This is Circulating Ideas, I’m Steve Thomas. My guest today is Emily Lloyd. She’s the creator of the Shelf Check comic strip and is an Associate Librarian at Hennepin County Library. You can find her on Twitter @PoesyGalore.
Emily Lloyd, welcome to the show.
Thanks so much for having me.
What most people, at least initially, know you from is from Shelf Check, your comic strip. First thing I wanted to ask you was there any comic strips when you were growing up that really got into your head?
Oh, wow, that’s a good question. Yeah, certainly that was in the days that there were just comics in the papers and I really loved Zippy the Pinhead when it came out cause it was a little bit more surreal and interesting, but as a kid I read Garfield and things like that and interesting that Garfield is still as popular today as it was back then with kids, but no I wouldn’t say I was a huge comics reader necessarily as a kid.
Yeah something about Garfield I think just clicks with kids ‘cause you read it as an adult and it’s kind of like, this is kind of dumb. But kids just still, just love it, so. [laughs]
[laughs] Yeah, yeah, I think it’s one of those things that maybe folks that don’t work in libraries would surprised that Garfield is still so incredibly popular, that we can’t keep it on the shelf at my library.
Yep, yeah, you wouldn’t know necessarily from newspapers because there aren’t necessarily that many newspapers around anymore, so [laughs].
So, why did you decide to start your comic strip? At the time you started it, the other webcomic about libraries, Unshelved, had been around for a few years. Was there something in Unshelved that you weren’t seeing that you wanted to see out of a comic strip? Or what exactly got in your head of wanting to start it yourself?
You know, it wasn’t necessarily that, it was the emergence of sites on the web where you could use their art and make your own comics. I first started working in public libraries in 1996, I was still an undergrad and had the idea of Shelf Check almost right away. I was interested in doing it for years, tried to draw it myself, this was long before XKCD set the, let you know that you could actually use stick figures and that would be okay. But frankly my stick figures aren’t as good as XKCDs.
So I tried to draw it and failed and just shelved the idea for years and I remember when Unshelved I think first came out in 2001 and I was oh yeah, I wanted to be the one who did that, but finally in 2007 a site called Toondoo.com came out and you could go in and put in your own words and choose from clip art that they had pre-picked out and that was the push, the ability, the idea that I could actually do it now, to some effectiveness without having to draw it. And one of the funny things about that I guess is Toondoo had these premade characters you could choose, you know they had several males and several females and things like that and my characters are, my main characters are Jan, a library professional who’s queer, and Dave her supervisor who’s the branch director. And both of them came from the male characters. When I see Jan, I think of her so much as just a queer woman but she technically belongs to Toondoo’s plate of male characters. Yeah.
So what about the comic strip format that made you want to do that? I mean what, you said you had the idea for years beforehand, why did you want to do that? Did you just have jokes in your head you wanted to get out about libraries or what was it?
That’s a good question. I had, for years, always been involved in some sort of comedy writing about what was, whatever environment I was in. So when I was an undergraduate, I had a weekly humor column in the undergrad newspaper and things like that. And I don’t know, when you work the library you see a lot of things that would probably [laughs] make a good three panel strip, but it just seems like, it just seemed like, I don’t know, something that would be kind of fun and interesting to do.
And did you get good response right out of the gate? Or did it take a while to catch out?
Strangely I did get a pretty good response right out of the gate. I had not started a blog, right now the comic is mainly housed or accessed through shelfcheck.blogspot.com. I had not done that yet, I had put a few strips up on Toondoo and I had tagged them libraries and I believe it was The Librarian In Black who found them somehow and ran one on her site and said, oh I hope this person does some more comics, there’s a new library comic strip in town. So right out of the gate, somebody noticed before I had even tried to promote it and that was pretty neat.
That’s librarians and their search strategies I guess [laughs].
Oh yeah, yes, I guess, someone had, cause I started it almost immediately after Toondoo announced that it existed and so the fact that this new site Toondoo was around must have been on her radar and maybe she just decided to search libraries and see if anyone had done anything.
Are you still happy with it today, the way you’re still going? You don’t do it quite as regularly as you did for a few years there, but you still come out with it, I don’t know if you have an exact schedule any more. Or if it’s just whenever you come up with an idea for one?
I don’t have a schedule and I would, I would like to do it more. When I first started, I guess in 2007, I was doing, I was doing strips pretty much daily and I was a heavy Google Reader user and pretty much any story that came out about libraries, librarians, publishing, e-books, all that sort of stuff, I would use the strip as a way to kind of blog about it, respond to it. Which is why at the top of the Shelf Check page it says comic and/or blog. It was very tied to news stories. I would link to the news story and have the comic strip that dealt with it in some way or another. Just like you might see a news story and then the next morning talk about it with your colleagues. A library related news story and, and I slowed down, I think one of the reasons I slowed down was the demise of Google Reader but that’s only been about a year.
