Your Information Expert: Speaks With a Public Librarian

Laura-Shea Clark with her brass quintet

Laura Shea-Clark (left) posing with her trumpet and brass quintet. It's National Book Month! What's your favorite book?

Laura Shea-Clark: You realize of course that a librarian can't just talk about one book! There are many books that I love, but I'll mention those that I feel compelled to recommend to people over and over. The first is Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen. Each chapter is a poignant story about her experience as a physician. Two books I always recommend to people interested in world issues are Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, which is about building relationships and schools in Afghanistan, and Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, which discusses the effects of unbridled capitalism on countries around the world. A management book must-read is The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey. He asserts that increased trust and transparency lowers cost and speeds up production.

As for fiction, I especially like Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler. It's about a middle-aged widow who reflects on the path she chose and whether or not it was the right one. I also love The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. It portrays beautiful characters struggling with tragedy, civil rights, race relations, mental illness, and family relationships. For suspenseful page-turners I read books by the team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. In the 'digital age' of online research and e-books, the traditional library seems outdated to many people. How do you see the role of both the book and the library evolving in the 21st century?

LSC: One role of the public library is to bridge the 'digital divide' and provide service to those who don't have, or can't afford, the latest technologies. Providing free access to the Internet has become a very important part of what we do. Also, because not everyone can afford several hundred dollars for an e-reader, providing print books will still be important for the immediate future.

In terms of the changing role of the book, we will continue to see accelerated growth in the downloadable market - books, audio books, music, and movies. Librarians are advocating for a standardized, simpler method for downloads in libraries, which currently requires downloading various software for Digital Rights Management (DRM). E-books themselves are also continuing to evolve and will have more interactive features. What inspired you to become a librarian?

LSC: Near the end of my bachelor's degree I decided that I didn't want to be a music teacher after all, so I finished up with a degree in Trumpet Performance. Realizing that succeeding as a professional musician would be very difficult, I considered various career options. At the time I was working in a university's Registration and Records Department, and I enjoyed helping people at the desk and on the phone, using various reference sources to answer questions. A friend was in library school, and all of her classes sounded interesting to me, so I enrolled in the program.

I love knowledge and am interested in all kinds of subjects, which is typical of most librarians. I also enjoy keeping things in order, constantly learning, finding efficiencies and being innovative. Can you tell us about the education required to become a public librarian? What would you suggest our readers do if they're interested in pursuing the same career path?

LSC: Traditionally a Master of Library Science is required to be a librarian, but there are many people working in libraries without the degree. Library assistants don't have an MLS and may or may not have a bachelor's degree, but they often have years of experience. The MLS is typically required for supervisory and management positions, so many people work toward this degree in order to advance in their jobs.

As with any career, it's best to talk to people already in the field and shadow them to get a sense of what their average day is like. The day-to-day experience can be quite different than one might expect. The job will evolve over time, requiring one to be flexible and adaptable. If you enter the library profession now, be prepared to have solid technology and customer service skills and be ready for constant change. These days, many people see librarians as more than just keepers of books - you're 'information experts.' Besides sitting behind a reference desk, what's your role as a public librarian?

LSC: Just like AT&T positioned itself as a communications company, not just a telegraph company, libraries are in the information business, not simply the book business. As the growth and access to information continues to grow exponentially, librarians become even more important in helping to sort through it all and uncover the best information.

As librarians we are connectors to information, helping people find what they're looking for, as well as educating people so they are able to use tools to find information on their own.

We also level the playing field, providing books, music, movies, Internet access, databases and assistance to those who can't afford to pay for these services. And we build community by offering programs for families, adults, children and teens. Can you tell us about any reading, literacy or 'information literacy' outreach activities that you and your library engage in?

LSC: We contract with the Santa Clara County Library to provide literacy services though their Reading Program, which pairs volunteer tutors with learners to teach basic reading, writing, math and computer skills for free.

November marks the fifth year of the ''Mountain View Reads Together'' program, which creates a shared community experience by selecting one book for everyone to read together and offering a series of related programs. The 2010 MVRT book is Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. It's a memoir of the author's childhood during the Iranian Revolution, told in a vivid graphic novel format.

Mountain View also participates in ''Silicon Valley Reads'', a one book program for all of Silicon Valley. This year's book is The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond. The book takes place in the Bay Area and is a beautifully written story about a missing girl and the relationships affected by her disappearance. Both MVRT and SVR promote reading and literacy, broaden exposure to good literature and build community.

For the past several years we've hosted an annual Reading Day, which includes stories read in various languages, children's programs, and a Friends of the Library book sale. The next Reading Day is November 20th.

Our summer reading program has been a favorite tradition for many people. Thousands of children, teens and adults participate, and hundreds of people attend weekly children's programs. At the end of the summer we have a community celebration in Pioneer Park, and it's incredible to watch the sea of faces enjoying the program.

Mountain View Public Library

Mountain View Public Library, photo by John Valenti In what other ways do you and your library engage the community?

LSC: In addition to our community programs and events, we encourage community dialog through our blog, Twitter feed, and Facebook presence. We also have teen-focused social media outlets. Visit our website for information on how to connect with us.

We have found that many people express needs or ask questions outside our walls and not directed at us, so we keep our ears to the cloud by doing searches on 'library' within our local area and reaching out to people proactively to assist them.

We also encourage customers to give us feedback or recommend purchases either by filling out feedback cards or by using the Ask Mountain View system. Many of our readers are self-learners who aren't currently affiliated with any school. What pointers would you give them for using their local library as a tool for research and learning?

LSC: You would be amazed at what you can do with a library card! With a current photo ID and proof of address, you can get a library card from just about any public library. With that card you have access to not only physical books, music and movies, but also downloadable titles. This is especially handy when the physical book is checked out already, and you don't have time to wait to read it.

You can also get access to online information made available by libraries, which may include online newspapers, magazines (popular and scholarly), research databases, career and job search assistance, car repair manuals, reading suggestions and genealogy tools.

Libraries also offer free computer classes, wi-fi, study rooms and a quiet environment for studying. The best resource though are the librarians, who can guide you through the maze of information. More and more libraries are offering alternative ways to communicate with library staff, including email, text, IM, Twitter, Facebook and more. Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share any information you'd like about libraries today and your work as a public librarian.

LSC: It seems that those who predicted the death of libraries because of the Internet were wrong. Use of public libraries continues to increase every year. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, visits and circulation increased 20% from 1999 to 2008. In Mountain View, circulation increased 8% for the fiscal year ending June 2010, compared with the previous year. As the economy gets worse, public library business increases. People try to save money by borrowing movies and books instead of buying them and by attending free events.

We continue to see the digital divide in public libraries. In the last couple of years we have experienced many people coming into the library who have never used a computer but are now required to fill out a job application online. Those who do have a computer at home may have had to cancel their cable subscription, so they come in to use the library's Internet connection.

We are now in a self-service, instant gratification kind of world, where people are more likely to seek out answers from Google or the 'crowd' than a librarian. But with the vast amount of information available, librarians are even more important in helping to sift through it and selecting the best information.

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