the only objects of Deary’s contempt, I bring you his charming views on historians.

I would not be the reader I am now, nor the book buyer and hoarder I am now, without libraries. I belonged to any library that was foolish enough to give me a card and let me check out books. I’m currently pondering getting a card to a library 70 miles away from my home because I’ve almost used up the small and terribly underfunded library in my town. I’m not saying this to be sentimental about libraries, though I will not deny that I am sentimental about libraries. I’m saying this because access to books and time to read CREATES readers. People who are readers buy books. People who are not readers don’t buy books. But people who are readers cannot buy every book they want to read (I know, I’ve tried.)

I’m being very careful with my budget right now, which means not buying myself every book I want. It means relying on the library. I’m also looking for a job as a librarian. This means I’m facing the damage of attitudes like Deary’s from the perspective of both a voracious reader and of a librarian. I’m seeing the limited hours, libraries closed more than two days a week, a lack of jobs for trained librarians; at exactly the same time we have a great need for the services provided by libraries. Job seekers like Gail Briggs are losing their home internet (which many people still insist on seeing as a luxury) at the same time that the government is going entirely online and libraries are closing early and charging for internet access. I’m fortunate that my husband is working in defense (we can always find money for war) but I’m not going to ignore the challenges that so many others face. Challenges that can be ameliorated by access to a properly funded and staffed library.

Bookseller Gripes

By now, most everyone has seen this list of gripes that some Borders employees believe they had hidden from their customers. Accompanying the legitimate complaints against customers doing appalling things (like tearing up the store or leaving their children alone to tear up the store) are the complaints that bother me enough to write a post about it. The anonymous former employees don’t like your taste in books. They don’t like helping you find a book with very little information to go on. They don’t like that you’re confused because the store changes every week. And frankly, they would rather you shop elsewhere. They might have thought they were keeping these opinions a secret, but they weren’t. Underlying many of the comments posted to the various sites that have featured this picture is the idea that there is such a thing as being too good to work retail.

The reason I even bring this up here is because librarians have chimed in agreeing with many of the points on the list, including the frustration of finding a book with little information. In some ways, I understand the booksellers being frustrated, since they might not have been trained in reader’s advisory or reference. But librarians? Librarians who should know how to ask questions to find out what the patron is really looking for? The real problem I see is that patrons can tell if the librarian feels inconvenienced or is looking down on the patron. Patrons can tell if the librarian would really rather you go elsewhere. We can’t take patrons for granted. Patrons who feel slighted or unwelcome in the library will just go away. They might not make a grand fuss about it, they might not ever tell you why they’re not coming back; they’ll just find themselves too busy to go to the library. They’ll buy all their books, or borrow them from friends and family, or just stop reading. Do we have such a glut of patrons, of readers, that we can afford to alienate them? And why would we want anyone to leave the library feeling like an inconvenience?

Please note that I am NOT advocating allowing people to trash the library (or bookstore) or leave their children unattended. This is unacceptable behavior. What is NOT unacceptable behavior is: looking for the latest Oprah Winfrey book, reading Twilight, remembering only a few details about a book you heard about on the radio last month, or being confused because the corporate overlords dictate moving everything around every week so customers CAN’T find anything without your help. (The last one is bookstore specific– I hope libraries don’t get into that habit!) It’s a real Catch-22 to the customer, who knows he’s inconveniencing you by asking questions, but who has to ask because everything is different now.

I know how appalling some people can behave in public. I have cleaned up after my fair share of them (both as a worker AND as a fellow customer.) But we HAVE to recognize the difference between the horrendous, thoughtless behavior that is unacceptable and the normal human behavior that allows us to have a job.

Reading: The Book Thief

I am a fan of Markus Zusak. He is one of my favorite newer YA authors (along with John Green). I ate I Am the Messenger in just a few hours. The Book Thief was much more difficult to read, and shows another dimension of Zusak’s imagination.

Liesel Meminger lives with a foster family in a small town outside of Munich in the early 1940s. Her accordion-playing foster father teaches her to read, although her career as a book thief begins while she is still illiterate. Her family takes in a Jewish man, the son of a man who saved him in World War I, and Liesel befriends him. The story is narrated by Death, who gives a different perspective on life and war.

The story has the dark humor you would expect from a book narrated by Death.

The Book Thief

Reading: The Burn Journals

Since I don’t have a separate blog for my YA reading, I’m going to post those reviews here. I did not have extra time this Thanksgiving break, but I took time to finish two books that have been hanging over my head since the semester began.

The Burn Journals is Brent Runyon’s account of his recovery from a self-inflicted fire that almost killed him. It is incredibly hard to read, because it reminds me that boys can be in incredible emotional pain, yet not know how to reach out… or even want to reach out for help. After Brent survives the fire, he realizes that he does want to live, and he can’t even remember why he set himself on fire in the first place.

My life revolves around boys. I have two of my own, I have a brother who is just 14 months younger than me, we were raised by a single father. I am a Cub Scout assistant den leader and intend to go on to be involved in Boy Scouts next year. My interests as a librarian are middle schoolers… kids the age Brent was when he hurt himself… and reluctant readers. With all the interest and exposure, it’s still clear from this book that I just can’t know what’s going on in their heads, their hearts, and their souls.

The Burn Journals

LISRadio: Wayne Wiegand

This week’s LISRadio showcase show is library historian Professor Wayne Wiegand of Florida State University’s College of Information. Professors Seavey and Wiegand talk about reading, an element of libraries and librarianship that is sometimes ignored. (After this week, it will be available in the archive.)