The Visible and the Invisible

By Lauren Lee, M.Ln.

10679235_mOne of the absolute pleasures of my job is the “requirement” that I visit libraries (and librarians) each and every month. This year so far, I have been to 29 libraries in nine states. Attending four conferences added two more states to my running total, while vacation added both a state and a library (yes, I even visit libraries when I’m on vacation). And if our only blizzard of the year hadn’t intervened, I could have added one more state and two more libraries! What a privilege it is to see so much of what our profession has to offer!

Highlights have included:

  • Collections that made me say “I’d love to be a patron of this library”
  • Nonfiction collections that looked vibrant and alive
  • Creative displays to encourage passersby to pick up books on impulse
  • Colorful children’s rooms with incredibly creative artwork (and children engaged in play and reading)
  • Maker spaces with recording studios and the now-requisite 3D printers
  • Music rooms with instruments and listening spaces
  • Incredible architectural details in buildings both new and old (and best of all, buildings that blend the two together)

Anyone who thinks public libraries are dying has not been to a public library lately. If they had, they would have seen people waiting for the doors to open, children crowded in for story-time, and ranges of shelving for books on hold for avid readers. They certainly haven’t heard the statistics for digital media downloads or the constant replacement of test preparation materials.

Many of my visits take me to “lower levels” or separate buildings, where technical services departments lie hidden away. The general public has no idea of the labor that goes on here behind the scenes. They don’t see the pallets of boxes or the “corrals” of book trucks (sometimes even cleverly named!). They don’t understand the intricacies of OCLC records or RFID encoding. They may even think that all those colored dots and labels are just for fun (while vendors ponder whether they are a unique form of torture).

44906029_mSo, let’s send up a cheer for invisible technical services workers everywhere! You order, you unpack, you catalog, you process, you de-process, you organize, you pay bills. You make it possible for materials to be found by their readers/viewers/listeners. You may be changing lives and you don’t even know it. Thank you for your hard, and sometimes tedious, work!

I will close with a reference question that arises from my constant perusal of spine labels: Why do some libraries use “X” as the call number prefix for juvenile (I’m talking about you, California)? The most common prefix is “J” for juvenile. I’ve seen some C’s for children’s titles. However, no one has been able to explain to me why “X” was chosen. If any of you can shed light on this technical services mystery, I will be forever grateful. And maybe I’ll come visit your library. After all, there are still a few states that I haven’t visited.




Lauren Lee is approaching her 40th year as a librarian, with more than half of that spent at Brodart. Although she rarely gets to select now, she loves life on the road, visiting as many public libraries as possible. Click here for more.

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