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Six biggest library annoyances and how to fix them

The website Lifehacker this week had an article titled: The Six Biggest Media Center Annoyances (and How to Fix Them) and I got excited thinking those smart people were going to help school media specialists become (even) more popular. The "media center" being written about, however, was the home amalgamation of TV, amplifier, speakers, and various tuners, DVRs, etc. - not school libraries.

But it is a great title that I have modified slightly for clarity to use for this post. I am putting on my library patron and parent/grandparent hat in writing this post...

Six biggest library annoyances and how to fix them

  1. Unfriendly/unhelpful librarian. I am always shocked when I see kids treated as an annoyance rather than as a reason for being by any library staff member. You fix this by firing the librarian with the negative attitude and replacing him/her with someone whose personal mission statement includes service to children. The librarian should be a primary reason for coming to the library - not the reason one avoids it.
  2. Book fines. Libraries with policies that seem to emphasis getting books back instead of getting books out, drive me nuts. Find positive ways of helping kids and teacher show respect for other library users by the timely return of stuff. A book sitting on a shelf is worthless.
  3. Computers "for school use only" policies. School libraries should encourage personal learning not just academic learning. OK, a library may have a limited number of terminals and priority should be given to school work, but there is absolutely NO reason for a library workstation to sit unused if there are students wanting to look for information of personal interest. This is a simple policy change. A computer sitting unused is worthless.
  4. Material checkout restricted by age or reading ability. It drives me insane to hear about my grandsons book checkout being restricted to the "easy" book section or set of preselected materials when they go to the library. At the very least, librarians should allow a child to check out one book of personal choice from anywhere in the library along with the required book.
  5. Poorly weeded collections. A badly weeded collection is not the sign of underfunding but of professional incompetence. If funding is a problem, collections should be getting smaller, not older. The only fix for old, cruddy collections is a dedication to weeding - and a information campaign to staff about why weeding is imperative.
  6. Excuses. There is no excuse for a library program that is not getting better.  Problems with budget, staffing, facility, scheduling and administrative support are not good reasons for not providing kids and staff access to good reading materials, Internet access, and information literacy skills. It is our personal toward our programs, not our situations, that determines our efficacy. Get your head around it.

 So what are your biggest annoyances and how would you fix them? Oh, feel free to creat a similar list for your tech director or tech department. If you're going to dish it out, you better be able to take it as well, my mother always warned me.

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Reader Comments (22)

Your posts always resonate with me. Thanks. Seems like this time, for almost every one of the 6 annoyances, my first reaction was to begin with my big BUT and then to start in with the whining. While I cannot argue with any of these 6, I do think...

1. I don't get up in the morning intending to be unfriendly and usually I'm not. But, I probably do seem unfriendly or unhelpful toward the kids when their classroom teacher drops them off unscheduled and unexpected or when there's already a class of 30 (or two classes) already in the library. I know I should direct this at the teacher, but she's gone already and I've got her kids. It's getting better as the year progresses, BUT..

2. While we don't administer fines, it sure seems like I expend a lot of energy trying to get books back. BUT that's because I want to get them out again so another person can read them. Not fair for anybody to leave a book at the bottom of their backpack or locker. Yes, we have an overdue policy and yes, I probably badger kids about overdue books BUT...

5. Thank you for the affirmation about continuous weeding. I'm not sure anyone outside of a library understands the importance of weeding. BUT I sure do wish I could adequately replace what I week.

6. OK, so I really have no excuses. BUT there are legitimate reasons that my library isn't providing and doing the things we should in this century. Unfortunately, if I discuss these reasons (budget, staffing, scheduling), they still sound like excuses. I help provide an awful lot from the library at this school in spite of those reasons, or excuses.

So, you see, I have a big BUT too much of the time.

October 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBob Follmuth

Hi Bob,

While I don't believe in excuses, I certainly recognize that libraries do face challenges and obstacles. Perhaps they are the same thing, but viewed through a different lens - the unchangeable vs the difficult but possible to change.

I always worry when I write a little diatribe like this that I am viewing another's work from an ivory tower, not having the day to day frustrations to contend with that those whom I lecturing do have.

Thanks for the comment. You're a thoughtful guy.


October 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I, too, object to "no excuses," as it seems to imply to my administrators that I should be able to provide the same level of services as one librarian in four buildings that three years ago four librarians worked 10 and 12 (or more) hour days to provide. Not being able to provide non-stop info lit for 2000+ students is a reality, not an excuse. "No excuses" always sounds to me like management-speak for "I want it done but don't want to pay for it.". Worse, this has become the default attitude across the work world, not just in schools, and I'm darn tired of it. Which parts of librarianship shall I leave out to look excuseless? Professional development? Selection and deselection? Managinging paraprofessionals thoughtfully? Collaborating with teachers? Community connections? Keeping up with kiddie lit and technology? Of course not, says the "no excuses" brigade. You should stop cleaning your house, attending family events, volunteering outside your workplace, having personal time, taking part in Union activity, etc.

