“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?


Breaking down local government with Tammy 2

So we are talking about references to librarians in popular culture and I’ve chosen to talk about Parks and Recreation.

I personally feel like Parks and Recreation is one of the best shows ever created and as it deals with working for local government of course it has mentions and episodes dedicated to the library in the fictional town of Pawnee.

The most memorable of these for me is one from the second season called, “Ron and Tammy”. This is the episode that introduces Ron’s ex-wife Tammy 2. who works at the Pawnee library as the deputy director of library services. Due to this we are also introduced to the parks departments thoughts on the library:

Tammy and the Pawnee library team dress like typical librarians in your traditional cardigan/glasses combo but I don’t think they are like any I have ever met.

Tammy is highly sexual to an unprofessional degree. She cares little about public nudity or having sexual relations in public. I fear this behavior would be highly detrimental to her professional standing and I am surprised she still has a job. However, her co-workers seem to be equally unprofessional.

This can be witnessed here:

However, despite the above’s evidence to the contrary I do see some hints of truth buried in Parks and Recreations portrayal of local government happenings. As you can see from the first clip this episode comes to be because the library would like a piece of council land that the Parks and Recreation department feel they have claim to.

While, I can’t relate to the idea of a new library rebuild, I can understand the frustration of having to fight for council resources as unfortunately these are not unlimited and need to be spread amongst many departments. When you are part of a big organisation at times your voice can be lost especially when to some your value isn’t readily apparent.

It seems to be quite apt that the Parks and Recreation department and the libraries department would be fighting as these are the two with the most in common. They are the most isolated from the rest of the council as libraries work in the library building while parks and recreation are kept near the bottom of the building. These two teams also spend the most time directly dealing with the public and also spend the most time justifying there existence. I mean, everyone can understand why you need a rates department but are libraries and parks really needed?!?

I may be reading too much into this shows portrayal of librarians and the local governments response to them. However, I really like the non traditional route it has taken. I love that librarians are too be feared as they are smart from being so well read, I like that I don’t see any shhhing and a lack of tweed.

So what do you think? Please post your comments below or email us at theissuesdesk@yahoo.co.nz

NZ Sign Language & Libraries

I find when I am enjoying the gentle warm rain of the shower at night, the steaminess enveloping me in a foggy cloud from the world, my mind drifts back to random episodes out of the past.

For whatever reason, my train of thought wandered back to the day I was on desk and helping a woman who was Deaf.  She was able to communicate what she needed me to do, but I remember feeling my own failure in not being able to make the exchange easier for her; expressly, my lack of knowledge in NZ Sign Language.

Once I was nicely warm in my pyjamas, I set to researching courses in NZ Sign Language on the internet.  In particular, I wanted to ascertain if there were courses tailored for libraries and the kinds of conversations one is likely to have with patrons.

It takes time to become proficient in any new language – but what if there was a course that would teach library staff the signs to say such things as:

·         Kia ora, how are you?

·         Would you like help finding something?

·         Would you like me to renew this book?

·         We need to update your address details

…And so forth.

I remember at the public library we did have a lady come in and teach us how to sign a few simple phrases, but what I had in mind was a slightly more intensive course – perhaps six sessions – which would be of specific and practical use.

 Are there such courses available?  Is this a feasible idea?  I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts and comments on this.

 At the moment I am trying to self-learn a little from this website: http://nzsl.vuw.ac.nz/

The Most Entertaining Kinds of Issue Desk Conversations

The Lady Who Hated Annotations.  And Possibly Men.

 The following borrows character portraits from the Playstation game Grandia to help illustrate one of the conversations I’ve had on desk with less-than-satisfied patrons.


Do you check the books when they are returned?


For damage?  Yes, we give them a glance over.


Well someone has scribbled annotations all throughout this book!  <sniff>.  A man, no doubt.


[I take the book and flip through the pages.  There are, indeed, pencilled comments scattered throughout.]


Would you like to issue it regardless?  I can make a note in the item record to fix this when you return the book.


I can’t use the book in that condition!  Those man’s ideas are entirely in conflict with my own.  It is far too distracting.


Is that so.


Well, what are you going to do?

[With a quick glance at the long line of people behind her.]


Um, leave it with me.  I’ll rub the notes out and
put the book on hold for you.  You can pick it up this afternoon.


Yes, this conversation happened, and no – it is not exaggerated in my recount of it.

I spent a good part of my morning meticulously rubbing out all traces of penciled-in comments – without, I might add, being able to readily decipher any of them myself.

The handwriting was scrawling and loopy.  To give the lady credit, she must have squinted really hard at each annotation and had a steely determination to be distracted by them.  I considered writing LOL at random throughout the book, but dregs of professionalism prevented me.

I was positioned at another desk later that day when a co-worker came to warn me to hide.

“Is World War III imminent?” I inquired.

“In a manner of speaking,” He replied in the world-weary voice he’d adopted.  “She’s back, and they can’t find her book.  She’s on the warpath.”

They did eventually find her book on the holds shelf, as related to me by another colleague.  The lady in question had loudly proclaimed her disgust with the MAN who had defaced the book as the female staff member desperately hunted for it, and the male staff member was glared at all the while for the sins of his sex.