I was going to say can we blame the death of Google Reader for the lack of subjects?
Yes we can completely, we can blame the death of Google Reader, although now I use Twitter a lot. But, and for some of those same reasons, but it was, I didn’t want to repeat myself and I don’t know. Some, some conversations that I had really always seemed to remark on in the strip earlier, I became kind of tired of those conversations re-circling in libraryland, or resurfacing rather. Recently, for example, the big, there is the article on Slate, “What does a librarian look like,” “This is what a librarian looks like” and it was kind of this kerfuffle on Twitter and things like that and I thought to myself in 2007 I would definitely have created a Shelf Check about this in some way or another, but these days I just couldn’t make my mind wrap around it and I didn’t want to. I felt like, oh we’re having this conversation again and while I might be able to make some people grin about it, I was more kind of I guess a little bit tired of the conversation and didn’t really want to contribute to it or comment on it, I guess.
Well, I’ve got a few, it’s funny I’ve got this whole list of topics we, we’re going to discuss. We talked about it a little bit beforehand. I think everything comes out of what we’ve talked about so far, so I’m going to try to, I could go in any direction at this point, so [laughs].
All right, go crazy [laughs].
So we’ll start with, what about Jan is you? I mean, what, is she like your voice exactly? Or is she saying things, do you skew things to make it more amusing? Not necessarily what you believe?
She, Jan is probably pretty close to what I believe. I think she might be a little bit more of an idealist than me and it’s interesting there were moments, like I have two kids and I wanted to bring kids into, the kids in her life into it, but they had to be her nieces because Jan has no, Jan has no partner, Jan doesn’t date and so I couldn’t, you know I couldn’t bring those in in a more realistic way. In some ways I think she’s.
You’re not sure the state would trust Jan with children and adoptions [laughs].
[laughs] No I think, I think Jan’s great, she’s definitely, she, she really, she loves the library, she’s skeptical of some of the problems that misstep libraries, some of, some of the things we do to ourselves in terms of bureaucracies and committees and things like that, and then, and then Dave is a little bit more a wide-eyed innocent. The sort of person who might apply at technology before he really has thought of a good reason to apply the technology, things like that. One thing I’ve been careful to do with Jan, I think, I think, I’m sure people could go back and find examples where I didn’t, but I am very careful to have Jan never be rude to patrons and that’s important to me and that is something that I, that I think I reflect in my own work. And a difference a little, I think a little bit between say Jan as the main character in Shelf Check and Dewey as the main character of Unshelved. Dewey, Dewey is frequently rude to patrons and I know a lot of people love it because they feel like, oh he gets to say things I only wish I could say. And I, I don’t know, patrons are, and of course I’m still actively working in libraries, but patrons for me are kind of the best part of my job and I, you know I’ve worked in the past, I’ve a great staff at college right now, but I’ve worked in the past with librarians who would be kind of rude to patrons and I, it always made me feel bad and awkward. So, that’s my higher, I don’t know, my higher thing for Jan is how do, how do I make this funny without having that back and forth banter that is funny in Unshelved, but then I have this ideal that I want her to be a really good library professional. I want her to be someone that, whose work that I would admire or that others would, others would know that she’s just, that she’s okay I guess.
[laughs] Yeah, I know.
Sorry, that was a ramble.
No, no, no, I actually like that about her too cause that’s the difference that I, I don’t like reading, there’s a couple of books out there you know of people who have, the I’m an anonymous librarian, I’ve written this book about how horrible my patrons are and that’s not, that’s not really my kind of thing either.
Right, right. Any whom and people, you know a number of people will tweet about irritating patrons or something like that and that’s something I don’t do. I might tweet about irritating poilices, or irritating DRM, but I would, that just isn’t, you know I wouldn’t. I don’t think patrons are the most irritating part [laughs] of most people’s work day, I don’t know, so who knows.
Well, so another thing about Jan is that she does not have her MLS and I believe.
She does not.
That’s also true of you, is that correct?
That is true, that is true.
So can you talk about working in the field without an MLS and has that, do you feel that’s held you back at all? Or do you feel like there’s something you could have learned from getting that? Or.