Sorry, quite the sore point for me! I think when we are not clear about the diminished services that result from diminished funding or staffing, we teach those we serve that we were wasting their money before, and we fuel unreasonable expectations. Clarity about possibilities by the professional doing a job should not be interpreted as excuses for a low level of improvement by those demanding impossibilities.

October 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I agree on some points. My students love coming to the library - it is a scheduled special area not an open library - and new students tell me the librarian at their old school was mean. All should feel welcomed to come in and learn.

I teach 8 classes a day and am thrilled when books come back on their own. But, too many times, if I don't remind students to return books, they just get damaged or lost in backpacks or under beds. There isn't funding to buy more books so I need to take care of what I have. This leaves some of my books in need of weeding due to damage but my students love them too much so I keep repairing them. I only charge for books lost or damaged by neglect, not by being loved too long.

The reality of computers is that we are ruled by district "cover your bum" policies. I allow students to clear their personal searches with me when it is before or after school but some students are not wise in their choices so I limit their choices during class because I can't check out books and monitor 25 computers. I need my job and librarians have lost not only their job but their certification from a student's actions. BTW- my computers are 10 years old and running on a Linux platform because funding, or lack thereof, does not cover Microsoft. My students have learned that, if they abuse the technology/computer, it will not be replaced.

I don't have an assistant, I work 10-12 hours a day then take papers home to grade and I create lesson plans without the aide of a teacher textbooks for k-8 grade students. No, the weeding of unused books doesn't happen. That is a reality I've come to accept without being an excuse.

Funding? Really? My job is gone next year due to lack of funding. I've had most of my students their entire elementary life. Arizona is dead last in funding education. That is REALITY not the librarian or any educator. I will have a job in education for next year but my salary continues to decrease. I'm glad to have the job, though, because I love my students and they know it.

If you really care and want to make a difference, changing this reality or overcome the "excuses," get out and vote for education or get into your local school library and volunteer to weed, repair, and shelve books. Make a difference!

October 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLibrarian

I agree with every single one of these points! Thanks, Doug!

October 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKrystina

Hm. I'd rather see discussion about why a librarian might be unhelpful/unfriendly (overworked? Lacking in particular communication skills?) and an effort to help that person (fighting for better conditions, offering training) than a firing/rehiring situation. I don't think a lack of job security is going to lead to better service.

I feel similar about the 'no excuses' line of thinking - as someone above suggested this can so easily be manager code for 'quit complaining' and I'd rather talk about ways to get these very real problems addressed.

I agree wholeheartedly on 2, 3 and 4 though - anything to increase accessibility.

October 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura M

Hi Anonymous, Librarian, and Laura,

I appreciate your candor and you've made me reflect on my statement about "excuses." (Have I really gone over to the darkside and completely gone "management?" Yikes.)

I will put a full response in an upcoming blog post.


October 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thank you for giving each of us an opportunity to look in the mirror and see how we are doing on each of the issues you have highlighted. I believe I am doing okay in each area, but there is always room for improvement.

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Wilkins

Thanks, Barbara. I appreciate the comment. I am thinking I need to do some clarification of that last point "excuses!"


October 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I fully agree with everything in your blog....BUT as the sole library media specialist for 8 school libraries it is hard to stay on top of weeding. I'm not one to whine about the situation I have been put in, I just go into day and try to do the best with what I have. Is my library program going to be as good as the next school district over who has full time librarians in every school probably not, but I will will try my hardest.

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen Peterson

I would love to see some suggestions about how to encourage book circulation without library fines.
I agree - the fines seem to discourage circulation at times - so how do we encourage returns so materials are available for the next user.

