Ask A Librarian: How do you get/pay your intern?

tweet from the linked URL including a photo of my intern and me

Here is a post talking about how Drop-In Time functions. Now I’ll talk about a recent addition: my intern.

From the mailbag: I love your tech drop-in tweets. They’ve inspired me to get outside of my comfort zone in troubleshooting and helping patrons with their technology. I have reached out to my local high school about getting a student to help me run a drop-in time. My contact at the school has asked for a job description for the student and I’m wondering if you have any advice on specific skills I should list? (e.g. I know I am pretty hopeless when it comes to Macs so it would be very good to have someone who could fill that gap.) Also, I think you mentioned that your program is grant funded? May I ask if you pay your student assistant? and if so, ballpark $? I would love to hear any other advice that you have. Maybe I should just take a field trip to one of your drop-ins for the in-person rather than tweeted experience!

Now this is a question near and dear to me because I give the stink-eye to “for the experience!” unpaid internships for adults or college kids but when a kid is supposed to do community service as part of school, it seems odd to make that a job. So E and I had a compromise. He could keep an erratic schedule and show up when he felt like it and I’d treat it like an unpaid internship. Once he was a regular part of drop-in time (which I am hoping will happen this year), we’ll find a way to reimburse him. And, luckily, I had a short-lived job this summer where I wound up with an extra nice laptop. So that is going to be his payment for this year. Here’s the rest of my response email.

“I have been soooo lucky with my program. It runs about $2500 for a school-year one day a week program which pays for me and admin and coffee. My intern was doing this for course credit last year (as an irregular volunteer) but this year I managed to snag him a Pixelbook laptop which will “pay” him for this year (it’s sort of a long story but this worked for us). I feel like $12-15/hour is reasonable depending on what pay is like where you live. The two most important skills in a drop-in time volunteer are a sincere commitment to helping someone troubleshoot their problems, and patience. I often stress that they will be working with people who may be confused (or even wrong) and sometimes may come back with the same issue (which they haven’t fixed or don’t know how to fix) week after week and our job is not to teach them how to be better people but just to teach them how to be better users of technology. And they have to be flexible enough to be able to solve a problem for the USER and not for themselves. So being able to work with PCs or Macs, iPhones or Android, with a certain amount of cheer. Not being like “UGH don’t use Internet Explorer!!” but more like “Oh hey you might like Firefox/Chrome for this…”

I won’t lie, I Google a LOT of error messages because I see it as a joint commitment to the problem more than me being like “here is the answer” so finding ways to explain that would be useful. A lot of people are timid and really just want someone nearby while they try the thing they need to do (update operating system, add software, type a letter) and that is often great intern work, a few things that can be their specialty (E is great at helping people “speed up their PCs” and he is good at helping people install software).

You are welcome to come by. Sometimes it’s empty and sometimes it’s busy. It’s always a pretty good time in any case. Tweets are, of course, the highlights, though I try to include the ups and downs of the whole thing.

Ask a Librarian: What do I do with these old books?

13 liquor boxes full of books
When you work with libraries, people ask you a lot of questions about what to do with old books, presumably books they don’t want. Here are ten tips that are good to know about donating books in general.

  1. Just because books are old doesn’t make them valuable (you can check values here). Librarians intrinsically know this but many other people don’t.
  2. Just because someone had a massive research collection of books/papers on a topic doesn’t mean that a library could benefit from that but maybe they could. It’s always AOK to find a library–almost always an academic or special library–that specializes in whatever the topic is, and ask if they want them.
  3. Most library booksales are run by friends groups and not the library (learn more about friends groups here)
  4. Donating to a library usually means books will go into the book sale (or possibly even be recycled) and almost never means they will go on the shelf. Do not donate books to a library unless you are clear on this and okay with this.
  5. At libraries with really active booksales, books with higher value may get sold online, not at the local sale. The benefit to donating to the library is that the money goes to the library (or the Friends of the Library and ultimately the library) If you have fancy signed first editions, you might be better off selling them yourself on eBay and donating that money to the library.
  6. There is standard stuff most libraries don’t want including textbooks, old reference books, Readers Digest condensed books and anything damp, moldy or in bad shape. Many libraries have more information on their websites about what they specifically want and don’t want.
  7. It’s always a great idea to call/email to make sure the library is accepting donations and ask when a good time is to come by.
  8. Libraries are non-profit so you can often get a tax deduction for your donation but you may need to ask for a receipt.
  9. Pack up your books in durable boxes that are liftable by the average 50-70 year old person.
  10. Do not presume the library will have a hand cart, but you can usually presume they will have an accessible entrance.

Sometimes you have books or other readable stuff that just won’t make the cut to be in the library booksale. It happens. There are many other things that can be done with old books including book art (maybe you have a book artist near you), donation or recycling, or maybe even fire starters (let me know if you need a note saying this is okay). I just donated about 300 books to my local library for their booksale. I contacted them on facebook and they gave me a good time to come by. They had a hand truck but no one available to help move books. I got a receipt for my donation. They told me where to park to minimize the distance I had to carry the books. It went really well. Got some extra books laying around? Consider donating them to the public library!

