“Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins.” Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Oh my.  It wasn’t just a library joke.  People really did say this and mean it.  And then expect you to find the book for them.  As in, possibly right then.  At that moment.  Pronto~! 

Their faces fall if you can’t.  It’s a little bit heart-breaking, and one is left with a keen sense of failure in having been the Depository of all Literary Knowledge, and let an enthusiastic reader down.

The first time someone said this line to me, I thought they were taking the mickey and laughed.

Oops, no: serious.  Quickly back paddle.

You know, we should forget about classifying the books by the Dewey or Library of Congress systems.  Because this is how patrons really want us to shelve them:

Wellington Central Library, New Zealand

Wellington Central Library, New Zealand

I thought I would share some of the resources I use when searching for Forgotten Books

Because without doubt, they are a thing.  They are usually children’s or young adult books, as this comes about when people begin to suffer from Nostalgia Sickness. 

It is usually only a quick dose of this illness, but like a nagging bacterial infection, needs a specialised antibiotic to make it go away.

And that antibiotic is a particular book.  And it is up to you to make a diagnosis and find that book.

So, here are a few of the resources I use:

·         Goodreads Group – What’s The Name Of That Book???


·         Stump the Bookseller (N.B. Small fee applies but archives free to browse)


·         Search (e.g. Google) keywords (any details of plot, names, etc. also ‘book’, ‘story’, ‘young adult’, ‘historical’, ‘thriller’, etc.)

·         Literature Reference Guides, e.g.

          Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature in English, edited by Jenny Stringer

–          Bloomsbury Guide to Women’s Literature, edited by Claire Buck

–          Cambridge Companion to Scottish Literature, edited by Gerard Curruthers, Liam McIlvanney

·         AbeBooks.com BookSleuth®


·         Also the image searching option for search engines can be helpful.  For example, typing in “purple book cover” yields:

Purple Cover

On a related matter: people, after finding out I work in a library, will either…

a) say I don’t look like a librarian

b) ask me to recommend them a book

“Uh, ok.  What kind of stories or characters interest you?  Fiction or non-fiction?  What have you enjoyed watching or readi-“

“No, no,” my dentist says cheerfully.  “just off the top of your head.”

Gravity’s Rainbow,” I shoot back as he reaches for the drill.

These are some of the resources or strategies I use to help recommend a book (or suggest to people that they use):

·         The Ultimate Teen Book Guide, by Daniel Hahn (Editor), Susan Reuben, Leonie Flynn

·         The internet.  Just search the internet.  Blogs, forums, LibraryThing, Goodreads (especially good for reading quotes from books and getting a ‘feel’ for them)

·         Suggest they read the book of the film they loved.  Yes, there is often a book it was based on – and the book is seldom less amazing!

·         What Should I Read Next? http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com/

Does anyone else have some ideas or resources they would like to share for making book recommendations or of use in finding Forgotten Books?


The Power of Books

Today I read a story that made me stop and think about the power of a book. Not their potential to garner a love for reading, or give companionship to the lonely (I’m not denying these either), though. It made me think about how a book can spark a conversation, about a number of things besides the context, and bring groups of people together in strange ways.

The article, Mission impossible: German libraries try to return Nazi-looted books (by Polina Garaev, 1/8/2015), talks about German libraries that are exploring the sketchy past of books once ‘donated’, or otherwise, during that notorious era of Adolf Hitler. It describes donations made by the Gestapo, where books (and other items) were forcibly removed from the Jewish people of Germany.

Funding to find the original owners of these books, through surviving ledgers and handwritten notes within the texts themselves, is minimal. Garaev quotes librarian Sebastian Finsterwalder who laments that of the people working on the project “99% of them are volunteers, temp workers, or library workers doing this part time, and that affects the work they can do”.

It is a powerful thought, though. A group of people coming together, out of a sense of social responsibility I suppose.* It is acknowledged in the article that most of the books aren’t worth anything in isolation, but it’s what they represent to the person or relatives from whom the book, belongings, and lives were taken, that is tremendously important. It’s a way of not forgetting the past, not letting the bitter memories and the guilt fade, a way of showing survivors that what happened is recognised.

These unassuming books have had the power of bringing people back to their pasts, of connecting people with the truth about their families, have enabled these conversations to occur, where otherwise they may never have surfaced.

It also demonstrates an interesting intersection between three professions that, in New Zealand at least, currently fall under the ‘Information Studies’ umbrella: the librarian, the archivist, and the records manager. When working in one of these positions it is easy to believe that they exist apart, but this demonstrates the connections that exist. The libraries in Germany housed these books for many years, before exploring and recognising what they were, undertaking this monumental project. They could not have discovered so much without those who created meticulous records of the events, and the people who have archived similar information since, often linking books with people now living overseas.

