A Deconstructive Approach to Libraries or: Overthinking It

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It is normally a good idea not to make your last post as a guest blogger all question and no answer. However, an esoteric, half-baked idea that is relevant to the discussion of the Uni might still be worth sharing — particularly because it bolsters an argument in favor of my own idiosyncrasies regarding the running of a pop-up, open-air reading room and libraries in general.

Upon thinking more deeply about the Uni, I began to realize its performative (don’t roll your eyes) aspects.  In 2003 I graduated with a BFA in Drama from NYU.  At the time, I was also Director of Operations for the experimental dance/theater company, Witness Relocation. My proclivities for performance (and especially movement-based, multidisciplinary, avant-garde performance) are still a crucial part of my foundation as a person. They shape the librarian I am and the way I view libraries; performance is like a cataract over my ideological vision.

It’s not an accident that I now focus on outreach and programming with such a background. (It also gives me (what I hope) is a unique perspective (in addition to many parenthetical asides)). Essentially, my approach to library and information science is the same as my approach to performance.

If you’re still reading this post, there is a particular theoretical connection between performance and libraries that I’d like to emphasize.  The incomparable performer/choreographer/teacher, Mary Overlie, originated the Six ViewPoints: a theoretical model, a framework, a language that “reveals the structure” ((http://sixviewpoints.com/Theory_1.html) of what is really happening, or “a deconstructive approach to theater” ((http://sixviewpoints.com/Theory_1.html). Each ViewPoint is “a window of perception” (http://sixviewpoints.com/Theory_1.html). I was fortunate enough to take a class with Overlie when I attended NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing.  She defies description, and I struggle equally with adequately describing the Six ViewPoints. But, I argue that they provide a framework that can (and should) be interpreted for libraries.

The information of space, the experience of time, the familiarity of shapes, the qualities and rules of kinetics in movement, the ways of logics, that stories are formed and the states of being and emotional exchanges that constitute the process of communication between living creature [sic]. (http://sixviewpoints.com/Theory_3.html)

And now here is an abridged overview of the Six ViewPoints:

SPACE – Perceptual ability to see and feel physical relationship [sic].

SHAPE – Perceptual ability to feel and see physical form.

TIME – Perceptual ability to experience duration and systems created to regulate duration.

EMOTION – Perceptual ability to experience states of being.

MOTION – Perceptual ability to experience and identify with kinetic sensation.

STORY – Perceptual ability to see and understand logic systems as an arrangement of collected information.


In the way that Overlie aims to deconstruct performance and look at its basic parts, librarianship needs its own ViewPoints. We must find a similar ViewPoints set that is translated into a language for libraries so that we have a vocabulary for discussing their enormous, shifting potential. For example, a demonstration of the application of the Space ViewPoint to libraries could be: The Uni transforms public space. Different Uni structures create different spatial relationships. The Uni tower structure on Governors Island encourages a different experience of looking than the clamshell / road case structure.

Libraries are about the way information affects people and the way people affect each other. There is a reciprocal relationship between the way a space feels and acts and the feelings and actions of the people within that space. Perhaps if I am ever asked to be a guest blogger in the future, my thoughts on this matter will have congealed and I will be able to keep weaving this idea instead of leaving it as a dangling wisp.


Drops mic.  Disorientedly exits amid slack-jawed, confused patrons.

NOTE TO THEATER NERDS: Mary Overlie’s Six ViewPoints are not to be confused with Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints, which are an expansion on the original and are arguably a total (unacknowledged) rip-off of Overlie. Know your history.

It’s Time For a Guest Blogger Rant

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Four years ago, the summer before I began my MLIS program, I attended a one-day workshop on book conservation. It was practical as well as theoretical and by the end of the day we had each constructed our own enclosure, repaired ailing pages, and learned a few other techniques for basic maintenance and repair. But, in order to repair a book it must first be damaged.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers

A book from the Governors Island Uni.


A cart of books was wheeled into the room and we were each asked to select a book and then…rip one of its pages. On purpose.  So that we could learn how to repair it.  Not surprisingly, this made the students squeamish and there were some lighthearted (at least outwardly) protestations about not wanting to end up on a Book Offenders Registry somewhere, hunger strikes were threatened in the name of Book Rights, and offers were made to spare the books by instead tearing one’s own flesh and sealing it back up with an expertly concocted cruelty-free adhesive. All of that is made up, but it accurately evokes the drama of the moment.