I would, I would love to have gotten or get my MLS if there was some way to get a full scholarship [laughs]. I have one kid in college right now and another who will, whose college bound in a couple of years and the, the money I spent always just really frightened me. My sister has a law degree and so had to take out loans for that, but in a law degree you can pay the loans off in about three years of working in a high-powered law firm and I was always afraid to take on the debt. The study does not intimidate me, I would eat it up, I love, I love, I don’t know, reading stuff about libraries. You know, academic texts, back and forth debates, things like that, I seek a lot out on my own. I’m pretty motivated self-learner that way and a lot of the things that I wanted to learn, I feel like I’ve been able to just probably by the luck of being alive in the time of webs and people posting slides online and people having conversations on Twitter and things like that. You can really stay up on a lot of things if you’re interested in it through other means than the traditional academic track. Like for example, PLA was last week, I didn’t get to go to PLA and I went out to the PLA website and looked at all the sessions and downloaded the materials that were provided if it as a session that could potentially have some relationship to the work I actually do, followed the hashtag on Twitter and felt like I got a lot out of the conference. So, I do work very hard to try to educate myself and learn from others. And I’ve been really lucky, I’ve worked in two large suburban public systems. I worked for Fairfax County Public Library for seven years, just outside the DC area, and currently work for Hennepin County Library and I’ve been able to do, I’ve been permitted to do in those systems lots, lots and lots of things, most of the things I could want to do. I staff the desk and I enjoy that very much and I would not want to, I would not want to work in libraries without being in contact with patrons. That is, to me, the best part of my job. So whether that’s on the front lines of the desk, or in a digital branch doing social media for the library, paraprofessionals always get to do that. Sometimes librarians don’t, sometimes they end up on a lot of teams and they’re doing different work in the back of the library and they don’t get as much desk time. We’re kind of, we’re kind of counted on to hold down the desk and I’m cool with that, I like that, but I’ve also been able to save on system like teams, do story time, teach classes to seniors, do prison outreach, do all sorts of things and I’ve been lucky that I’ve been in systems where that’s the case. I know in some systems, maybe the line is more rigid, but I’ve been able to do those things. The downside of not having my MLS is that sometimes I can’t apply for positions that I do think I’d be well suited to and that I have the experience to be in, but the MLS requirement is right there at the front. That’s, I’d say the main difficulty really is that there are some positions I can’t apply for. But it’s hard to rationalize in my mind going back to school, taking out all those loans, just in order to have the chance to apply for a couple of positions. One thing that’s interesting and it kind of bothers me about the MLS in libraries really is libraries have traditionally, from the start, embraced the idea that people should be able to self educate. That we’re here so that people can come in and if they don’t have money, they can, they can learn things and, and I don’t know, requiring an MLS sometimes feels counter to that.
I would rather someone say what have you done? Show me what you’ve done as opposed to show me your degree. But something interesting right now, my library system has an opening for a lead web developer which is a huge position. It starts at $20,000 more than librarian jobs start at and it doesn’t even require a Bachelor’s or an Associate. Basically they’re just saying we want to see what you’ve done, we want to hear about your experience, show us your portfolio. And I would love that for that to be the case for more library jobs.
Yeah it seems like, I mean there, there are jobs where you want to have the MLS, but there are certainly jobs where it’s not that, the MLS could give you that education but as you’re pointing out, as you’re living, you can get that experience, some of that experience on the job as well, so.
Right. Yeah, yeah, absolutely and I have, I don’t know about 20 years of experience at this point and I’ve done a lot of stuff. I think sometimes that these days when jobs are so competitive, the MLS is also used as a way to limit the number of folks who can apply, in a positive way, I completely understand applying that filter because you just get bombarded with applications and you can say okay, this person went to library school, but a part of me wonders what that means to a hiring manager. What is it automatically say about a candidate that they went to library school. And I don’t know if you have an opinion on that or not. I mean it, I assume it means that they’re committed to the profession to some extent and that they did some academic work and got through, but I guess I’m not sure of the, I don’t know, intrinsic value of it.
I think that the degree itself needs a lot, part of the problem is that we’re so infused with technology now with a lot of stuff that it, that’s changing so quickly, that it’s hard for the degree I think to change quickly because higher education degrees take a long time to process and change curricular and all that sort of stuff. So I think we’re a little behind, I mean it sounds like ALA now is trying to work on that, to make, bring the standards up to date, but.
Right, and start requiring things like coding and things like that which I would be. Coding, honestly, I would be thrilled to go to school for because that’s something that’s, I’ve tried to teach myself on but I would definitely be better in a situation where I was in a classroom and able to talk to other people and a teacher about something like that, it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me.
And I think a lot of times, I think librarians are just, cause we’re feeling this from the outside, that people attacking libraries and taking funding away all, so we’re sort of clutching to our degrees and not really looking at how we should be using them and so it’s a sort of, a job that currently requires a degree, that we don’t want to give that up and say, well that person without a degree can have cause that means there’s less value to it.