Much like you can’t fully experience happiness without sadness, you can’t understand the world you live in without having memory and understanding of the past. Whatever conflicting information ideologies exist between the librarian, the archivist, and the records manager, they all work together and need each other. And hopefully value their unique connections.

*Reading this story made me think of a book I recently read, Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall, by Anna Funder, that covers similar subject matter in relation to volunteers trying to piece together the past (literally). I’ll say no more, other than to encourage everyone to check it out.

“There are typical librarians, but not all librarians are typical”

“There are typical librarians, but not all librarians are typical.”  ~  Excerpt From: Peters, Elizabeth. “The Seventh Sinner”

Jacqueline (or ‘Jake’ as she is often known by) isn’t the librarian one usually encounters in fiction.  Throughout her book series, she tries her hand at other professions – amateur detective (she already has the enquiring mind), sometimes historian (posing as a Richard III enthusiast), and romance writer (because she knows all the tropes and how to write them).

She’s also smart and independent.  Sometimes she dresses as librarians are imagined to dress, but she wears it almost like a disguise or a who-do-I-want-to-be-today? outfit.

I wonder how many other librarians get the same response when confessing their profession?  This is how a conversation at a social gathering usually progresses:

So what do you do?
I’m a librarian.
Whoa, no way!  That’s cool.  You don’t look like a typical librarian.
What does a typical librarian look like?
You know – twinset…bun…glasses (gestures)
Oh I only dress like that if they force me to be in a promotional photo. 
Ah, do they like you to dress librarian…ish?
They like it about as much as I like being in photoshoots. 
If you should come across a photo of a librarian looking like Wednesday Addams with her hair in a bun and cat eye glasses, it is probably me.

Yeeeaaah… much like that.

I read the Jacqueline Kirby series before I became a librarian.  The books sided with me on my counter-assumption that librarianship was more interesting and librarians less typical than most portrayals allowed them to be.

I have since come across many different librarians in fiction that begin to traverse from what was once the norm.  Not all of them are brilliant or remarkable, but it’s nevertheless a step outside what has been a fairly rigid square.

John Simm as “Frank” in Miranda

The sarcastic teen librarian that Lisa Simpson has a crush on in Bart’s Girlfriend

The Orang-utan librarian in the Discworld

I could do more of a list, but the thing I begin to notice is that many of the librarians who get to step outside of the norm are male, whereas female librarians are often still constricted to being the “Scary Librarian” or “Hot Librarian” (you will find both of these as tropes on the infamous TV Tropes website.

I trust I am mistaken in this – and that there are plenty more unique, female, fictional librarians out there too.  But this is perhaps why I hold Jacqueline Kirby up as the quintessential example of a well-characterised fictional librarian.

Moreover, as fascinating as it is to find librarians in pop-culture, what I find most entertaining and ground-breaking are the other librarians I meet in my line of work.

It makes me think you could never easily pick in real life who a librarian might be.  Sadly, in fictionalised media, it is often almost too easy.

“Quanto in aeternum”
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Of Theatre and Libraries

I have been watching the 1974 TV serial of I, Claudius and I think my new favourite theatrical scene is of Emperor Gaius (Caligula) dressed as a dancing girl and prancing around whilst he forces people to watch this bizarre performance in abject horror.

I Claudius

Oh. Oh. Wait.  He’s just made his horse a senator.

A senator.

Before now, everyone was kind of prepared to put up with him offing people arbitrarily (it appears to be a Roman pastime) but the horse is what breaks them and now they just want to kill him.

Although I suspect the myth is greater than the man, it is comforting to know that workplaces have been crazy since Roman times.  In fact, they have improved, as no-one was beheaded for their hammed-up acting in last week’s library help video.

In my previous post, it must have sounded as though I do not like my job.  Nothing is so far from the truth.  It is true that on occasion, I wish things to be a little more efficient, or functional, or professional.  Yet, I love the quirks of this place and the people I get to share them with.  I would be saddened if the library ever started making sense for too long.

I feel like the library profession is this well-kept secret; on the outside it appears as a dowdy old house, but inside it’s like being in a Shakespearean play or three-ring circus.  One of the current fads here is to cast staff as characters in epic movies or books.  I would like to think I could be King Claudius, having deposed the current king and now banging my head as his natural heir goes through a self-indulgent existential crises.