The instructor told us that we needed to learn to not be so precious about books. These were not rare books, and they held no particular monetary, aesthetic, or sentimental value. But, it felt like we were being asked to perform a gruesome gang initiation.

Cut to a couple of weeks ago out at Governors Island.  An inquisitive Uni visitor was asking about the provenance of our books.  One thing led to another and I began to illuminate this gentleman on the processes of weeding and deaccessioning.  He rolled these words over in his mouth as if they were a terrible revelation.

Little Lady at Governors Island Uni

A young visitor to the Governors Island Uni, reading one of its offerings.


Uni Visitor (UV): But, every book has value to someone!

Me: Nope.

UV: You’re telling me that there are books in this world that don’t have meaning to anyone, even in a sentimental way?

Me: Yup.

UV: How can you be so heartless?! You’re a librarian!

I choose to see my evolved attitude not as cynicism or apathy. I simply have learned that by maintaining a belief in the sanctity of all bookkind, I am actually devaluing all of it. Some books just have ugly, dull pictures. Some books are boring. Some books were published in such a great quantity that you could trip over multiple copies of them walking one block in any direction around Park Slope on a Sunday.

From the Brooklyn Public Library Outreach Services collection.  Urban Fiction (aka Street Lit) is very popular in public libraries and with the incarcerated patrons we serve.

Urban fiction aka Street Lit is very popular with the incarcerated, and with public library patrons in general.


Sometimes people buy Eat, Pray, Love at an airport and decide one day that they don’t have room for it in their apartment, but because of this ridiculous sanctity-of-book-life argument they leave it gingerly on their front stoop instead of putting it out of its (and our) misery and plunging it into the recycling bin.  Sure, you could donate Eat, Pray, Love to Housingworks or Books Through Bars or your local house of worship, but chances are they already have more copies than they know what to do with because everyone else has already done the same thing because Eat, Pray, Love is not an endangered species. (Sorry, Elizabeth Gilbert, you were a convenient example for this blog post. I’ve never read any of your books or seen the movies they inspired.  I’m sure you are nice.)

Conclusion: I spend a lot of time obsessing over book collections.  I was once called a “book bully” (I deserved it) and I try to elevate the literary proclivities of the people I serve.  Elevation has nothing to do with high or low brow; it’s about what is interesting, inspiring, and engaging, and the fulfillments of those criteria are subjective and vary considerably from one person to another. (The great Mary Woronov supposedly once uttered the statement (though I can find no reliable source for it): “I knew what was art and what was shit.  But, sometimes the shit was more interesting.”  That is one of the guiding principles of my life.)

I know that not everyone shares my macabre, morbid, and bizarre inclinations when it comes to choosing The Perfect Summer Book, but I take my role seriously as a professional who should pair a person with a book that will be meaningful to them, that will have value, even if it’s just providing a few minutes inside of someone else’s head.

Make A Place

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An old family friend is coming to stay with me for a couple of days in September. He is from England and has never been to NYC.  He told me he wants to see “some of the real NY (not just the touristy stuff).” I know exactly what he wants because it is the same thing I seek when traveling: an authentic experience, a peek at the majesty of another city’s habits, something transcendent in its localness. Or maybe I’m projecting. And maybe I’m the one who is concerned with orchestrating this kind of experience for someone else because it is so lacking in my own experience of NYC at the moment.

The problem with planning this type of experience is that it usually doesn’t deliver. It’s like wrapping up your own birthday gift, and then unwrapping it, pretending there is a surprise inside.

NYC (and by that I mean the five boroughs) exerts an enormous amount of pressure on its residents to be original, authentic, omniscient, and omnipresent. Crossing the street lugging our groceries, we become part of the attraction for withdrawn tourists on a slowly creeping double decker bus. We know there are a seemingly endless and constantly replenished arsenal of restaurants, outdoor movies, museums, pop-up shops, and subway weirdos. It never stops.

The Uni is brilliant in its adaptability to different environments, populations, and situations. The Uni slogan is: “make a place for books and learning.” But, it also makes a place for serendipity, connection, and retreat from sensory overload.

