The Important Emotional Labor of Librarians

The stereotypical librarian is often depicted as a quiet enforcer of silence presiding over dusty bookshelves.  The truth is that public librarians do more than master the art and science of knowledge management.  They must also act as de facto social workers to help the people who walk in their doors every day.

brown and black wooden docor

I just read a touching article on the web site Medium titled The Important Emotional Labor of Librarians Most People Never Think AboutThe article highlights the misunderstood role of library workers in caring for our community.  Author Oleg Kagan shares his own personal story while highlighting the challenge of the profession:

“Most people intuitively understand the emotional load taken on by professions like social workers, nurses, 911 operators, and teachers. Rarely, however, do people consider the emotional labor of librarians. Spend a day at the service desk of a busy library and you’ll see people on their best and, too often, their worst days. Spend a few months and you’ll begin to follow the lives of your repeat visitors — you’ll be privy to, and sometimes help them solve, life’s hardest problems.”

Read the rest of this article at


Social Infrastructure

You may be familiar with the term “social capital”— the concept commonly used to measure people’s relationships and networks.  It has been used for many years as a way to emphasize the importance of people in an organization or community.  While this concept is important, what has often been overlooked is the public space that people need for this interaction to take place, known as the Social Infrastructure.

Social Infrastructure is featured in a recent Atlantic article titled, Worry Less About Crumbling Roads, More About Crumbling LibrariesAs author Eliot Klinenberg writes:

palaces“Public institutions, such as libraries, schools, playgrounds, and athletic fields, are vital parts of the social infrastructure. So too are community gardens and other green spaces that invite people into the public realm. Nonprofit organizations, including churches and civic associations, act as social infrastructure when they have an established physical space where people can assemble, as do regularly scheduled markets for food, clothing, and other consumer goods.”

Read the rest of this fascinating article on the Atlantic’s website.  If you enjoy it, look for Klinenberg’s book, Palaces of the People: how social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life at your local library.

Banishing The Ghost Of Melvil Dewey

The idea of a public library is a modern concept convinced in the mid-1800’s.  It took years before free libraries were established across the country.  One of the early proponents of public libraries in America was Melvil Dewey, who became the State Librarian of New York in 1888.

Today Dewey is best remembered as the originator of the book classification system that carries his name, as well as a founder of the American Library Association.  What is not well remembered is the social agenda that powered his belief in public libraries.  In a recent article on “The Establishment” web site called Banishing The Ghost Of Melvil Dewey: How Public Libraries Are Outgrowing Their Classist Roots, author Anna Gooding-Call shares this view of Dewey:

220px-Melvil_Dewey“He was a zealous librarian celebrity, famously arrogant, and completely committed to the idea that the public could only improve themselves if they understood and embodied Christian morality. Dewey could provide this education with books, which would “elevate” them through a system of ideologically coordinated public libraries. When shown the foundation of Western literature—ran the logic—readers would understand how society functioned as well as their place within it. The result would be literate but passive components of a capitalist machine. Public libraries would be its oil.”

Read the rest of this fascinating article that examines how libraries today are adjusting to a present much different from what Dewey ever imagined.

Invoking the Power of “Next Action” Thinking

cleandeskWhy do I use the word “efficient” to describe this path of librarianship?  In my article, Efficient Librarianship – A New Path for the Profession the word efficient is defined as: 1. Being or involving the immediate agent in producing an effect; 2. Productive of desired effects; especially: productive without waste.

While the second part of the definition is straightforward, the first part resonates with this work.  From the article:

“Identifying and implementing improvements to personal and organizational workflows produce powerful results. However, the best systems in the world are only useful if they free up energy for productive next actions. An Efficient Librarian understands the implications of the first part of the definition of the word “efficient” given at the start of this article which is to be the agent that produces an effect. An agent by definition is one who acts. Therefore, an Efficient Librarian is very mindful of his or her actions.

“Most people decide their next action at work by reacting to their surroundings. Crisis and stress tend to focus the mind on the most urgent needs. People may subconsciously allow crisis to enter their lives to narrow their action choices. To illustrate, think about what would happen if you discover that the building is on fire. Your next action would be very simple—get out! No need to think about that one. While it does help to simplify decision making, crisis is an unhealthy way to live from day to day due to the accumulated stress. Therefore, an Efficient Librarian purposefully moves past crisis to make meaningful action decisions when things first show up, rather than when they start to blow up.”

Read the rest of the article on the Public Libraries web site.

And the Winner Is …

PL-NOV-DEC-2017-cover-artRRRLast week, my article on Efficient Librarianship was competing in a poll for the Public Library Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award.  This year, congratulations go out to Kyra Hahn for her article about Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which was the winner. Thank you to everyone who voted in the poll.  I look forward to competing again for this honor in the future.

In the meantime, check out this recording of a Florida Library Webinar on the best items from this year’s PLA Conference.  My Spark Talk presentation on Five Minutes to Inbox Zero was mentioned a couple of times.  Whether you were at the conference or not, the webinar is a great opportunity to catch up on the exciting events and information from this seminal event.

Readers Choice Feature Article Contest

PL-NOV-DEC-2017-cover-artRRRThe other day I received the following email from Public Libraries Magazine regarding my article, Efficient Librarianship, a New Path for the Profession:

I’m writing to let you know that a feature article you contributed to “Public Libraries” in 2017 has been chosen to participate in the annual ‘readers choice’ feature article award. Five articles have been chosen and readers will vote for the article they feel should receive the award. The prize is $300 which is presented during the PLA member breakfast at the ALA Annual Conference.

You can see more here Please feel free to share and encourage voting among your friends and colleagues.  Thanks so much for sharing this great work with our readers!


Kathleen M. Hughes
Editor, Public Libraries
Manager, Publications

PLA, division of ALA

I encourage everyone to participate in the online poll, irregardless of whom you vote for.  If my article is selected, I plan to donate the prize money to our library partners, The Friends of the Palm Beach County Library System.

The deadline to cast your vote is this Friday, June 1.

Join Me at FLA

flalogoThe Florida Library Association Conference is happening this week at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando Florida from May 23-25.  I will be participating in several different events, including the Public Library Academy pre-conference on the afternoon of May 22.  As well, I am leading the breakout session, Lessons Learned from the Sunshine State Library Leadership Institute on May 24, 3 pm.

Although there are no Efficient Librarian sessions on the agenda, I am inviting all my blog readers to join me for lunch at the pool side bar on May 23 after the opening session wraps up around 11:30 am.  So, if you are attending the conference, drop on by.  I’ll even do my best to answer any productivity questions you may have!

On a completely different note, here is a link to an intriguing article on Tiago Forte’s blog called A Pattern Recognition Theory of Mind.  It may help you understand why you think as you do.