(Incidentally, this is who I actually get when I take an online quiz – I disagree, but there you have it.)


A privileged few, who have witnessed a few acts of this daily play, have described ours as “a rather disabled kind of place.”

“No!”  One of my colleagues protests indignantly.  “It is… ‘differently-abled’.”

To be fair, from our patrons’ point of view, our library is progressive and highly efficient, as well as being friendly and helpful.  And that is what counts above all else.

For another analogy, as I attempt to build up a picture, I could liken the library to a steampunk-style ship.  Fairly regular-looking until you enter the engine room, where there are bells and whistles, and squirrelly things and a music box, and some old guy riding a stationary bike that powers the hands of a large clock.

And if you’d just walked into a job on this ship, you’d be like, “Ok, I thought I was here to shovel coal and clean the engine, but it looks like they just want me to sit in this chair most of the time and watch the canaries dance a conga.”

As cool as that is, after a while one just wants to learn something and be a bit more useful around the place – because it can be so dynamic and exciting.

I should be quicker to add a disclaimer that not all libraries are like my current one.  I once worked in a public library and loved the nature of the work in a more usual way.  It was a bright, forward-thinking and beautiful library.

What I miss most is being able to really talk to people about books.  Gosh, how I miss that.  Although people visit public libraries for leisure purposes, they are also often being autodidactic and studying out of interest rather than necessity.

A tertiary library – well, it’s a different kettle of fish.  Patrons are stressed.  They are also friendly, polite, and grateful for help most of the time – and I feel a genuine sense of achievement in being able to provide that help.

But they’re also more likely to get impatient, be demanding, or swear when they can’t have a book from a library located on the other side of the country within the hour.  I do empathise, and seldom get seriously annoyed.  How can I really, when I can see how close to falling apart they are?

I am sorry that, by appearance at least, so few people seem as enthused about learning a subject they must once have been interested in.  There’s little opportunity for me to strike up a conversation about any of it either.  I swear, most of the time I can only understand two words in the title of a book anyone is issuing – and they are both conjunctions.

Exhibit A:

Block Copolymers

That example isn’t even so bad, comparatively speaking.

It was a few weeks ago that I first began mulling over this loss of shared joy for books between librarian and library patron.  One of our friendly, regular clients was issuing a book on the history of latitude and longitude.  I recognised it and went – “oh!” – then we started talking and she said how well-written it was, as it made the subject matter interesting and accessible to people not well-versed in navigation and its history.

In turn I told her about my own enthusiasm for a book on the history of physics: Leonard Mlodinow’s Euclid’s Window, and wrote down the details when she expressed interest.

It was after this exchange that I realised how ridiculously excited I had been to “talk books”, and how I missed that aspect of being a librarian.

Next time, I shall write about a less heart-warming, but highly entertaining dialogue with a lady who was incensed to find somebody had pencilled annotations throughout the book she wished to issue.

It is her reason for being so indignant that is the punch line for most people who hear the story.

What this is all about…

I have loved libraries for as long as I can remember. I love getting lost in them, the way they feel and most of all I love the books they contain. However, it was not a natural assumption to me that I would one day make my career in them. I overlooked them and even joked with people who wanted to know what I was going to do with that BA degree in English Literature that one day I would become a librarian. But as I was slow to learn whenever I’ve ever needed anything a library always came through for me. When I was 10 this was the latest Goosebump books, when I was 16 this was a quiet place to spend lunchtimes, when I was 21 it was the place with which I learned how to research and when I was 24 it was where I got my first real proper job.

At first I thought this was going to be a temporary thing but the more I have worked in this field, the more passionate I have became about it. This is more than a crush now but full on love so I decided a few years ago I would make a career out of it. However, all loves have short comings and now after working in a number of libraries I have come to realise the problems I have faced aren’t just isolated to one place but are systemic of the whole industry.

In the past I have been able to whisper between the stacks about this but really what I wanted was a forum for people like me to openly discuss the weird and wonderful world of libraries in New Zealand. So this blog was born.

However, I don’t just want this blog to be bitching about all the problems inherent in the industry (but there will be that). I want this to be a place where people working in New Zealand libraries can come and share stories about the profession. This is of course the trials and tribulations but also the joys and rewards. I want to know why people when into the field, what they expected versus the reality, what their perfect library would look like and where would you like the industry to go.

Please like this post, share it and subscribe to this blog. If you have anything you would like to contribute about your New Zealand library experience please email theissuesdesk@yahoo.co.nz I want this to be a safe space to share and be open so in the email please state whether you would like to be anonymous or not.