I’ve been a Uni librarian for about two years now and I am still encouraged by the way the Uni transforms a space.  There are a range of reactions from those who come across it: “Oh!  A library?”, “Are these books for sale?”, “What is this?”, and so on.  It’s nice when people recognize it as a library because it establishes a bond between fellow bibliophiles. But, it’s far more interesting when people are dumbfounded at the sight of it. As if a flying saucer landed in their bathtub, they are curious and befuddled and excited at the sight of a thing they haven’t seen before and did not expect to see. Even the people who immediately call it a library are thrilled at the serendipity of the encounter.

When out with the Uni, I like to simply say “Hello” to people who approach and wait for them to draw a conclusion on their own, compelling them to ask me “how this whole thing works” or “where do you keep the books when you’re not here?” or “what if it rains?!” This initial exchange is what fosters further engagement and it works every time. I have yet to try this sparse, yet warm greeting technique on a person only to have satisfied their curiosity and sent them walking along. It creates a space to be unfamiliar and unsure and about to discover.

The Uni experience makes us all feel like something better than tourists, it makes us feel like explorers.

July Guest Blogger: Leigh Hurwitz

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Greetings, Desk Settians! Allow me to introduce myself as the Guest Blogger for July. I have a luxurious five weeks in which to thrill you so I’m going to pace myself and start with the basics about who I am and what I am doing here. Although I get up to many library-related hijinks, the focus of these posts (unless I veer off) will be on my work as a librarian with the The Uni Project, and specifically with the Uni itself: a portable, pop-up reading room that has led a young yet impressive life creating access to books, reading, learning, and intellectual exploration.

The Uni is the creation of Leslie and Sam Davol (co-founders of The Uni Project), launched in 2011. Leslie and Sam are incredible and unique superhumans and I will gush about them in future posts when I figure out an intelligent description of which they are worthy. Designed and fabricated by Höweler + Yoon Architecture and commissioned by The Davols, there are now three different Uni models in use.

Leslie Davol and a Uni cart in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Leslie Davol and a Uni cart in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The structures range from a circular, white, cube-based unit to blonde wooden carts that take their inspiration from road cases (Sam is also a professional cellist) — except instead of sticky, dinged-up containers that smell like beer and sweat, they are artisan clamshells full of bibliographic goodness that look like what you would see if Buckminster Fuller wrote a blog post for Apartment Therapy. (Also, working with any of the Uni structures is probably the closest thing I will ever get to operating a TARDIS. And yes, they are all totally bigger on the inside.)

Stocked with books for all ages (babies through adults), the Uni usually deploys (yes, deploys) for a few hours at a time (much like a TARDIS) to parks, streets, town squares, traffic islands, parking lots, and other natural and manmade public spaces. Usually partnering with another organization (museums, libraries, Business Improvement Districts, to name a few), the Uni has visited four of the five boroughs (we’ll get there some day, Staten Island!) and Governors Island. Although not a circulating collection, the books in the Uni can be read by visitors on site, providing a supplement or an alternative to culturally barren or overly commercialized public spaces. From The Uni Project’s website, here are the stats:

59 total pop-up reading room deployments: 46 in 2013, 10 in 2012, 3 in 2011. 21 in Brooklyn, 18 Queens, 14 Manhattan, 5 Bronx.
Type of sites: 18 plazas, 10 play streets, 10 farmers’ markets, 5 parks/playgrounds, 4 Weekend Walks, 3 city festivals, 6 indoors (school, museum, 2 galas, 2 tents), 2 waterfront, 1 neighborhood expo, 1 sidewalk.
Type of host partner: 7 BIDs, 7 nonprofits, 4 museums, 3 farmers’ market organizations, 3 development corps, 2 libraries, 2 schools, 2 block associations, 1 community center.
Neighborhoods visited: 31.

There are also Unis (Unae?) in Almaty, Kazakhstan; Seattle, WA; and San Mateo, CA. The Uni Project is even already at work fabricating a few more Uni structures to be sent to cities in the US and abroad soon.

Brooklyn Public Library Uni at CAMBA Park Slope Women's Shelter

Brooklyn Public Library Uni at CAMBA Park Slope Women’s Shelter

Besides working with Leslie and Sam, I also am working with the relatively new Outreach Services department of Brooklyn Public Library, who last year acquired its own Uni. The Outreach Services department focuses on bolstering library services to underserved Brooklyn populations including individuals in transition (people who are currently incarcerated or re-entering the community; homeless men, women, and families); veterans; immigrants; and older adults. With a grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the department has been able to deploy the Uni to various shelter sites around Brooklyn for a few weeks at a time. Shelter residents have access to a specially curated book collection without the need for a library card.

