Librarian’s Spotlight – Brian Herzog

This installment of Librarian’s Spotlight includes a librarian whose blog I’ve been following for quite some time—Brian Herzog! Enjoy!

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Roaring Out: Please introduce yourself and speak a bit about your background
with libraries. Also, what made you want to become a librarian?
Brian Herzog: For an introduction, my name is Brian Herzog, and besides writing the Swiss Army Librarian blog, I am the Head of Reference at the Chelmsford (MA) Public Library. Chelmsford is a medium-size library in a very supportive and progressive community, which means we get to experiment with a lot of the latest trends in the library world, and our community lets us know pretty quickly what they think.

(Blogger’s Note: This is the short version. If you’d like to read the long version of Brian’s story, click here).

RO: What is your least favorite aspect of being a librarian? What is
your favorite aspect of being a librarian?
BH: My favorite thing about being a reference librarian is that no two days at work are the same – patrons always have interesting questions, which cause me to learn about a new resource or just some aspect of the world I’d never even considered before. The variety is fun, and helping someone find what they need is rewarding. The least favorite thing about my job is having to play policeman. We have pretty lenient policies at my library, but some patrons always still push the rules as far as they can – while others ignore them outright and interfere with other patrons, staff, or library resources. I don’t enjoy confrontation, but as a department head, it’s part of the job.

4478052780_38da08febf_nRO: Librarians have been pegged with several stereotypes. Are there any
that you find particularly amusing?
BH: I suppose the classics are that we sit around and read all day, and that we know everything. I’m always quick to say, “I don’t know, but let’s find out,” to combat the latter (and to engage people in the search process). Besides, the reference librarian’s motto covers this: we don’t need to know everything, just where to find everything. As for the former, I rarely even get a chance to read during my lunch break, let alone all day. I am sensitive to the stereotype though, so if I do find myself reading reviews in a journal while sitting at the reference desk, I always have a pen in my hand – if you’re holding a pen, it looks like you’re working, not just sitting there reading a magazine. How the community sees library staff is very important to their image of their library, so even when I am working, I want to look like I’m working (while still looking approachable). Also, I do not wear my hair in a bun.

RO: What is your favorite database/online resource? Why?
BH: This really depends on the question, but the tool I use the most is the library catalog. My library is part of a consortium, and it’s a powerful tool for finding and getting items to patrons. We also have extras, like Novelist Select, and records for our ebooks and databases, which make our catalog that much more powerful. The more useful we can make library resources, and educate patrons on how to use it well, the better.

RO: What book are you currently reading, or have recently read, that
you would recommend? Conversely, what book are you currently reading,
or have recently read, that you NOT would recommend?
BH: I just finished Matt Ruff’s “Bad Monkeys,” which I enjoyed far more than I expected. By the end of the second paragraph I knew it was my kind of book, and I was right. Before that was “Swell,” by Corwin Ericson, which I also liked a lot. Both of these are off-beat novels, with plenty of absurd humor and social reflection. The only thing I’ve read recently about which I have anything negative to say is “The Last Kind Words Saloon,” by Larry McMurtry, but I don’t think my comments are fair. I’ve never read anything by him (although “Lonesome Dove” is coming up soon on my to-read list), and what I read was an advanced reader’s copy I picked up at PLA this Spring. I think it was a very early ARC, because some parts of it read more like a story outline than a novel – so much so that I’m curious to read the final published version, just to compare the two. The story itself was interesting, but the ARC just didn’t seem developed enough.

RO: What is the best (most challenging or however else you may define
“best”) reference question you have ever been asked? What is the
wackiest reference question you have ever been asked?
BH: One of favorite types of questions are when the library is able to surprise people by having exactly what they need – be it a recipe the really want, town records from the 1800s, or obscure contact information that they’d been trying to find on their own for weeks and finally gave up and called us for help. It surprises me that people are surprised we’re good at our jobs, but there you go. Another favorite type of questions are the ones I barely notice, but end up having a huge impact on someone’s life. Sometimes a patron has come in the library specifically to say thanks for helping them format their resume, or send an email, or find an HR person’s contact information, because that little act on my part – which probably took just a few minutes – led to a huge and positive change in their life. Library staff do seemingly inconsequential tasks like this every day, and it’s not very often they make a point of coming back and letting us know that it made that much difference, but it feels pretty good when they do.

As for the wackiest, usually those are based on misunderstandings. One of my favorites was when a man who moved here from India called and asked if “wifey” was at the library. I thought he was looking for his wife, but it turns out he was asking if we had wi-fi, and just pronounced it differently than I do.