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMalena

I love this list. As a librarian the one thing I do notice often is how many people tell me that they no longer go, or are reluctant to go, or are afraid to go to their library because they were treated poorly. It's hard to know without having witnesses the situation what exactly happened on that day, but there are a few things I can take an educated guess about.

a) Probably you were not talking to a librarian at the front desk of a library, you were talking to a library clerc. Why would a library clerk be less friendly than a librarian? They are not always less friendly, but they are more often at the desk. Libraries are not always able to staff actual librarians outside of department heads. However, clerks don't have the training librarians have had and may not see themselves in the same role. Librarians are being trained more and more to be facilitators of knowledge and not gatekeepers of knowledge. This has not always been the case! If a library clerk has worked for twenty or thirty years their training may be twenty or thirty years old. And they've done this at a very low rate of pay! If you don't think your salary helps with attitude think again. Do we pay them enough to do all they do? Library clerks work hard, and what do they get for it other than a very small paycheck?
b) Librarians tend to be brainy types. Some of us answer questions literally or spend a lot of time thinking about questions while answering it. We may be thinking of the ten different possibilities of ways we can help and our delayed processing time may make our faces look unfriendly. I warn all of the people I work with that when I'm really interested in solving a problem I may frown while I"m thinking it through. I wonder if I dressed like Sherlock Holmes if I would look as unfriendly to people. Librarians are often women, and we do expect women to smile more than we expect men. It is hard to keep a cheery smile on all day long every day, but being approachable is important.
c) Maybe you caught me on the day I am rushing out to pick up my husband who just broke down in the van down the street, after I saw that someone had vandalized the bathroom, the same day that we have an important speaker coming and I was planning to pick up the catering but instead am trying to make sure said husband doesn't freeze while I answer a question that is posted on the sign next to me right at the front desk for the hundredth time. Excuse, no, but understandable, perhaps if you knew what was going on in my day. :)

Whatever the reason though, librarian or library worker, if you are at that desk you represent all of us! Please remember, many people are so sensitive, one bad experience and they'll never be back. That is not what we want!

But let's not start beating up librarians the way we have been beating up teachers lately. We are the lowest paid field that requires a masters degree, and we wear many hats. Let's celebrate a list of what we get right too!

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNell Fleming

My annoyance is having administration fill my unassigned time (time I do not have a class scheduled) with AM door duty, proctoring tests, subbing for a teacher who has to leave early or attend a meeting, covering recess, monitoring study halls, etc. They do not understand that having the library open full time for teachers and students is a full time job. Shelving, weeding, processing magazines, writing curriculum, ordering books, 1-1 help for students' research questions, (you all know the list...) all have to be done to have a functioning library, but those few blank spaces in my schedule ignites a fire to fill them up! Let's see what we can dump on the librarian.

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGloria Young

Hi Jen,

I don't think what counts is the hand we're dealt as much as it is how we play it. Be sure to read my follow-up post on "excuses".

Thanks for commenting,


Hi Malena,

Perhaps it is idealistic, but positive reinforcement for responsible circulation might be the answer here. Recognition, reward, a party or privileges for those without overdues items for a term?


Hi Nell,

You bring up some good points here. Everyone can have the occasional bad experience with even the best person or organization. The trouble is when the bad experience is the rule rather than the exception.

I have long argued that the professional librarian should be on the floor, not in the office, so he/she can be there to greet and help patrons. This may help overcome the clerk issue you've described. More about para's here:

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to comment!


Hi Gloria,

I'll wear my admin hat for this response. I think the best you can do is accurately and pleasantly describe what will not get done that benefits students and staff when you are given these sorts of tasks. Then it is up to the principal to decide which is more important to the well-being of the school. Trust me, administrators are often between a rock and a hard place in getting some important duties done and don't like asking people do them either.

All the best,


October 31, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I'm going to go weed RIGHT NOW!

October 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda

I suggest unprofessional weeding. When you walk by shelves as you help a student or staff member, pull obviously yucky, battered, out-of-date books. Pick a shelf, any shelf, and weed it. This is fast and you can more easily do a more professiional, systematic weed at another time. Just as we break down research and personal tasks into doable chunks, do the same with weeding. You are removing clutter so the great stuff is easier to find. Hope this helps!

November 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary Jane Jones

Hi Mary Jane,

Good advice. Maybe the weeding mantra should be "one shelf a day."

Thanks for the comment,


November 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I COMPLETELY agree with your point about weeding. In fact, I think it's one of the most important things we do as librarians. I've worked in three different school libraries during my career, and I was the first one to do an extensive weeding at each one in probably decades. Every time I weed, I see an immediate and dramatic increase in circulation and interest. It's just one of those fundamental things we MUST do.

November 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Newton

Thanks, Lisa. I appreciate the comment. Have fun weeding!


November 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Sometimes clever technology CAN help too. In my library, we use LGuide from LAT. Its loaded on all desktops and in addition to serving as a digital guidance (copy room, bathroom, reference, etc..) it also highlights and provides 1 click access to library resources, databases, and OPAC. Very cool. We use lots of volunteers, not everyone with most friendly disposition :), so this helps to 'smooth' patron experience.

November 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Green

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