Prior to its stint serving individuals and families in transition, the Brooklyn Public Library Uni made its debut during the summer of 2013 with a residency on Governors Island as part of a collaboration with Queens Library and New York Public Library. The Brooklyn Public Library Uni is back in residence on Governors Island this summer on Saturdays and Sundays from 12pm – 5pm through Labor Day.

Governors Island Uni

Governors Island Uni

Again, it’s not a circulating collection, but locals without library cards as well as visitors from around the universe/galaxy/space-time continuum can borrow a book for the afternoon and return it before we close up shop in the evening.

If you’re eager to learn more about the Uni between now and next week’s blog post, you can follow along on Twitter (me, The Uni Project) and Instagram (me, The Uni Project).

Design Research and Visual Literacy

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Cecil Beaton Scrapbook

At the FIT Library we collect facsimile editions of designers and artist’s notebooks, to provide examples of the creative research process. One of my favorites would have to be the reprint of Cecil Beaton’s scrapbooks.

The designer and the scientist have a lot more in common as researchers than most people might think. Design research involves observation, note-taking, collecting samples, categorizing & recognizing patterns, and experimenting with materials.

Of course, there are marked differences between the scientist and the designer as researchers, too. There is no rigorous, codified “method” for all designers or artists, who have greater liberty than scientists to come up with their own approaches. Design research is also much more heavily reliant on access to visual resources than scientific research. Moreover, there are many in the design fields who eschew what they refer to as “scientism” in the design research process (see this Atlantic article for more on that topic)

Jane Goodall's Field Notebook - 1961

Jane Goodall’s Field Notebook – 1961

But just like Jane Goodall among the chimpanzees (don’t laugh), designers conducting research need to be keen observers and collectors of raw information if they are to make new design discoveries. Design researchers, like scientists, are mostly engaged with primary research and primary sources are preferred. Some of the ways that we support this type of primary research at the Fashion Institute of Technology library is by providing students access to fabrics and materials, designer “look books,” and services/publications which visually document design trends.

There are many reasons a designer might also turn to secondary sources. For example, a fashion designer who is tuned-in to a nostalgic cultural trend may want to access fashion magazines from a particular decade or books about a particular era. Even so, she is looking at these materials from a different perspective than, say, a costume historian who may have more of a need for the textual/contextual information associated with the images. At FIT we see this type of researcher frequently, especially in our visually rich Art Reference collection and Periodicals collection (which has significant historical depth).

Recently, there have been a couple of good articles in the popular press about the creative process and design research. One which caught my eye in particular appeared in the Wall Street Journal this past winter. The article and accompanying photo essay covers the designer, Thakoon, as he develops his Fall 2014 collection. Another article, which appeared on Fast Company’s web site this past spring, explores how the analysis of a single photograph can influence the design direction of taken by the design company, Frog.

Graphic from Wall Street Journal article on Thakoon

Graphic from Wall Street Journal article on Thakoon

Visual Literacy and the design researcher

In 2011 the Association of College and Research Libraries published the Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. These competency standards were written in response to the rise of visual culture and were meant to be applicable to all disciplines. All of the conference discussions on these standards that I have attended have either focused on how librarians can become more visually literate for communication and pedagogical purposes, or on how to improve visual literacy in fields where visual research is generally lacking. Oddly, there has not been anything on visual literacy for art or design students.

Just because design students are generally visual thinkers and do highly visual design research, does not necessarily mean they are more visually literate than other students. My guess is that Visual Literacy Competency Standards 1 (determining need), 3 (interpreting and analyzing), 4 (evaluating) 5 (using effectively) and 6 (designing and creating) may come a little more easily to them, than to an English major, for instance. However, with regard to the remaining competencies, they actually may be at a disadvantage to other students, as visual thinkers in a very textual world.

For example, they are often required to find visual materials using text-based searches and systems. One popular library workshop exercise for design students is to get them thinking verbally about their topics by having them produce concept maps. Another technique that can easily be employed by design professors or librarians is for students to work together to develop tagging taxonomies for their Flickr, Instagram or Tumblr accounts as part of a work assignment for a class. Both of these exercises can help students develop effective search vocabularies for use on the Web and in library databases and catalogs, thus working toward Competency Standard 2 (find efficiently).