Absolutely, absolutely, we don’t want everyone, we don’t want everyone to think we’re para-professionals. We want people to know that, you know, one, seriously we want people to know that we do have specified knowledge and I think one of the questions that often gets asked of librarians, you know just at a party when someone says what do you do? I’m a librarian. Did you have to go to school for that? You know there’s kind of an assumption that you didn’t and so absolutely I can imagine that, that being the case, you want to raise awareness that yeah, this is a skilled profession and we can do a lot of things that Google can’t. So yes.
And I didn’t spend two years getting a degree just to learn the Dewey Decimal system either, so [laughs].
There’s more to it than that, so.
Yes, absolutely, yes. But that’s a public perception problem which is something I think we could work on separately.
Which also ties in I think to the reaction to all those what does a librarian look like articles. I mean, we’re very much about perception I think cause, to our detriment I think, so.
I think so, I think to our detriment, yes. I think rather than talking about it, we should be, I mean, I don’t know who it is, I think it might be, is PC Sweeney who does, and I just know him by his, I don’t know him what he goes by in person, I know him by his Twitter handle, who offered advice to folks who would write articles about the profession for non-library venues. That he had, I think it was semi, on a yearly prize, like write about what we do, but get it in front of other eyes, you know, let’s get it outside the echo chamber and raise awareness in what libraries do. Which I think is fantastic, which I think we definitely need to do. Social media is one where we can do that well I think.
Yeah ,and that’s one thing about the, I keep, the Slate article that was the more recent as we’re recording this, article on that kind of thing. I don’t even have a problem particularly with that one, it’s just sort of the whole thing. It’s, like, I’m just tired of the whole conversation.
It gets tired, it’s like every month someone, someone who doesn’t frequent libraries is like, “I didn’t get shushed!” and “Librarians have tattoos!” and I mean this has been going on for at, as long as the web’s been around at least and yeah, we need to, we need to, I feel like we need to not, pay that no mind, keep going on and those getting bogged down in those conversations isn’t particularly useful.
Yeah, it’s the same thing when I was growing up I read a lot of comic books and stuff and so that, but, and that was the time when that first Batman movie came out, the Tim Burton one that everybody started writing articles about, you know, “Wham! Bam! kids are, comics aren’t for comics anymore! And it was like.
Right, right, exactly, very similar, very similar, yes.
People who are already reading them already knew that.
Have known that for decades, yes, yes.
And still now, I mean that’s still the way they write articles and, but I guess librarianship will always be written about like that [laughs].
It might be, it might be, it definitely is, it has.
At least people are interested, at least people are interested in us, so [laughs].
Right, right, that’s true. It’s funny, the same week that the Slate article came out, I saw an article online, I can’t remember the venue, but it was someone taking portraits of bus drivers in England and it was. I think it must have been in Fast Company and it was like heartwarming portraits of bus drivers and it was interesting to see the difference between those two things. My grandfather was a bus driver, my kids dad is a bus driver and I wondered if that had been applied to the library, you know heartwarming portraits of librarians, we probably would have gotten ack, euww, you know heartwarming and I felt that way about the bus drivers cause I know a lot of bus drivers, it’s is there some idea that bus drivers wouldn’t be kind to people? Or, but it’s interesting, librarians often, we often end up in those articles about public perception, it was just funny that those two came out the same week and no-one was talking about the bus drivers. Nobody was talking about the bus drivers.
What, do you wonder if there’s this blogless fear of bus drivers, that they were all complaining the same way we complain about.
That’s true, it’s possible, it could be that I don’t follow enough bus drivers on Twitter, yes [laughs] this is true, yes.
Well, and I think in the same, that’s a good example, cause in the same way of librarianship that we maybe are the stereotype, does the horrible thing that happens to you and it’s a wonderful life that you’re stuck as a librarian for your…
Yes, that’s hilarious, so if you didn’t exist, you’re wife would have been a spinster librarian, oh my gosh.
And bus drivers are probably Ralph Cramden crammed into most people’s heads, just.
Right, right, right, right.
Yes, yes, but I want to go back and address something that you asked earlier that I didn’t touch on which was do I think there would be anything of value in the MLS for me. Absolutely, absolutely. I don’t want to say that I think that this is not a worthwhile thing to go through. I follow quite a few librarians on Twitter and in other online venues and one of the things I’ve asked, asked opinion of is do you think, if I went back and got an MLS, do you think it would, it would help me in my current work? It would help me in what I’m doing, would it make me better at my job? And I’ll be a thousand percent honest, all I have ever heard is no. I’ve never heard someone say yes, yes you will be much better at your job. And that’s what’s important to me. I am not looking to go up in the system, be a branch manager and go that route, of course I’d have to get an MLS if I wanted to do that. But, in terms of my daily work on the ground with patrons, or working on system like teams, if it’s not gonna make me better at my job, that’s what I’m interested now in, now at this point, is how to be the best library peer-professional that I can be and that’s, that’s what’s important to me.