2943850303_8f8262742c_nRO: In your blog, Swiss Army Librarian, you explore all things bookish,
including conferences and reference questions. Where did you get the
inspiration for your unique blog name? What prompted you to start your
blog and take your love of books beyond the library’s walls?
BH: Here’s how I explain the name on my About page – I wrote it in 2008, but it’s still accurate:

Why “Swiss Army” Librarian?
There’s actually two reasons for this:
1. During my freshman year of college (1992-3), the guys on my floor got together and placed a huge order from the Smokey Mountain Knife Works catalog. I ordered a Swiss Army Knife, and I’ve carried it with me ever since. I use it all the time, too, to open boxes of tax forms, tightening loose screws (wherever I encounter them), cut away tree limbs from paths when I’m hiking, or let friends trim their split ends during long car rides. Most people who know me have become accustomed to me always having it, and claim it is a major defining feature of my personality.

2. If I had to summarize the job responsibilities of a librarian, “swiss army knife” comes pretty close. We’ve got to be ready to handle any request that comes along, from directing someone to the restroom to researching the propulsion physics behind the space shuttle. Not to mention check books in and out, shovel the walks, design websites, change light bulbs, give presentations, tactfully interact with unruly kids (and adults), balance million dollar budgets, and ensure that everyone has unmonitored access to whatever information or resources they need. Like a Swiss Army knife, librarians need to be ready with whatever tool is needed for the job at hand.

As for what got me started, all the credit goes to my friend and fellow librarian Lichen Rancourt. She and I had been friends and colleagues for awhile before this blogging fad came along, and she was an early adopter and could see my potential for the platform. She was right, and I probably would not have gotten started without her encouragement and motivation. Since then, it’s been sort of a self-fulfilling kind of thing – we do something fun or interesting at my library that I want to share, and people read and respond to it. And then, to make sure I have new and interesting things to talk about, I stay engaged in the field to learn what’s upcoming and what’s shareable, and comment on my experience with or thoughts on it. It’s hard to believe I’ve been posting almost weekly since 2006, but there you go – maybe it’s my slightly compulsive nature that keeps me going, or a fear that if I stopped blogging, I’d likewise fall behind with new developments in the field and start slipping at my job. So in a way, the blog is my own personal professional development exercise – but I am extremely happy that other people enjoy and benefit from it too.

RO: What is something librarians do that, in your opinion, should be
considered a superpower?
BH: Huh – since I work mostly in adult reference, I think entertaining a room full of kids during storytime is a superpower. With me, I think the only thing that comes close would be the reference interview. We all learned about this in library school, but it’s really true: our job is to address the patron’s need, despite the question they’re actually asking. In a lot of situations, I know the answer, or at least the right resources, before the patron finishes their question – and in certain situations, before they even ask it – and that often mystifies patrons. Or those library staff people who can find the right book with only “it has a red cover and is about a woman” to go on. Being able to give people exactly what they want is pretty awesome. It’s often taken for granted, but it’s still an amazing ability.

RO: Going off of that question, if you could have a skill that is traditionally considered a superpower, what would it be?
BH: One of the worst feelings is when a patron – especially a kid – asks for a book, but it’s checked out. I always feel like we let them down, even though resource sharing is just part of the nature of libraries. Still, the ability to always have the item on the shelf would be nice. Or, to be a more traditional superpower, the ability to fly – that way, when a child came in looking for a summer reading book, I could just fly to whichever library had it and fly back, providing instant ILL service (or even home delivery). The patron benefits, and plus, I get to fly.

RO: Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who is considering
going into the library science field?
BH: I think might depend largely on the person, but in general I’d suggest volunteering in a library first, because our profession does have stereotypes and not all of them are accurate. Don’t become a librarian because you like to read, although that does help. And you certainly won’t get rich being a librarian, nor is it as easy as it might look (no job working with the public is as easy as it looks). You have to enjoy people, not be afraid of technology, want to be engaged with the community, and not be afraid to admit you don’t know everything. The best library staff are those that are truly motivated to help people – everything else comes with experience.

Thanks, Brian! I love that reference librarian’s motto!

If you’d like to check out Brian’s awesomely named blog, click here.

Librarian’s Spotlight – Alyssa Bussard

I am super excited to kick off the feature “Librarian’s Spotlight!” I love art (as showcased with the “Artist’s Spotlights”), but I also wanted to give exposure to books and libraries as well.  Thus the concept for this feature was born.