The Rape of Africa by David LaChapelle is clearly referencing Botticelli's Venus and Mars

The Rape of Africa by David LaChapelle is clearly referencing Botticelli’s Venus and Mars

Another clear pitfall for many design (and fine arts) students is Standard 7 (understand ethical & legal aspects). Honestly, I hardly think they are alone in this matter, but there are two things that might make this competency a little harder for them:

  1. There is no tradition of citing sources in the applied or fine arts (with some exceptions).
  2. Visual references and mimicry are almost as revered as originality (so long as no one important loses any money).

At FIT I almost always incorporate the topics of copyright and fair use of images when conducting library workshops for design students. However, I sometimes think it would be better to thoroughly educate myself first and then teach the teachers. The classroom faculty are the ones with the greatest influence on student practice, as they are the ones who directly critique student work. With this in mind, I am currently working with FIT’s Center for Excellence in Teaching to put together a three hour workshop this fall aimed exclusively at our Art and Design school faculty. Wish me luck.



Binkley, Christina. “How Thakoon Created Fall 2014 Collection.” Wall Street Journal 6 Feb. 2014. Wall Street Journal. Web. 21 June 2014.

Danziger, James. Cecil Beaton: The Art of the Scrapbook. Slp edition. New York: Assouline Publishing, 2010. Print.

Freach, Jon. “How To Draw Critical Design Insights From A Single Photograph: Lessons From Frog.” Co.Design. N. p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2014.
LaChapelle, David. Rape of Africa. N. p., 2009. Print.
McAllister, Ben. “The ‘Science’ of Good Design: A Dangerous Idea.” The Atlantic 11 May 2011. Web. 21 June 2014.
Washington, National Geographic Society P. O. Box 98199, Dc 20090-8199 Usa 38.90531943278526, and -77 0376992225647 800-647-5463. “Being Jane Goodall – Photo Gallery – National Geographic Magazine.” N. p., n.d. Web. 21 June 2014.

Top Misconceptions of Fashion Schools and Their Students

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Librarians are not alone in being stereotyped. People involved in fashion generally get written-off as shallow and lacking intellectual interests. While fashion folk certainly delight in the temporal and aesthetic, it is misguided to assume they lack interests that go deeper than the surface. Moreover, the contributions of fashion to our culture, economy and social history should never be dismissed.  To do so, in the words of Miranda Priestly, is sort of comical.

So what are these common misconceptions?

Fashion students are flighty

When I was leaving my last job there was an individual who warned me – with a little chuckle and knowing look – that FIT students were going to be “a little flaky” as compared to what I was used to.  At the time, it seemed a thoughtless comment, but I had yet to discover just how inaccurate it was.  After all, you don’t win a 2014 LVMH Graduates Award by being undisciplined.  You are not granted First Prize in the Retail Futures Challenge at the World Retail Congress by being a flake.

Fashion Design BFA students at FIT are expected to produce a mini-collection in the first two months of their final semester at FIT, all while taking other required courses.  They are also expected to produce visual presentation materials, including sketches and mood boards.  If you have any experience with making your ideas manifest in crafted objects, then you understand the sheer amount a labor and focus this entails. And get this.  After the producing the finished garments, they may not even be chosen for the Senior Show.  While I am using the FIT experience as evidence, I am sure the story is much the same in other fashion design programs.

Fashion students are superficial

An interest in material culture and an interest social causes are not mutually exclusive. Fashion students are no less likely to be socially and politically engaged than any other type of student. Those who are socially aware tend to focus very intently on how they can integrate their values with their work – something I never bothered to consider as an English major.

Once again, I will use my own institution as an example. This year a team of FIT students were selected by the Clinton Global Initiative University for their proposal to build a rooftop natural dye garden on campus. They came up with the project to draw attention the fact that “global textile production is an alarmingly heavy burden on this planet’s resources. Excess water use, toxic effluents, the use of petrochemicals on fiber plants as well as in synthetic dyes, and intensive farming practices are all problems that directly contribute to climate change.” The building of the garden is nicely underway and you can check out the progress on the team’s Facebook page

Overdress: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

Ethical concerns surrounding fashion aren’t limited to ecological issues. Labor and fair trade are also major concerns. FIT has an active Corporate Social Responsibility Club, who recently sponsored the Fashion Revolution USA campaign at FIT asking everyone to wear their cloths inside out to raise awareness of where clothing is made. In response to student demand, next year FIT is offering a Minor in Ethics and Sustainability.  I imagine they might have the book on the left as required reading.

