Librarian Confidential: Stephanie Anderson
In Conversation with the Head of Readers' Advisory at Darien Library
Stephanie Anderson is the Assistant Director for Public Services at the Darien Library. A former bookseller at WORD Brooklyn, Anderson is a beloved literary citizen, a voracious reader with strong opinions on all things books. In the first of an ongoing series in conversation with librarians from across the country, we asked Anderson about her librarian origin story, among other things…
What’s your earliest library memory?
Oh gosh, I have a lot of library memories! The earliest is probably when I was allowed to go into the chapter book section at my elementary school library. The librarian, an amazing woman named Ms. Braucher-Watton, let me browse there a year early. It was darker on that side of the library, at least to a first-grader, and I remember being a little scared of it. I had the same feeling the first time I wandered over to the grownup side of the public library a few years later. First, fear that I would get in trouble, followed by awe that I could read any of those books any time I wanted. I was a really shy kid and thought it must surely be a trick—it took me months to trust that I could really wander around and pick up books at will. Sometimes I try to stand in the library and conjure that feeling back up again.
When did you decide to become a librarian? What was the process?
I decided to become a librarian at least three times. First, in high school. My guidance counselor talked me out of it. Again in college; I did an internship at my college library and the local public library and spent a summer shifting an entire wing of a library, but was extremely confused about my life and started working in bookstores by default, having few marketable skills. Then, again about four years ago. I was managing an indie bookstore (WORD) and a library asked me to do a consulting project for them; six months later they offered me a job. A year after that, I finally started my MLIS, ten years after I first considered it. Needless to say, this is not the normal process, but I’ve come to find out that there are very few normal paths to librarianship.
Who’s your favorite fictional librarian?
Mmmmm, this is a hard one! Barbara Gordon (not just Batgirl, but also a female public library administrator!), followed by Rupert Giles, followed by Mary from It’s A Wonderful Life. I love the idea that if you can’t marry Jimmy Stewart, you might as well give up on life and become a librarian.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a librarian?
Either still managing the bookstore, or if I’d ever managed to take the LSATs, practicing law.
What’s your favorite section in the library (aside from your own)?
Well, one of the best things about my current position is that the whole library is my section! Which is lucky because I really do love every part of the library. They are all so different that they might as well be separate buildings some times, and every part is important for different reasons. For myself, sometimes I like to hide on the top floor where we have some comfortable chairs. It’s a good place to get work done. I also love our garden. I love the storytime room, especially during Baby Laptime, and I love our New Fiction display, and I love the weird notes the teens write on the whiteboard in the teen lounge, and I love the way today’s New York Times wanders on and off the Reference Desk as people borrow it for a few minutes. I am a sap.
If you had infinite space (and budget) what would you add to your library?
An infinite number of meeting rooms and study rooms and phone booths and conference rooms and auditoriums in exactly the right proportion to community needs at all times. Like the Room of Requirement, but lots of them, and mainly for people to meet with one another.
What do you love about your library?
It is a very long list (see above), topped by the people I work with.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened in your library?
Weird things happen every day. Name a type of weird thing. Let’s take “weird things to do with animals.” Today there was a rumor that there was a kitten in the parking lot, though no one could find it. Actually, there were two rumors. No kitten. Another time we had to call the cops because a sick goose was bothering people and wouldn’t leave. Probably the best weird animal story I have is the Sunday afternoon a dog ran into the library. We have automatic doors on the entrance from the parking lot, and he timed it just right, I guess. So this big shaggy dog came galloping in, made a beeline for the Children’s Library, and ran in circles until we snagged him by the collar. He was lost! (His person came and got him about half an hour later. Turns out he’d gotten almost a mile from home, poor old guy.) This is not even counting the day that we brought a baby kangaroo for a senior program, which we did on purpose, so it’s not really weird.
I have a lot of excellent weird patron stories, as all librarians do, but am too fond of my profession to commit them to print. I am happy to share them off the record after a glass or three of wine.