The inaugural interviewee is Alyssa Bussard. She is a New England librarian that has experience working with children. I love reading her bookish tweets. Enjoy the interview!

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Roaring Out: Please introduce yourself and speak a bit about your background with libraries.
Alyssa Bussard: The fun (read: real) answer (thank you Twitter profile): Let me ‘splain, no there is too much. Let me sum up. Librarian, Slytherin, villain lover, cat whisperer, embracer of the macabre. I read, I blog, and honey you should see me in a crown.(That last bit being a smile and wink to Sherlock…ahem, I mean, Moriarty – I am not totally obsessed with myself that I think I deserve a crown) The professional answer: I have been a librarian on and off for 10 years, and I have experience working in every department in the library. The best thing about making my way through multiple types of libraries and jobs within the library, is that I was able to find out exactly what I want (and do not want) to do for the rest of my life! I have been working in a high school and middle school library for the past three years but I recently obtained my DREAM JOB that I have been waiting for! Say hello to the new Information Services Librarian at a very busy and amazing library in New England!

RO: What made you want to become a librarian?
image (4)AB: You know, I never really had the slightest idea that I could even be a librarian when I “grew up,” it was never a profession that seemed real to me. In terms of dream jobs, all I ever wanted to be was an English teacher. Being able to share my love of literature was something that I always wanted to do. Then, when I was a senior in college and in the education program, I realized that I really had no desire to teach. At all. Imagine my surprise! I was working part time as a librarian at the time and it was becoming more and more apparent that the job was changing and merging into something more than what it had been in the past. I took some time off and pursued my Masters in Library Science and the rest is history!

RO: What is your least favorite aspect of being a librarian? What is your favorite aspect of being a librarian?
AB: I think my least favorite thing about being a librarian has to be the stereotypes. The wide-eye stares and to the point questions like, “You need a MASTERS to be a librarian?” Or “Why would you need a degree to do this, don’t you just Google things?” This misconception that all librarians do is sit around, reading, and shushing is laughable. Librarians have to be able and willing to wear multiple hats at any given time, and we are expected to know everything, always! Which in a way, is my favorite aspect of being a librarian. I love that my job encourages constant learning and adapting to new trends, technologies, and education. It constantly keeps me on my toes, every day is different, and I am able to use and expand my thinking constantly. It also doesn’t hurt that I can rock literary tattoos, superhero shirts, and a picture of Edgar Allan Poe on my lapel with no one blinking an eye!

RO: Librarians have been pegged with several stereotypes. Are there any that you find particularly amusing?image (5)
AB
: I sort of touched upon this while answering the last question, but I think I went a bit on the ranty side. I find many of the stereotypes amusing. I especially love the fact that people think we spend time “shushing” all day. Let me tell you, I do not have time to “shush,” nor do I want to. I do, however, have time to very directly use my teacher voice and explain that how you are acting is inappropriate. I was working in a high school this past Halloween and my two coworkers and I dressed up like librarian stereotypes. I was the “hottie,” my coworker R was “the shusher,” and my coworker K was “the bun.” As you can see from our picture, we all have props, including cats, rulers, and Facts on File which have not been used for many, many years. It was incredibly fun to participate in since for as long as I can remember people have always pushed that stereotype on me. Especially in college. I’m sure you can imagine why.

RO: What is your favorite database/online resource? Why?
image (2)AB: My favorite resource might surprise you, I really use Goodreads so much more than I ever thought I would. I do a lot of readers’ advisory at my job and I am constantly searching for readalikes, and I can’t tell you how helpful Goodreads has been. If someone needs to know what the next book in a series is, I can easily search Goodreads. Recently, I was weeding my collection and recycling some old dusty books and there were some I was on the fence about, I simply searched Goodreads to see their overall rating and used that information to help me make my decisions! In terms of professional databases offered in the library, I love helping patrons use ancestry.com, it is incredibly fun to help them as they garner information on their family.