Library collections that support fashion degrees are essentially specialized art collections

This assumption always perplexes me, especially as it is made by many within the library world.  Fashion is not only about design. Fashion encompasses multiple sectors and industries, and the fashion-related majors offered at FIT reflect this complexity. Students can receive degrees in Fashion Merchandising, Production Management, International Trade, Textile Development & Marketing, Cosmetics & Fragrance Marketing, Entrepreneurship and more. In fact, more than half of our the students pursue degrees offered by our School of Business and Technology.  Still, when I meet vendors at conferences, they often immediately assume that I will only be interested in their art and design products. Even fellow academic librarians register surprise when I inform them that the majority of our research inquiries relate to market research and production sourcing.  This not to say that we don’t have a fantastic collection of visual and design related materials in our library and special collections. Of course we do.

Librarians at fashion schools are more fashionable than other librarians

What I wore to work today

Today I wore a rumpled, two-sizes-too-big linen shirt. The color is slightly lighter tint of Pantone’s Color of The Year 2014, Radiant Orhchid.

I wish this were consistently the case. I know number of us make an effort to dress the part of the fashion school librarian, but just as many of us do not. The sad truth is that most of us shop at the same middle-market retail chains as everybody else. And sometimes we dress in a hurry in the dark, throwing on anything that happens to be clean and hoping it matches. However, unlike Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy, in The Devil Wears Prada, we do appreciate the difference between turquoise, lapis, and cerulean, and we understand the full scope of the term “Fashion Industry.”


Pantone Chip

Pantone Radiant Orchid







Cline, Elizabeth L. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. Paperback edition. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013. Print.
“Corporate Social Responsibility Club of FIT.” Facebook. N. p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2014.
“Fashion Institute of Technology – FIT’s Peter Do Wins LVMH Graduates Award in the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers Competition.” N. p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2014.
“Fashion Institute of Technology – Student Team Selected for Clinton Global Initiative University.” N. p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2014.
“FIT Natural Dye Garden.” Facebook. N. p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2014.
—. Facebook. N. p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2014.
Frankel, David. The Devil Wears Prada. N. p., 2006. Film.
“PANTONE Color of the Year 2014 Radiant Orchid 18-3224.” N. p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2014.
“Retail Futures Challenge | World Retail Congress.” N. p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2014.


How did I get here?

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I was fairly surprised when I received an invitation to write for the Desk Set as a guest blogger. There’s nothing quite like being picked out of a crowd (aka Twitter) to boost the ego. “Me? You want me? Well, OK!” Then the creeping dread. Something must be written and it ought to be good.


Name: Helen Lane
Title: Head of Research and Instructional Services
Location: Fashion Institute of Technology
Favorite Color: Prussian Blue

One of the best things about working at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where I am Head of Research and Instructional Services, is the students. This is beyond any doubt. Not only are they talented, they are overwhelmingly a driven lot, who are exactly where they want to be and know exactly what they want to do. In other words, they are exactly opposite of who I was when I was their age. I certainly had drive but not much in the way of plans.

I can tell you right now, I did not move 1,000 miles to the big city of New York with the intention of becoming a librarian. I moved here because I wanted to be where stuff was actually happening. I wanted my life to have meaning, excitement and variety. If you had told my 21-year-old self that a career as a librarian would satisfy these needs, I would have rolled my eyes and ignored you. But that’s exactly what it does. Some fifteen years into my career I am still engaged every day with something new or interesting, be it answering a challenging question from a library user or exploring the applications of an emerging technology. I am rarely bored.

Being a librarian is such a fantastic job for anyone who thrives on diverse experiences that I sometimes am surprised more people don’t envy us.  Then I remember that most people – our friends, family and even our fellow educators – only have a vague idea of what we do.  So, going back to this matter of being asked to be a guest blogger on The Desk Set. I didn’t say yes simply because I was honored or flattered. I said yes because I think it’s important to make our work visible.

