Friday, February 22, 2013

A Portrait of a Small Town Library

Its a cold, deary day here in east Tennessee--a day that begs to be spent in a nest of pillows and blankets with a copy of Jane Eyre and a mug of tea. My mom and grandparents and fantastic four-year-old sister are driving out to visit me tomorrow (and see the college's production of Cosi Fan Tutte!) and while I'm not homesick per se, I've had home on my mind a good bit the past few days. As much as my place of residence matters, home is not really home till I've found a library.

 Since my focus in librarianship is in the public arena, I've been slowly gathering ideas and shaping my view of what makes a good public library.When I think of my favorite small town library, my mind will always go to the South Cheatham Public Library (click to visit their website!) This is where I got my first experience working in a library, and while its definitely not the most conventional library out there, its got a unique character and the warmest heart you will ever find.

Located in Kingston Springs, Tennessee, the South Cheatham Library (along with the Red Tree Coffee shop and the local high school)  is one of the pillars of  the South Cheatham County community. Housed in a log cabin building that was built entirely by volunteers, and wedged between a Church of Christ and Methodist Church, it sits on main street, right in the heart of Kingston Springs. Walk in the back door from the parking lot and you are immediately greeted by a large artificial tree (decorated according to the season, and always adorned with white Christmas lights). The Learning Tree, as its called, has a story which Janet Walker, the library director would be glad to tell you if you ask.

The layout of the library is simple and open and can be divided in to three main sections. As you walk in the back door, the right-most third (the one with the tree) contains the Children's and Youth sections. A low table with brightly colored stools features new and seasonal picture books. There are often young families here stocking up on reading material for the week.
The middle section consists of the circulation desk and public use computers. In a rural county, where some locations have yet to be reached by quality internet service providers and income isn't that high, the public library computers become even more valuable. Working at the library, I got used to the regulars who came to use our computers on schedule. One man's public library computer can quickly become another man's office. The circulation desk is a watering-hole of sorts, where patrons and the library workers connect and catch up on town news or other topics of interest.
The third section of the library is the adult materials, from print to audio to visual. Split in half between fiction and non-fiction, both get sampled from equally. A moderate sized large-print section services the body of elderly patrons the library has (as well as those who, like my not-elderly mom, just like large print).

There are some quirky features to the South Cheatham Library that you may or may not find elsewhere. For example, over in the adult section, near the fireplace (which is not in use, as evidenced by the rattle of squirrels and birds in the flue come springtime) is a Keurig coffee maker, provided by the local community bank. Here, patrons can brew of cup of coffee and sip it while they browse or relax and read in the rocking chairs. Needless to say, there's not really a drinks policy in place, but they haven't had any problems with it yet!
 Library events include the annual Christmas tree lighting and cookie contest, Summer Reading Program with great children's edu-tainment, and the twice-annual book sales in the Spring and Fall.
The library also hosts weekly programs like Storytime with Mrs. Velvet, for preschool and kindergarten aged children, and Coffee and Chat, (sometimes called Sip and Stitch by Mrs. Pam) a group of ladies that meets weekly to drink coffee, eat sweets and work on their current handiwork projects.

Its small and sometimes noisy; its not the best place to go study, but we in the community are fond of it. So much so, that when disaster strikes and a tornado rips the roof off, we're all there the next morning to move waterlogged books.  There's something special about a small town community like that, something that draws me to small libraries. I want to be in on an operation like that someday.

Friday, February 15, 2013


My dear readers,
Sadly I have nothing profoundly thoughtful, or beautifully romantic to write about today...
(Here you say: "what is she talking about? Girl must be smelling too many books and have her head in a cloud of dust to think that highly of herself and her writing." 
To which I respond: "One can only dream!"
"Aye, that's the problem," you mutter to yourself as you take a sip of your coffee and wonder when the word "aye" slipped into your vocabulary. 
But enough with the imaginary dialogue.)

...Nothing profound or beautiful, but yet life is sometimes plain and simple and intriguing in its ordinariness.

One thing that I have recently found extremely interesting is the concept of compact shelving. I was up at Covenant College yesterday (yes, I know, enemy territory) helping a friend hang fliers for her senior film project casting call, and we hit up their library. Its a bit smaller than our library here, with not nearly as much natural lighting, which would drive me crazy if I needed to be in there a lot. The decor was mostly in greys, which I personally believe libraries should avoid, as it makes them seem colder and less welcoming. (They also didn't have glorious brown overstuffed couches and armchairs like we do.)

In other words, I didn't find it attractive aesthetically, (buts that's probably a topic I should save for another post) but there was one feature that I was fascinated by, namely, the presence of cranks on the end of the stacks which were all set into tracks in the floor, allowing for the stacks to be moved back and forth along the tracks for easy access. I'm guessing that you could probably double your storage space with compact mobile shelving.
 I don't think I had ever seen something like that before, so today, I've been researching all sorts of storage solutions for libraries. I found one document that gives all sorts of wonderful information on different types of storage for libraries, including recommended shelf heights based on your different collection groups.  Here at Bryan we have what looks like closed base cantilever shelving (of a very ordinary putty color) with top-tie struts and wood laminate decorative ends.