RO: What book are you currently reading, or have recently read, that you would recommend? Conversely, what book are you currently reading, or have recently read, that you would not recommend?
AB: I am currently reading an advanced copy of Mortal Heart, by Robin LaFevers, and I honestly cannot recommend this series enough. Assassin nuns. Enough said, am I right? It is so, SO excellent. I am also reading The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert which is said to be The Night Circus meets Water For Elephants. I am not too far in but so far it is really intriguing, so check back for my full report! I also just finished the first book in an adult fantasy series by Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora which honestly blew me away I loved it so much. I’m going to stop myself, you asked for a book – singular – and basically recommending books is my favorite thing EVER! A book that I would not recommend…if I am being honest, I try very hard to only read books that I know I will enjoy since I really have limited time to read, but I did mark my very first “did not finish” book this year, and I was very upset over having to do so. The book is Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler and the premise is just fabulous, it talks of a childhood friendship between a lonely girl and a kraken. The novel, however, was terrible. So terrible that I tried to pick it up more times than I can count over the past year and I just can’t get over how terrible the writing and concept is. I only got about halfway through and I gave up. Honestly just thinking back to it makes me a little angry!

image (6)RO: What is the best (most challenging or however else you may define “best) reference question you have ever been asked? What is the wackiest reference question you have ever been asked?
AB: My favorite questions are the ones that really make you think and research. I once had a woman ask me for birth and marriage records for her research of her family tree. The town hall in which they were housed in Pennsylvania had burnt down and it took us months to track down an archive that held the information. It was a long but rewarding process. I love when patrons come in with very little hope that we can help them and when we do, though it takes a little time, they are so overjoyed. That is one of the best things about my job.

RO: We all know that kids say the darndest things. As a Children’s Librarian, what is the funniest/silliest thing one of your littlest patrons has said?
AB: One of my favorite things about working in the Children’s Department is when the kids come running in screaming “ YAAAAAAAAAAY!!! I LOVE THE LIBRARY!!!” However, my favorite and funniest moment as a Children’s librarian happened a few years ago while I was leading a storytime in a very small library, with children ages 2-5. In Litchfield county where I was working at the time, we have a lot of hikers, many of these are “barefoot hikers” which makes them stand out a little more. At this time, there was a large group of hikers and campers who were hiking part of the same trail as the so called “Leatherman” (for more information on the Leatherman, go here) many of these people had not showered, or shaved in months, and looked like they were accustomed to mountain living. Well, as I was in the middle of reading The Stinky Cheese Man to my kids, one of the very bearded, barefoot hikers walked through the library with his huge pack on his back. He stopped and looked around at us in surprise, and we stopped and looked at him, my hand paused between turning the page. Then, he winked at us and walked out. Without skipping a beat one of my kids looked up at me, shrugged his little shoulders and said “WELL, everybody’s gotta be doin’ somethin’, Miss B!” To this day I can’t get over the 5 year old quickly responding to an event that stopped everyone else in the room.

RO: In your blog, Books Take You Places, you explore all things bookish, including give reviews. What prompted you to start your blog and take your love of books beyond the library’s walls?image (7)
AB
: I have my Bachelor’s in English, so I have always loved reading and reacting to different forms of literature. While in graduate school, blogs were really starting to become popular, and one of my classes had us discuss which blogs we used for resources and why. I honestly only found two to be much help as a reader and library professional, so I decided to start my own! I promised that I would only do it as long as it was still fun for me, and I wouldn’t conform to become more “popular.” It has really always been more about what makes me happy and not the “perks” that go along with having a blog. Another plus is that it has really helped me forward my career as I have gained more knowledge of different technologies through my blog and Twitter.

RO: What is something librarians do that, in your opinion, should be considered a superpower?
AB: Oh, so many things! We spend our days working with the public! In that sense, I think it is a superpower to always be “on” and able to deal with any type of person or situation despite how tired/busy/hungry you are. Additionally, I can’t tell you how many times people in my personal life call me with the most random questions simply because, “You’re a librarian so I figured you would know.” Well, we don’t always know everything! Given time, we do, however, have the (super)power to be able to find that information for you. I often do feel like a superhero, education does that to a person!

image (1)RO: Going off of that question, if you could have a skill that is traditionally considered a superpower, what would it be?
AB: The superpower I want more than anything…is to be able to read while riding in a moving car. BAM. Or, teleportation, whatevs.

RO: Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who is considering going into the library science field?
AB: Ohh this one is a tough question. One thing I can say is that it is absolutely imperative to have hands on experience. I can’t tell you how many people I went to school with who had never even volunteered in a library. It is an incredibly hard field to get into, job-wise. There aren’t many jobs, and so many applicants. You need to stand out, be able to adapt, and be unique. Always keep learning, and reading. Learn that technology, and focus on changes that you know are coming, but haven’t completely hit home yet. Most importantly, be sure that it is something you really want to do, which goes back to the hands on experience. It is not an easy job, and it is incredibly easy to get burnt out if you aren’t happy being around people all day!

 

Thanks for sharing your love of books and all this literarily quirky, Alyssa! Want to say hello to Alyssa? Keep up with her by following her via her blog, Twitter, or Goodreads!