In the next few weeks, I will cover a range of topics that I hope will be of interest, starting with a piece on common misconceptions about working at a “fashion school.” I might follow up with a bit about visual research or trend forecasting services, but I have not quite decided yet. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Bulletin Boredom

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Hello for the final time, readers of The Desk Set! I’ve really enjoyed guest blogging here for the month of May. For this, my final post, I’d like to unleash my crafty inner crafter and share with you all some of the budget-friendly ways I’ve found to:

Create a welcoming library space.

I’m sure I’m not the only librarian facing the big challenge of creating a welcoming space with a small budget!

Our school building was completed sometime in the 60s, and it has lovely mid-century features. The library has large windows, solid wood furniture with tapered legs, and built-in shelving. It’s a cozy space, and while it would be nice to have bright, modular furniture and sleek, steel shelves with clip-in book supports, there’s a part of me (a big part) that would be sad to see the library’s historic charm thrown out. I would also be shocked to see the price tag on a full renovation of the space.

When I first entered the library, I knew I needed to spruce it up a bit, and make a little money go a long way. First, I cleared out desks and cabinets, wiped down windowsills, and swept up the floors. I rearranged, as I described in last week’s post, bringing the fiction section front and center. Finally, I was left with the fun part!


We used zombies to decorate the library bulletin board in October 2013.

Inspired by magnetic poetry! We had to remove some words so the students would have room to make poems.

Inspired by magnetic poetry! We had to remove some words so the students would have room to make poems.


We celebrated the release of the film-adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower with this bulletin board.

I think at some point, every school-aged kid spends some time considering what they would be like if they were a teacher. “I would be the ‘fun’ teacher.” “I would dress up in costume for lessons like Miss Bliss in Saved by the Bell.” “I would never assign homework.”

Little Jillian used to look at bulletin boards, and see potential. I know how busy teacher-librarians and library media specialists are, so I can’t say that I blame anyone for slapping up some pre-cut autumn leaves and using a phrase like, “Fall into a good book!” I’ve always enjoyed the creative parts of my various library jobs, so I must admit I get a little excited about bulletin boards. Please find it in your hearts to forgive me now for being slightly obnoxious.

Bulletin boards don’t have to be boring!

A good, creative bulletin board in the hallway outside my library has drawn students and faculty in to complement our work and creativity, or ask questions about what’s going on in the library that month. I’m always quick to give credit to students for their hard work, as I usually pull in some young collaborators to share in the brainstorming of ideas and the actual crafting. To the right are some of my favorite bulletin boards we’ve created during the past two years.

If you’d like to create a giant image like the one pictured above of the stars of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this site will allow you to do some tiled printing. The magnetic poetry words were found over at The Butterfly Jungle. Unfortunately, the zombies were the creation of one my students, who now attends SCAD, so I can’t offer any help there other than a recommendation to reach out to students for help and ideas.

Another tip for creating a welcoming library space on a low budget:

Add color wherever you can!

This is especially important in my library, with it’s white walls and wood grain furnishings. We don’t have the budget to buy purple couches, or the ability to paint the walls behind all the built-in shelving. Instead, I used some Post-its to create a quilted front for my desk last year. I loved the look of shock on students’ faces when they asked, “Are those Post-its?”

My Post-it quilted desk. It lasted a full school year!

Finally, my favorite tip:

Hang things from the ceiling!


A quick $5 tent.

There is something undeniably magical about having objects suspended above your head! I recently invited students to gather around a fake campfire to eat s’mores and share original and found stories in the library. Before the event, I erected a “tent” by throwing a $5 banquet tablecloth over the light fixture in the library. I don’t think my students had ever been so interested in what I was doing. When the look was complete, the teens huddled up underneath to litter the floor with graham cracker crumbs.

Someday there may be money for a renovation, and my students really deserve a fancy new library media center. Until that day, I’ll keep doing what I can to liven up the space in a big way on a small budget. I’d love to see what other librarians are crafting in their libraries. Please share with me over on Twitter @readoverheels.

The Librarian’s Honeymoon

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Hi, readers! I’m happy to return to The Desk Set for another week of guest blogging. In last week’s blog, I shared how I’ve learned through experience that investing in students pays off exponentially. This week, I want to share a lesson I didn’t have to learn the hard way.