Ask a Librarian: How to engage a community with limited volunteer hours?

cover image from linked document saying "Principles of Community Engagement, second edition"

From the email box: One of my book followers is doing something very brave for her, volunteering at her branch library. It’s a little branch with a lady running it, who is something out of the 1950’s  —  and not in a good way. It’s quiet. It’s serious. And it’s falling apart without any new visitors at all. So, this lady is asking her new one-day-a-week volunteer to “do something” to get new people to come into the library.

I’ve been giving my friend lots of ideas, based on what I see at my own very vibrant branch library – including mothers’ clubs, reading hours and clubs, tech training, etc. But I wonder if you are aware of some source of inspiration to help library workers that are very low on the ladder, yet eager to invite new energy to a branch? Maybe you have a clever list of the easiest and most successful types of library programs? What seeds can they plant and how often should they be watered?

I think that is a good idea. First off: Five Minute Librarian is made for your friend

But this IS what a librarian does – the rhetorical value of being a librarian

Marjorie Barnard (1897-1987) was an Australian writer, historian and librarian.

It doesn’t matter what we look like, what matters is what we do.

You may have seen the news, my small claims case against Equifax was mostly successful. This delights me. Mostly because the whole campaign was effective at what I set out to do: raise awareness about online privacy, data brokers, your right to access the court system and seek a redress of grievances, and generally help people understand the world of interconnected systems that we exist within whether we want to or not, whether we opt in or not.

And, for various reasons, the fact that I am a librarian always made it into the headlines:

Which, hey, if that gets people to read it, I guess it’s fine. But I found myself talking to reporters a little about what I actually do for a job and when the answer wasn’t “I work in this adorable little rural library.” they seemed disappointed. I admit, my patchwork of freelance gigs can be confusing. Currently I teach at UH Manoa’s library school, write for Computers in Libraries, do public speaking particularly on online privacy issues, run my local drop-in time, and volunteer as the tech coordinator for the Vermont Library Association. These are all solid librarian jobs. But for people whose views of librarianship are limited, the idea of a librarian without a library just does not compute.

So, that is what I have been working on. Explaining that this campaign against Equifax is actually exactly what librarian-types do: help people understand complex systems, encourage people to be civically engaged, remove some of the misinformation about online privacy, and most of all teach people that there is something that they can DO. Most of us don’t stop being librarians when we leave the buildings where we work. More people should know that.

Back at my Vermont 183 project

google map showing a meandering visit to seven different libraries

It’s been a while since I talked about my library visiting in earnest. Vermont has a 251 Club, a pretty informal group who have the aim to visit all of Vermont’s 251 towns. I love the idea (I’ve been to all the towns, now going back to photograph them) and have extended it to libraries. The Passport to Vermont’s Libraries project that VLA did for three years was basically an outgrowth of this. But now it’s just me and my list and map and car.

Yesterday I gave my Practical Privacy talk in Richmond Vermont (pop. 4000-ish) and had the day free beforehand. I figured I’d go for a drive. I started with VLA’s map of all the public libraries in the state, then used a new tool I’d just made, a list of all the public library websites in the state. From there I made a list of which libraries would actually be OPEN (this is more challenging than it might seem in a library where some libraries are only open 14 hours) and charted my course. I managed to see seven libraries in one long day, had two meals with interesting women–Mary the director of Fletcher Free, and Julie a techie powerhouse who does coding and coaching and public speaking–and gave my talk in the big upstairs room of the Richmond library which had previously been both a church and a basketball court. Here’s where I went.

  • Warren Public with its beautiful giant tree painted in the children’s section
  • Joslin Library in Waistfield was a quiet Carnegie-esque building where I caught up on email
  • Carpenter-Carse Library in Hinesburg where my neighbor’s Mom (who I had just met on Memorial Day) had recently retired and they’d named the Large Print section after her.
  • Charlotte Library where I got a tour from Margaret the director and we schemed about ways to make the VLA website better and more useful
  • New Haven Community Library where I watched a kid watch a woman on YouTube talk about Taco Bell for 15 minutes
  • Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol where I met Nancy and she let me go up to the creepy attic, a place she’d never seen even though she’d worked there for 27 years.
  • Richmond Library where I talked about internet privacy for two hours to an attentive audience

I peeked in a lot of old books, talked to a bunch of nice people, stayed on top of my email and really felt like I’d gotten to know more of Vermont through its libraries. And it gets me jazzed about figuring out ways I can do more things that are helpful, that use my particular skills to get things done for libraries. My little photoset, which should eventually have 183 photos, is over on Flickr.

end paper of a book showing lake Champlain with a checkout card stuck on top of it