Just like Jan.
Yes [laughs]. Yes.
So, another thing we were wanting to talk about and this was the topic that, it’s funny that, beforehand we kind of exchanged ideas about what we wanted to talk about and it was, everything you sent me was exactly what I was going to ask you about anyway. So, [laughs], it was nice that we were sort of in the same wavelength. And one of the things is, it’s very obvious in your work on Twitter and on Shelf Check that like you said Jan is a lesbian and you mentioned that as a, something that you wanted to talk about was, and the phrasing you gave me was very interesting, that I wanted to bring it up, but you said talking about being visibly GLBTQ friendly at work. And the visibly word is what struck me and I wanted you to elaborate on that, cause, I mean, I think most of us probably think oh well I’m friendly, but I think visibly I think can be a key part of that.
Absolutely, absolutely and I think I might have bought it up cause I was recently having a conversation with a young librarian who is a lesbian and when she’ll say certain things that kind of, let’s just say I’m going out to visit my girlfriend and her colleagues, or her patrons, you know they just thinks she’s just saying girlfriend, like your friend, it’s a girlfriends night, things like that and she’s like how visible, cause people will just ride over it because we are a smaller subset of the population and they’re not going to default to thinking that that’s what you’re saying. And I shared a blog post I wrote, it’s on Shelf Check, it’s called Being Visibly Queer Friendly Please Consider It and you can find on the right hand, I had the prose post pulled out, you can find it on the right hand side of the blog. But.
I’ll link to it from the show notes here too, so.
Oh, good, great. So a few years ago, I think it was 2006, I don’t remember, it was when It Gets Better campaign first came out and the reason I think that It Gets Better campaign first came out, the reason the motivation behind starting it was that there had been this rash of suicides of queer teens, six that we heard about, six in the space of a few months. And it had me thinking about being visibly, visibly friendly at work, it’s. So what I do is, I have, I made myself up a button, it’s just a rainbow button and it says be proud at your library and that’s what I do to be visibly queer for me. Of course if a patron, if it comes up in conversation, oh your husband must blah, blah, blah, well I have a partner, but, and I’ll always out about it that way, but people coming into the library, a lot of. First off, a lot of people, library visits are part of the journey of a lot of LGBTQ people. It’s where they’re going someplace, they’re learning about themselves, maybe not as much today as it was 20 years ago, but still, but still a bit. And folks might not want to ask for things and the catalog often doesn’t make things very easy to find [laughs]. The Library of Congress cataloging is not the friendliest, it really, really isn’t and another thing that I’ve got there on the blog is a slide deck from a training I did called Serving Our LGBTQ Patrons that I presented to library staff and then also ended up presenting to county, county staff, showing places in which the catalog was offensive and things like that. But also going back to remembering how very, very much it meant to me as a teenager to see a LGBTQ friendly thing anywhere. I had a professor and this is probably the post, but I had a professor who wore a button that just said that he supported LGBTQ rights, they were giving them out my freshman year of college for an awareness week and I, I got a button for myself, they were free and I put it on in my dorm room and then I walked to the bathroom and I was in there alone and then another person came in and I ripped the button off because I just was not ready even, even to be about supporting LGBTQ rights and this was 91. But seeing that my professor had that button meant a lot to me. It made me feel safer and I think, I think that’s still necessary, I think even though we’re in a place where we’re seeing queer teens on Glee and gay marriage passing in a lot of places, right when those sorts of rights start to happen, you’re, we’re, GLBTQ folks, sorry LGBTQ I say it a couple of different ways, they’re in the news every day so your kid, you wake up and there, people are arguing on TV about whether you should be allowed to get married, or whether you should be allowed to run a scout troop, or whatever. So, there are positives, but you’re also just seeing a lot of these things that are calling into question your right to, I don’t know exist the same way as a non-LGBTQ person and I think it’s no small thing to see visible signs of friendliness, just knowing that a person is going to be okay if you have a question like that. I do have a lot of folks, adults and teenagers comment on the button. They’ll just say, they’ll come up and they’ll ask me a reference question and they’ll just be, by the way I like your button and maybe blush or something. And so, and it’s a button, that one I have several colleagues that wear it, it’s, it doesn’t say I’m queer, it just says be proud of your library and so I have a number of straight colleagues who wear it too. Yeah.
Well that’s something that, that’s kind of, the key is everybody being that way, not just saying oh well, I’m gay so I agree with this and it’s like well, of course if you are you agree with it, I mean, overall.