When I was offered my first position as a school librarian, I did what any librarian might be expected to do: I checked out a book. I actually checked out several books, but the one I found most helpful was New on the Job: A School Library Media Specialist’s Guide to Success, by Ruth Toor and Hilda K. Weisburg. It’s a great read and it really helped me develop a good idea of what to expect in the first year of my job. The book is full of practical advice and really created some structure in my mind for the many tasks I would be performing on a daily basis. There’s a section in Chapter 2 of the book, wherein Toor and Weisburg emphasize that it’s important to:

Take advantage of the “honeymoon phase.”

While the authors applied this idea to communicating with the principal for the purpose of requesting funds or additional assistance, I took the advice and applied it to some major projects I already had in mind for the library.

The fiction section before...

The fiction section before…

and after.

and after.

The fiction section was crammed into a corner of the library with little traffic, so I moved it to the low shelves in the middle of the room, displaying lots of books on top. I moved some dusty reference books from the corner near the “lounge” area to create a new books shelf. The disposal of some old (1970s-1980s) paperbacks made room for the display of manga and graphic novels. Afterward, it was time to fill in the gaps, so I spent my free time for the better part of a month shifting the entire reference and nonfiction sections. By the end of my first year as a school librarian, I’d moved or shifted every single book in the library.

The idea of beginning that project now is terrifying. Only the bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed-brand-new-librarian me of one year ago would have the ambition to grab a book cart and start slinging books. I’m very thankful to the “past me” for all her hard work improving the library, and freeing up plenty of time for “present me.”

I thought my second year here would a breeze because I would be acclimated and prepared for everything. That’s hilarious. This year was much, much busier. As I become more ambitious about ways I can improve the library for our students, I’ve realized that I’m not so much completing tasks as adding them to a monstrous, accelerating snowball of things I need to do. Now, at the end of this school year, I have no predictions about next year. Except that I’m expecting more snow.

Overcoming BRF and Investing in Students


Hello again, readers! I’m excited to be back here at The Desk Set for another week of guest blogging. Last week, I shared how rethinking old rules has helped me to shape my school library so that it best serves its student population. It’s important to me that all of my students feel that the library is a welcoming safe space where they can gather to do homework or even just hang around after school. In order to foster that environment, I have spent the past two years trying my best to:

Invest in the students.

Not long after beginning work at this school, I was waiting around after the library closed to chaperone a dance. Some students were chatting with me while they applied eyeshadow, when one of them commented, “Wow. You’re a lot nicer than I thought you would be.”

I struggle against my introverted tendencies, and unfortunately I may suffer from BRF, but I thought I’d made a good impression on the students. I became concerned about how the students’ feelings about me would affect their use of the library and decided I would need to invest more time and energy in students both inside and outside the library.

After two years here, I know the names of most of the students in my school. I greet them when they enter the library and tell them goodbye when they leave. I walk around the library and ask students if they need anything before they have to come to me. I attend their concerts, I chaperone their dances, and I accompany them on field trips. I give time outside of regular work hours to ensure that my students know that I’m invested in them.

These relationships I’ve built with my students have a direct impact on the way they use the library. They are comfortable asking me for help with anything, whether it’s proofreading a paper, figuring out how to take a bus to Westchester, or finding a good book.

I also apply this to lessons, which I use as an opportunity to win over students who don’t come to the library voluntarily. I (attempt to) use humor in lessons, interact with the students individually, and use their names to call on them. I take advantage of that time to show students that I’m friendly, approachable, and here to help them.

I’ve found that investing in them doesn’t only draw more students into the library, it pays off in other ways as well, like this past week on my birthday. As I opened the library that morning, a freshman brought me a three page letter in which she had wished me a happy birthday. She wrote, “When I first arrived at school, I thought it was going to be the same routine I’d lived with. I’d go to school, do my work, sit alone, and go home. To my surprise, its been the exact opposite. I found the library and I’ve found you!”

A little later that morning, a group of students came rushing into the library with a present and a guitar to sing Happy Birthday to me. It was their own beautiful and unique version, and they sang so beautifully that by the end, I was left more than a little misty.

Investing in your students is a great way to prevent burnout!

I’m not sharing this to brag about how loveable I am, but to emphasize how investing in my students has paid off exponentially. It would be very easy for me to cloister myself in the library, only speaking with students who approach me. Instead, I go out of my way to make sure students all over the school know who I am, and that I’m here to serve them. I rarely get a moment of quiet these days, and I don’t mind at all.

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