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Kids Stuff

One drawback to being a Liberal Arts major is the fact that at the undergraduate level, I don't have any major specific classes--those classes that actually give me a taste of what I might be able to do with my degree. I have to wait till my graduate work to actually get to the classes that specialize in my field. However, this semester has turned out to be a great one for me as far as classes that I enjoy, and actually pertain to my career field. Not only have I been happily installed as intern in the college library, but I also have been enjoying a class in Children's Literature. I would love to specialize in Children's and Youth services in a public library someday. Libraries in general are my passion, but I have a soft spot in my heart for kids and reading. I would probably attribute that to my large-homeschool-family origins as well as the fond memories I have of libraries and those favorite librarians that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

The focus of the class is mostly on teaching literature to kids--the class is made up almost entirely of Education majors--but I think that as we continue on, I will find it useful towards areas like making good choices when selecting new titles for a children's collection, being able to recommend books to families and individual kids, and leading storytime events.

This is a topic that I'll most likely return to in the upcoming weeks, as I have some thoughts that I'm still mulling over in regards to what makes "good" children's literature and other things. But meanwhile, in the area of chronicling random activities from the intern's mundane life, I've switched my shelf reading domain from the respectable 800s--where almost every book is sturdy and old and of one general size--to the Juvenile Fiction section in the curriculum lab. There, everything is of odd sizes and bright colors and never seems to stay straight--much like my four-year-old sister's wardrobe.

After trying, with much frustration, to find books for my Children's Lit homework, I deemed that the slight loss of sanity that is sure to come with the task is worth knowing that my classmates and I will be able to locate what we need when we need it. So far, the going is slow, as might be expected, but I'm just thankful that everything is neatly classified in Dewey Decimal  instead of alphabetical by author's last name. With alphabetical, there's always the sticky business of then putting titles by the same author in order (if your library procedures prescribe that) and there's nothing that screams "Nut-case" louder than a grown woman in an oversized sweater sitting cross-legged on the floor, singing the alphabet under her breath while thumbing through two foot long collection of  The Berenstain Bears. But thanks to good old Melvil Dewey, that crazy woman will not be me this semester.

Until next friday, I bid you adieu from the stacks.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Balance: A Romantic's View on Librarianship

I will be the first to admit that I am what is called "a hopeless Romantic" (a phrase which here means "one who is imbued with or dominated by idealism, a desire for adventure, chivalry etc. which may border on the fanciful, impractical or unrealistic.") Very much right-brain oriented, I have an active and vivid imagination  with a love of language and the beauty and rhythm of words that has been the basis for both my love of reading and my insatiable need to write.

It's true that a great portion of my decision to pursue librarianship is based on that highly idealized picture of librarians that comes from books and movies. The Music Man is my favorite musical not just for the amazing  songs and all-American theme, but predominately for the strong character of that Defender and Keeper of Knowledge, Marian the Librarian. I've always wanted to BE her. And look at the picture that heads my blog: a demurely dressed girl with wispy tendrils of hair framing her face sits shelving books surrounded by twining ivy. Beautiful, yes. Idealistic, yes. Unrealistic? probably so.

We live in the information age, where school librarians are called Media Specialists, we have to worry about copyright laws and every time someone finds out about my academic path they ask, "Aren't you worried having a job with the rise of the technology?"  My answer to them is "Nope, not really." Maybe that's little naive or maybe its still the romantic in me talking, but I know that there is a balance in me that fills out my desire to be a librarian.  Half of me (the right-brain half) wants this because of  the rosy image in my mind--that picture of dusty leather-bound tomes, overstuffed chairs, and the crisp, yellowed smell of the pages.

The other half (because I don't believe any person is completely driven by a single hemisphere of the brain) receives great satisfaction from order and organization. The mathematical precision of the Dewey Decimal system is a comfort to me, to know that there is a place for everything, so that I can put everything in its place. As I shelf-read I enjoy the full spectrum of the stacks, from the aesthetic and imaginative--running my fingers along the spines and reading the titles, to the simple joy of falling into the rhythm of the decimal numbers.

I think that to be solely focused with the image or with the organization would be a shame. A librarian should have that balance described in order to fully realize the scope of the job. At this point in my education, I still may be slightly skewed towards the romantic, but it is my hope that as I continue on, especially in this internship, I will strengthen the structure beneath the facade as I learn more about the organization it takes to keep a library running.

The only area in which I will probably continue to stay unrealistic in--and one that I can do nothing about--is the fact that I have perfect vision. It is the bane of my existence, as I am positively convinced that I would be a better librarian if I had glasses to look over. Oh well. Time will remedy that!