Well, right, but a way to be, you know I’m not, I’m not calling on everyone to do it, but I just, I guess I’m just saying that if you do support it, it’s, some folks the visual can help a lot of folks who might not say something otherwise, who might not ask. You can really help and again going back to it was born out of the, all those teen suicides and if they had looked anywhere and seen something friendly anywhere, in their immediate surroundings, obviously you can friendly things online, or elsewhere, but if they knew that, I don’t know, that the librarian at their public library thought that they were okay [laughs], maybe that would have helped.
Well and I think it’s important, I mean this issue, but lots of others, that the library be seen as a safe place anything basically. I mean for ideas, for the way people live, for your community, I mean for everybody in the community this is a safe place for you to come and talk about whatever you want and feel like you can do whatever you want.
Absolutely, absolutely, yes, I think one of our, one of the most important things we can do at the information desk is be approachable and friendly and never be like, oh, someone’s asking me a question, I rule, but always be patient, you know patient with someone because it’s no small thing to come up and ask a question, it isn’t. I know, I’ll say, honestly, when I was a kid, even a college kid, I never asked the librarian a question. I think it’s, in some way in my head, it was like admitting failure, that I couldn’t find something by myself. But, it never would have occurred to me and for some people, especially, say for example if English is not their first language, getting the courage to go up and ask a question and knowing that the person there will be receptive and friendly and patient versus not, is really important, really important.
Exactly. I know creative people hate when you say where do you get all your ideas from? But, you know, where do you get your, how to you, so it’s more how do you refine your ideas and how do you, are there people that you, especially follow that you get special energy from? Or that you like to collaborate with and do you have anything, I’ll ask that later so go ahead.
Sure, sure. Where I get my ideas from, it depends on the project. With Shelf Check I think people think oh you work in a public library, you just get those ideas from where you work. And the fact of the matter is if I was writing about my library, the only people that would find it even remotely funny would be my co-workers [laughs]. So, so for stuff like Shelf Check I get if from Google Reader when it was around, or seeing what issues are raising eyebrows and things like that, it’s, I really try to, or ALS News I guess I call it list news in my head, those are the things that I’m always casting around looking for ideas for and obviously have not been doing as good a job of it lately. For something like, I’ve done a lot of work on how libraries can have an effective Twitter presence and for something like that, I’m pretty good at looking what folks are doing on a platform and figuring out what they’re not doing and what we can maybe try and so a lot of times ideas are coming just from looking at something and wondering how we could make it better. I am, ideas are a strength of mine, we recently took this strengths finder, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that test, but strengths finder at work where you find out where your top five strengths are and you slowly realize that those five strengths could also be what your top five curses are.
And one of my strengths is ideation which is just coming up with ideas and the important thing in a library setting is, is to learn how to make those ideas friendly and interesting to others, especially folks that are able to say hey, yeah, let’s take a chance on this, let’s try this. And so that’s something I’m always trying to improve at. You can have tons of ideas, but if the only person they excite is you, or the only person they seem feasible to is you, that’s not gonna in any way make an impact in your system.
So do you feel like you also need to know how to be able to sell those ideas to your supervisors?
Yes, yes. I actually, I took a MOOC, I don’t know, about a year ago called Leading Strategic Innovation In Organizations. It was fantastic, if it’s ever offered again I highly recommend it. It was by a professor out of Vanderbilt called David Owens and his book is called Creative People Must Be Stopped. And it was basically appealing to folks who do up ideas and your boss asks you for ideas and you come with a bunch of ideas and they just crush all your ideas, here’s why. And it’s very practical reasons. You need to be able to, it is on you, if you have a great idea and you want to go somewhere with it, it’s not your supervisor’s responsibility to, to say yes absolutely. It’s your responsibility to figure out a way that, to make it feasible to others. To do the legwork of saying here’s what we would need to do and to look at the possible objections and try to do that work. A lot of, a lot of ideas people I think, people are, ah, you know, ah these people are idiots, they never take my ideas and we could be doing so much awesome stuff and it’s very important not to become that person that you’re going to blame others for being too backward to, to listen to your fabulous ideas. I think I’ve strayed a little off the topic now, but yes, I guess, I guess looking around at things and synthesizing things is pretty much where I get my ideas from. Finding them is something you need to sort of, you need to put them into practice whenever we can and see what doesn’t work.
Maybe you can elaborate on that with the specific example of why did you come to the library display that you recently posted about. Can you talk about what that display was and the response you’ve gotten about it?
