The Dos and Don’ts of Supporting Your Local Library
For God's Sake, Do Not Recatalog a Book with Sharpie
Over the past few weeks, there’s been a flurry of “takes” on what people think we should do about libraries (one wildly bad idea was that they should be replaced with bookstores so people could pay 30 bucks per hardcover instead of paying their goddamn taxes and getting use of a community space). The response to these garbage articles was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping libraries open! Hell yeah. Let me tell you, though, there’s a lot more you can do for your local branch aside from posting a well-intentioned tweet. The thing about libraries is . . . we need you to use them. All the time. Get your ass to the library. This week I’ve compiled a handy lists of dos and don’ts so you can continue to support your libraries and librarians and library staff. I’m generous that way; you’re welcome.
DO: Visit the library.
Like so much of life, the biggest part of supporting anything or anyone is just showing up. We need you to use the library! That means walking in the door, sure, but it also means availing yourself of our myriad online services. Use all those databases you’ve got access to but have never, ever touched (other than that time in undergrad you accessed JSTOR to write a paper really last minute). Use your online account. Figure out what we have to offer! But walking through the door is a big part of this, too, and I can’t stress that enough. We want you showing up. Your presence is the present.
DON’T: Reshelve books yourself.
Listen, I know you think you’re helping but this is a goddamn pain in the ass. Maybe they haven’t been checked in yet. Maybe that book was sitting out because someone was still using it. Maybe you don’t know the alphabet as well as you think you do. People who decide to reshelve are the reason we gotta do shelf-reading. Nobody likes shelf-reading (especially me, hungover).
DO: Get a library card.
Don’t lie. I know lots of you don’t have one of these. Or it’s not current. Or you moved and you’ve still got the card for your old library, but not the one for your new neighborhood. Go get a library card. Check out materials with that card. Statistics are important for libraries. Most of the time it’s how we validate our funding, especially for public libraries. The higher the number of people getting library cards—especially new community members—the better off a library is.
DON’T: Recatalog a book because you think the call number is wrong.
One time a guy did this with an InterLibrary Loan book he’d checked out. He sent an email to me about it and also one to the lending library. In that email he included a picture of the new “tag” he’d applied to the spine, in which he’d written the call number with a fine-point sharpie. Don’t fucking do this. We went to school for it; you didn’t.
DO: Attend library events.
Remember earlier, when I was talking about stats and how vital they are for funding? One of the biggest ways that libraries tally these numbers is by seeing how many people show up for community events. A lot of people seem to think that there are only events for kids happening at libraries, but that is wildly untrue. There are so many things going on, events that library staff have worked on for weeks, sometimes months, to make sure that they’re well attended. So when two people (total) attend those events, it’s a bummer. Find out what’s going on at your local library and show the hell up. Bring friends with you. Attend! We can plan and work and set up and be there, but unless people come to the events, our programming gets cancelled. And we want to keep doing these events for you!
DON’T: Eat hot wings in the study rooms and then leave your garbage behind for me to clean up.
Whoever stepped on that hot wing and ground it into the carpet and then just left it there like a murdered corpse: someday I will figure out who you are. And you will pay.
DO: Donate your time, volunteer, join Friends of the Library.
We are always looking for volunteers. To help with programming or to assist with all the minutiae that piles up while we’re busy working two-three-four jobs at a time. Every library has different volunteer needs, but one thing is for damn sure: we all need help, always. So! Join the Friends of the Library and help work a book sale. Attend programming and pass out the microwave popcorn for a kid’s movie. Wake up at five a.m. to assist with the 5K even though you’re yawning into your sleeve and thinking about curling into a ball right there on the ground and taking a nap. I guarantee that the library staff showed up even earlier than you and they will stay long after you’ve left to clean up and start planning the next event.
Volunteering your time also gives you better insight into what all exactly goes on into making a library function. You’ll have a new appreciation for the things your library does for your community—and you’ll be better equipped to help promote those things to your friends, family, loved ones, strangers on the street.
DON’T: Stick weird shit in the copy machine.
Great, guess what? It’s broken again. Just don’t do it.
DO: Talk to your Library Staff and ask about specific community needs.
The best way for the library to know what patrons need is for you to tell us. We want to hear from you, always. The library is yours! It should have the materials you want. It should offer the programming you’re interested in. It should cater to the needs of its patrons. If you’re complaining that you don’t like to use your local library because it never has anything for you, then I want to ask: did you tell them? Because though we are all-powerful superheroes, the one thing librarians aren’t is mind readers. We can’t know what to supply if you don’t show up and tell us what you’re looking for. Would you like cooking classes at the library? Do you think the poetry section should be more expansive? Are you tired of the gluey pink soap in the bathrooms? We probably can’t do anything about that last request, but the other stuff? Fuck yeah! We’re thrilled to hear that there are things we can do specifically for you. And we will strive, always, to make sure those things happen. But we can’t change anything if you don’t ask us first.
DON’T: Make “helpful” grammar edits in books.
Nobody wants you to do that, Karen. Nobody.
DO: Let your legislators know that your community library is a valuable and necessary part of your neighborhood.
Libraries rely on funding to stay afloat. We need that money for materials, to throw events, to pay our staff, to maintain those computers that everyone uses to look up porn and the meanings of words on Google. If you show up for us, we get to show up for you. Let your local legislators know that your library serves a crucial, important need. Let them know that the neighborhood would be worse off if the library weren’t around. We support you; you support us, too.
At the end of the day, we are one of the last remaining free spaces for communities. We don’t make you buy anything to hang out. We want you here with us! Show your support by showing up and giving back a little bit of yourself.
And if you want to bring me a box of donuts when you visit, that would be cool, too.