Ask the (public) librarians

Last week, I was browsing PBS shows online, and I came across the “Ask The…” public television series, including one recent episode from January 2018 entitled “Ask the Librarian.” Reader, I was intrigued.

Ask the experts

Turns out, “Ask The…” is a public access show produced by WGVU, a service of Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Here’s the write-up from the WGVU site for the show:

“This informative program features a variety of topics, from medicine to sports, from animals to entertainment. Each week, host Shelley Irwin invites a group of experts into the studio to discuss new developments in their fields and to answer your questions. Viewers are encouraged to call in and ask questions on air, or questions and comments can be e-mailed to the show’s producer before the show.”

“Ask the Librarian” episode

And here’s the “Ask the Librarian” episode in question (click the image to view the video in a new window):

Screenshot of "Ask the Librarian" TV episode

Screenshot of “Ask the Librarian” TV episode. Click the image to watch the full episode.

The group of experts for this episode consisted of three librarians from public library systems in Michigan, including an older female librarian who works with books for the blind and physically handicapped; a younger male librarian who works in a “library lab” and STEM programming; and an female library director.

So the episode is not so much about “Ask the librarian” as it is about “Ask the public librarian.”

Questions, questions

I jotted down the questions that the host asked during the program, including:

  • How do you spend your day at the library?
  • Do you [librarians] have specialties?
  • So how does the e-system work? [the host is referring to e-books here]
  • It’s not difficult to get a library card, is it?
  • Do you still charge fines?
  • Do libraries use volunteers?
  • What’s the job market these days [for a librarian]?
  • What are you reading now? As every librarian should be reading a book… or two.

Probably the most interesting question of the lot, asked of the younger librarian who works at the “library lab,” was:

“You do, like beer-making opportunities on campus… what’s up with that?”

Judging just from some of these questions, one can tell that librarian stereotypes are still alive and well. For example, the following question was one of the first ones asked:

“Is today’s library system the same as it was when Grandma went through the front door?”

And the host summed up the program by stating:

“Grandma just wouldn’t have had any idea.”

Yeahhhh… this is the kind of stuff librarians hear when people don’t know anything about what librarians actually do. I’m kind of shocked the host DIDN’T ask, “Isn’t it nice to have a job where you just read all day?:\

NYPL reference questions

If you’re interested in some actually interesting and challenging questions asked of public librarians, check out this recent “Ask a Librarian” article, all about past reference questions asked at the New York Public Library:

“When librarians were asked something novel or difficult, they’d often write the question down on a piece of card and file it away for future reference. A box of these cards from the ’40s was recently unearthed at the New York Public Library, and they’re every bit as hilarious as you’d expect somebody’s Google queries from 50 years ago to be.”

NYPL Library Reference Card from the 1940s

The New York Public Library has also been posting these reference question cards on their NYPL Instagram account, if you just can’t get enough. 😉

Sources used:

Ask a Librarian,” Smith Journal, 18 Feb. 2018.

Ask the Librarian,” Ask The… . WGVU, 28 Jan. 2018.

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