Yes. I, I came up with a really simple display idea for our library and basically it was just asking patrons why did you come to the library today. And it was a large bulletin board and it was covered with a piece of paper and people could write what they came for. And, and I shared a lot of the images on Twitter and it kind of took off and Library Aware shared it on Facebook and said oh this is a good idea so it kind of took a lot and, and it really came out of a couple of things there. Number one, a lot times libraries are asking during national library week, what do you love about your library? And that sort of question, it really requires someone to sit down and think and it has to and you’re only going to get respondents who love the library for one, or love the library enough to realize that this is a campaign to get comments and participate. And the reason I like a very simple question like why did you come to the library today better is because it’s sort of a boom, that’s why I came. I don’t have to love the library to say why I actually came here to make music, or use services today.
And so I felt that, think you get a lot more participants in something like that and it starts to raise awareness of all the different things the library has to offer, all the different sorts of folks who use it and, and that’s what made it effective. I mean we got answers, we got answers, everything from I came here to work on my sermon, or to help, to learn how to help mamma’s give birth, so these really specific things and we got a lot of well cause I love books and then we got some that were no new movies were playing and so I figured I would just come and that’s okay. That’s okay, we want to know, you know, what’s bringing you in here and, and so it was really neat just seeing the variety of reasons people came in. Some were very practical, you know, you could tell they probably didn’t come to the library often, it was like I needed your scanner, you know. Just for that one thing. But it was, so it was interesting to see the variety of reasons and I think it was a lot more, it was easier to participate in than something like why do you love your library and I think it ended up being more, more meaningful and really kind of in some ways a better, a better celebration of why people come to the library than just saying why they love it. It’s just well really why did you come. So.
Did you have any, did you have any responses that surprised you?
Let’s see here. I wouldn’t say that they surprised me necessarily, although they might have stuck out but I didn’t know, like for example I didn’t know that there was someone who came to the library to write sermons, or someone said you know to finish a poem, or things like that. There was nothing that surprised me too much, but finding out those more specific reasons, like, hey someone comes to write sermons in the library, I didn’t know that. Those were, those were the really neat ones.
Okay. Another creative project you’ve got, not necessarily in your library, but in the world of librarianship is the card game, Cards Against Librarianship. Can you, first of all for people who may not know explain what Cards Against Humanity is and then why you wanted to do your own spin on it?
Sure. Yeah, yeah. Cards Against Humanity is a card game that has been on the internet for a while, but I think really took off this holiday season. You can download it for free, just Google Cards Against Humanity, or you can pay $25 I think for an actual nice physical deck. And it’s very similar if you’ve ever played Apples To Apples, it’s the same concept, it’s basically one person gets a question card and maybe a fill in the blank card and all the other participants in the game put down an answer, something that would fill in that blank and the person running the round that time would basically just judge which one they thought was the most amusing, or fitting, or whatever. So kind of like a Mad Libs game. And Cards Against Humanity is very, it’s sort of things like, oh that’s so wrong, it’s got a lot of, I don’t know how you would, I don’t know how you would call it humor. But, it, it’s provocative.
It’s blue [laughs].
Yes, it’s blue, it’s provocative, it’s oh that’s so wrong, but it’s also hilarious and I’d gotten that for, or actually my partner had gotten that for me. This holiday season we were playing it with our, with our 16 year old and our 19 year old, which is pretty, pretty fun. I don’t know and it just kind of occurred to me wow it would be so fun to do a Cards Against Librarianship and so I, I started working on it and I threw the idea out on ALA think tank and found that some other folks had also been thinking of doing something like that and mid-winter was coming up in a few weeks and so I just set myself the deadline of hey let’s just actually, let’s just crank this out so that people can play it at mid-winter and that’s, and that’s why I made it. And I think it also, as you mentioned I have been really flagging having long periods of not making any Shelf Checks and this was a way of, of kind of channeling library related humor in a different direction. You know, a way to be funny about libraries that wasn’t Shelf Check and so that, that kind of, it got me excited.
Would you ever want to sell decks yourself? Or is that too much work?
No, I would not want to sell decks, but I do, I do want to put out and I might do it on Think Tank or hey, through this podcast, what I would love is to make the cards nicer. I just used a very crude images and things like that, they’re very, very simple and they’re… Someone had asked me well have you thought about making this a real, actual, nice looking card game and there’s a site called DriveThruCards where you can do that, you can upload your own images and put them on playing cards and you know the things will last, it’s not like putting something out on cardstock that’s gonna be wrinkled and what I would love to do is find somebody who would be willing to work on that with me. You need to know InDesign, or, or, is it Scribus? Something else like that. So I’ve looked at, I’ve looked at the opportunity, of the possibility of doing it myself and I’ve determined it’s, it’s really kind of over my head unless I had a lot of time. It is, I mean, you know, unless I had a lot of time to devote to sit down and learning about it, it’s over my head. So I do want to put out at some point a call for, you know, does anyone like the idea of this so darn much that they’d be willing to put it together and make these cards look nice. And then what we would do was set it at the base price, we wouldn’t make any money off it, we would just set it at the lowest price that DriveThruCards allows which is what I do on things like that, the product your library depends on. You know, I’m not making any money off it, if you want to get it, it’s at the lowest price possible because it doesn’t make sense to me to. I don’t know. I am a big proponent of the, of the sharing economy and give away your ideas and give away this, that and the other. I like that. I think, you know, it makes sense to me.