Encounters such as these get filed under “Entertaining” rather than “Infuriating”.  Come to think of it, I don’t have a metaphysical folder for the latter.

The Lady Who Was Incensed At Paying $4 To Borrow A DVD

The lady in the previous anecdote reminds me of another, who I had met in the public library – and, at the time, I decided was definitely an expy of Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping up Appearances.  She sassed me, and she sassed me good.

Old lady

Firstly, I didn’t know what she meant when she’d heard on the radio that the library could help people with filling out their tax returns.

“Yes, I asked the woman on the reference desk and she gave me the same blank look,” She sniffed.

(We did not, and never did, advertise this service.)

Secondly, I made the mistake of brightly saying “That’ll be just $4 for the DVD please!” when she handed it to me for issuing.

Just?”  She repeated at about the same time I was imaginary kicking myself.  “And I see I have to pay for borrowing this new book too?  Are libraries operating as merchants now?”

I gave her a smile.  It’s generally safer than trying to explain the issue of councils requiring a certain percentage of return in the library budget.  Annoyed people usually just care about the time, not how the watch works.  And if they don’t like the time you’re telling them, I can guarantee you’ll hear all about it.

“Good god,” the lady behind her in the queue exclaimed as her turn came.  “If she thinks this library is expensive, she should try living in Wellington for a while!”

The Man Who Would Not Leave

1.       Upset staff member who was doing her job by informing him library was closing in 20 minutes by giving her a 15 minute lecture on the subject

2.       Trapped me listening to his life story in which he complains about everyone he ever met

3.       Tried to shake my hand (I pretended to not notice and gradually led him out of the library as he talked)

4.       Just as we thought we were rid of him, frozen looks of horror come over our faces as he returns

5.       Attempts to tell me more about people-who-he-doesn’t-like

6.       Usher him out a second time

7.       We close doors in a panic who cares if it’s not time yet we can’t let him back in oh god is that him coming back no false alarm

8.       Door barrier successfully up;  other patrons let out of library from fire exit

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.

My first blog post

How do I begin to explain to people what my job is like?

I’m whimsical at times and tend to have my head in the clouds (but not the same goddamn cloud that our goddamn email server is now in).

I’d like to work in an old, dusty library with high shelves and weathered books; a place full of shadows.


Ummmm.  Well, yes.  Like in Doctor Who.  But without the deadly shadows.

Not all libraries are how one imagines them to be.  They are much more diverse, much more ridiculous, and much less efficient or quiet than I’d supposed.

I often wish some TV crew would come here and make a fly-on-the-wall doco.  It would be ratings gold, I promise.

Just the other day I had a “do you remember when I first started work here and it was stupid?” moment with a colleague.  Haha, oh yes, he remembered.  And did he remember how they forgot to train me?  Or give me access to any of the things I needed access to?

This colleague had to print off overdue reminder notices for me to put in envelopes so I’d have something to do.  On a good day, I managed to stretch that task out for half an hour.

“Do you have access to the shared inbox’s?  The library-issues inbox?”  He asked me.

“Library-issues inbox?” I rolled the words off my tongue like it was a wondrous foreign expression.

That’s how we know people haven’t been trained.  You glance across the room and see them looking confused, otherwise blank-faced, and not doing anything but repeating wtf wtf wtf over and over in their minds.

I spent weeks staring at my computer.  I was bemused.  I’d moved to a city where I knew no-one.  My workplace more or less ignored me.  I didn’t exist anymore.  I had become a part of the ennui that I can only assume office work is made of.

I explored the website.  I read all of the (out of date) manuals.  I got given one desk shift each day, and wished for more.  I seldom saw my managers.  They were in perpetual meetings or on courses.

Perhaps I was trapped in a dream.  The sort of dream that refuses to make up facts or gaps in your knowledge, blocking you from entering certain places or doing things.

I don’t do anything all day, I wrote to my parents, but I’m not afraid of being fired because I don’t think they know I exist.

At least they’d put me on the payroll.  If this was going to be a dreamworld with logical rules, then I’d still need money to get by.

And why didn’t I be more proactive and ask what my role was?  If this ever happened to  me again, I would.  But I was more shy back then, very much thrown by the place, and I seldom saw the people who managed me.

It was dull and strange, but it didn’t matter.  I began to feel less and less real.  Sunday shifts were beautiful and purposefully empty.  I didn’t have to do anything but exist.  I didn’t know it then, but I was supposed to be paid time and a half.  When my colleagues and I did accidentally uncover this and took it to the Human Resources department, it was over a grand worth of back pay.

So I experienced a personal tragedy five months later.  The pain of this flung me out of the sepia world and I was suddenly visible to everyone in violent, garish Technicolor.  Something in me snapped and I didn’t even hear it snap.

I’m not ‘good’ anymore.  I narrate sardonically from the wings as a farcical play carries on around me.

My blog posts will mostly be vistas of library life.  Little snapshots and anecdotes that I hope will help bring to life this place for you – as though you worked here yourself.

So, without further ado…