Who’s your favorite regular, and why?
Oh boy. I could not possibly pick! They are pretty much all great for different reasons. I like the group that comes to my Business Book Group—they are an eclectic bunch and our meetings are delightful. There is a guy who reminds me of my late grandfather, who keeps borrowing Walden over and over, who I adore. I love to see all of our Toddler Tales regulars even when they get too big and go to preschool and abandon us, and I love their patient caregivers and parents. Basically everyone on the Senior Advisory Board. There are a few dozen adult readers who I am always jazzed to see because we have similar taste in books. Last week one of our regulars came over and told me she’d been waiting for me to come on desk for ten minutes because she wanted so badly to talk to me about A Little Life. Obviously, she’s great. I like the driver from the local assisted living place who comes by a few times a week to pick up holds for his residents. Kids who wear their Halloween costumes year-round to the library. The guy who needs stuff notarized all the time and always calls me Madam. There’s a young brother and sister who usually come in on Thursday when I’m on the Welcome Desk and give me the biggest hugs and melt my heart and then the brother headbutts me repeatedly until I fall over. I could truly do this for several thousand words. I consider myself a fairly cynical person but even so, I see small miracles at work pretty much every day, and they are all related to people being at their best.
What are people without current library cards missing out on?
EVERYTHING. Hahahahaha, I AM NOT KIDDING. It depends on what you’re into! I think the biggest group of Americans missing out is small business owners and entrepreneurs. Libraries have tons of great resources for you! In general, public library databases are so underused. Your library undoubtedly subscribes to a number of databases that have way better information than Google, many of which you can probably access from home. Don’t get me wrong—we Google all day at the library, as needed—but for health info, investment info, newspaper articles, genealogy, and way more, odds are very good your library can help you access the hidden web, and much better information than you can get from the first page of Google. Your library probably has a free language-learning database that is better than those CDs. And we are all paying a shitload of money to keep those databases running; as print non-fiction becomes less popular, we want to maintain access to high-quality information for our patrons, so ask a reference question when you get stuck, for heaven’s sake. Many libraries will answer them via online chat or text! We are firmly by your side, here in the 21st century, we are longing to hear your complicated questions, and we are very good at keeping secrets.
Video games is the one I see mentioned most frequently in Reddit threads about libraries. People don’t know we have those. Many librarians are gaming advocates. Another thing people don’t realize is that libraries absolutely love patron book and movie requests. If they don’t have the title you want, and it’s new or newish, they will probably buy it for you if you live in the service area and fill out a purchase request form. Don’t you dare take advantage of that and request that every library within 300 miles of you stock your book. Programs, programs, programs, so many programs. Author visits and classes and lectures and book groups coming out of our ears, for all ages.
Oh gosh, I’m babbling again, but it’s only because people who don’t have library cards are living in the shadows and I want to bring them out. Resume review services—libraries have lots of resources for job hunters. If you have a family member who needs basic tech help, hook them up with their local library. We are still showing people how to use a mouse, what an Internet browser is, how to forward chain emails to hapless family members (sorry, but someone has to!), how to copy and paste, all that good stuff that anybody reading this article has forgotten you have to be taught at some point. It’s not intuitive and we don’t mind repeating ourselves.
Library ebooks still have miles to go before they sleep, but have gotten much better, and digital collections now often include more savvy streaming offerings. Libraries in different communities circulate cake pans, fishing poles, exercise kits, projectors, all sorts of crazy shit. We just started circulating Rokus and Wifi hotspots, which are popular. Many libraries offer free notary services. Even more libraries offer free or reduced-admission musuem passes.
This is why I am mostly amused at this point by those monthly articles about how dumb libraries are. You can rest assured that if you are in the habit of telling librarians that libraries are dying and nobody uses them anymore, every librarian you talk to is well-aware that you have not actually visited a library in several decades. We are only smiling politely and nodding because we feel sorry for you.