I guess in this case too, if you start making money on it, you might hear from the, from some attorneys from Cards Against Humanity, so [laughs].
Yes, that, that is possible, though Cards Against Humanity is creative commons license and they have been any number of variations on it that have come out. I think there’s a Doctor Who version and there was like a House Of Cards version, I really think someone should do Cards Against Humanities, you know someone who works in higher ed. So I think they’re probably pretty cool about that, but yeah, you never know if you were charging for it, absolutely, they could be like ugh, but yeah.
Yeah they’re actually a pretty funny company, I don’t know if you heard that on Black Friday they actually charged more for the card deck instead of. Instead of having a sale, they charged $30 instead of $25 just for that one day.
Oh brilliant, no I didn’t hear that, that’s great. Right, right, yeah, oh that’s hilarious. No, I didn’t know that.
Do you plan to keep doing Shelf Check on and off? As you have.
I would like to, I would like to. I need to, I, yes, I would love to, I would like to, I need to find a way to do it where I think it’s still, still funny. I can go back and look at ones from, you know, that are about technology or make their spaces, or whatever it is from 2010 and it’s four years later and the things, those issues are still kind of the same issues and I guess I just want some new issues [laughs] to talk about rather than feeling like I’m rehashing the same stuff, so it’s all about just finding new angles, new ways to, to make it interesting to me and to anyone else who might read it.
Well I look forward to more, so. [laughs]
So you said earlier than Jan is very optimistic about the profession, are you as optimistic as Jan is?
Oh, I should take that back. I don’t know that Jan’s optimistic about the profession. [laughs] I don’t think, she’s, she’s positive about patrons, but I don’t know that she’s necessarily optimistic about the profession. And I don’t know how I feel about it either. I think, you know, we live in interesting times, the curse, I think that’s what’s happening to libraries right now. I know there is a huge, huge need for our services and that will only grow. I think we definitely have a marketing and PR problem. And, and I think we’ll be around, but I don’t know. I mean I have seen some libraries are going towards not requiring the MLS and things like that, so I don’t know if everything’s going to take the same form. I’m not sure and definitely I have the feeling, I do baby story time at work, or I have done it, you know, will the babies in this baby story time bring their babies to baby story time at the library? And unfortunately my gut feeling there is no. So, I want to think about why that is and how we could change that.
Well I think, I think a lot of the ideas that you’ve got are good ways of, cause we need to make the library something that people want to come to and I think a lot of the creative ideas that you’ve had are good for that, so.
Thank you, thank you.
So Emily, where can people go to find out more about you online, if they want to read your writings and your comic?
Sure. The comic strip Shelf Check is at shelfcheck.blogspot.com. A lot of, a lot of my other library-related work, a lot on apps in early literacy and then a lot on sort of this, I don’t know, Twitter kind of, method on Twitter that, that I came up with for libraries called Follow Your Patrons, those are slideshare.net/e-l-l-o-y-d is for dog-74, so slideshare.net/elloyd74. And including that Serving Our LGBTQ patrons and then also tips on Twitter and on early literacy apps and stuff like that. I am PoesyGalore on Twitter, so @P-o-e-s-yGalore. And those are, those are basically my haunts.
Okay, and before we go, real quick, explain your Twitter name [laughs]
Oh, oh yes, yes, so my background, it’s funny how I met my partner and things like that is for many, many years I, I wrote poetry and that’s something also I’d still also like to get back into, I have a silly chat book floating out there somewhere and so Poesy Galore of course is just a pun on Pussy Galore from, from the Bond films. So, yeah. It was the name of my first blog which is still out there existing in a, in a dormant state and so I just took it from that blog name and made it my Twitter handle.
Somewhere floating out in the internet [laughs].
Yeah, yeah, no, yeah, not much is going on there right now, but it’s, it’s out there.
All right, well Emily thank you so much for talking to me today.
Yeah, thank, thanks for having me Steve, it was really fun.
All right, bye bye.
Okay, take care.
So I wanted to talk about that, but yeah, I was like, that would be a long discussion so I better not bring up another.
Yeah, yeah, no, no problem, that’s great. Yeah, yeah, if anyone wants to listen to me talk for almost an hour, that’s yeah, that’s [laughs] that’s as much as I’m gonna ever want to ask, so.