Librarians Make Great “Jeopardy!” Contestants

By Richard Hallman, M.Ln.

Now in its 35th season, the popular game show “Jeopardy!” definitely has an appeal that some other game shows — Wheel of Fortune, for instance — don’t. That’s because it’s all about knowing stuff: Shakespeare, science, sports, American history, potpourri, and lots more.

If you’re a librarian, especially a reference librarian, you may have heard someone say, “I bet you’re good at ‘Jeopardy!’” once or twice in your career. The two librarians at my house stopped watching “Jeopardy!” a while back because it’s hard to eat dinner while screaming answers in the form of a question at the TV. The only way we could win would be as a team. I’d handle categories like World Leaders, while Fern would cover Show Tunes. We would just punt on Sports.

Many librarians love “Jeopardy!”, and since it’s on five nights a week, there have beenContestants No Numbers with Frame quite a few librarian contestants over the years. In 2017, American Libraries estimated around 150 had been on the show since 2005. The magazine interviewed 11 of them, including one with whom my sister went to high school.

The American Libraries article said that since 2005 there had been 30 librarian champions, and that librarian contestants had won close to a million dollars on the show. That was before the “Giant Killer,” Emma Boettcher, took down James Holzhauer back in June. She performed her heroic deed just as Holzhauer was about to eclipse Ken Jennings’ record winnings of a little over $2.5 million. So hopefully, Jennings sent her a nice thank you card, or maybe just a check. Librarians are so helpful!

Boettcher is a user experience librarian, a job title that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist back when I was in library school. She majored in English as an undergraduate, so Shakespeare and other categories like Literature and Theater were right up her alley. Oh, and also she wrote a paper about “Jeopardy!” while in grad school, “using text mining to find out whether the readability of the show’s questions could predict their difficulty levels.” Duh!

Is it hard to get on the show? Boettcher first tried out when she was still in high school but didn’t get chosen. Nevertheless, she persisted, and it finally paid off, to the tune of just under $100,000 this year. She’ll be on a “special “Tournament of Champions” show in the first half of November along with Holzhauer and some other smarties so stay tuned.


Jeopardy with Text

Would you like to be a “Jeopardy!” contestant? Start here by registering, then use the online materials, including practice tests, along with your own smarts and study up.

May the best librarian crush!


Richard Hallman, M.Ln.


Budding collection developer Richard Hallman finally set aside his dreams of becoming a rock star, movie director, and/or famous novelist to embrace librarianship. Click here for more.

Librarians Are Magic!

By Fern Hallman, M.Ln.Librarian can do it all_129009653 [Converted]

Every librarian I know has had this conversation. You meet someone, they ask you what you do, and then they say it: “I love books.” Yes, I love them too, but there is a lot more to being a librarian.

Many people do not realize that librarians are expected to go far beyond minding the library — and always have been. Back in the day, they even delivered books on horseback!

Thinking about the various duties librarians are asked to perform every day makes me ponder about how being a librarian has evolved over the years. Or has it? Maybe the central role of the librarian has remained the same, but the specific tasks have morphed over time to reflect outward changes in our world.

Here are some of my varied and treasured experiences as a librarian.

I have been lucky to have jobs where I have participated in creating new libraries. Imagine a blueprint for a new library building, and then figuring out what is needed to fill it up. It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and librarians get the chance to determine what’s needed and wanted in their communities. Many librarians choose individual titles very meticulously, but it’s a whole different game to assemble an entire library at once.

One of my favorite “special skills” is the librarian’s ability to make sense out of bits and pieces of information. I’m a librarian who knows something about just about everything, and I know how to get up to speed on any topic in a hurry. In my initial interview for a job at a public library I found myself saying many things: “I love books,” “I know the difference between a stock and a bond,” “I speak four languages” (not fluently), “I can knit a boyfriend or a pet using scraps of yarn” (please refer to one my all-time favorite books: “Knit Your Own Boyfriend: Easy-to-Follow Patterns for 13 Men,” by Carol Meldrum), and most importantly, “I love stress!”

Often a library patron knows a little bit about a book, like the name of the dog in the story, and the color of the book jacket, and a good librarian (or a team) can figure out what it is. The patron remembers there was something about red hair, puffy sleeves, and the depths of despair. OK, maybe that one’s too easy. The New York Public library recently held an event called Title Quest 2018. A group of NYPL staff members gathered to try to identify books that patrons remembered. Using bits and pieces of information, they were able to solve nearly 50 mysteries and reunite hopeful readers with their long lost books.

Another magical thing librarians do is change with the times. When I was in library school, we learned about online searching using an acoustic coupler that made weird noises when you stuck your (landline) phone into it. Needless to say, everything has changed since then. But being exposed to those early database searches still comes in handy: I can do more with Google than the average citizen, and I can help you determine Computer Class_395916058what web sites are more reliable than others. Librarians across the country have played an indispensable role in teaching their users how to use computers and evaluate the information they find.

Many librarians coordinate magical programs such as storytelling for children, literacy skills, and book talks for adults. Many librarians have come up with unique programs for lending things other than books. They do all this while also unjamming copiers, keeping track of whose turn it is to use the computers, handing out bathroom keys, and so much more. They often also interact with patrons who have mental health issues and assist non-English-speaking patrons.

Every librarian has a story about what they can’t do. Here’s mine: I was working as a news librarian at an Atlanta TV network that shall remain nameless. One morning I got a call asking if we had any video or photographs of the “vast right wing conspiracy.” Despite my prodigious magical powers I had to say no that time. I was also obliged to explain to more than one library patron that while you can easily research federal, state, and local laws, there is no list of things that aren’t illegal.

Public libraries are a great asset to society, but today’s librarians are sometimes expected to take on responsibilities that they never expected. For example, the idea that anyone can come in and stay as long as they like is an ongoing challenge. Also, when I got my first job at a public library, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that I had to teach THOUSANDS of people how to use microfilm each and every day.

Today’s nationwide opioid epidemic has led to a program that supplies public libraries with Narcan to reverse overdoses. I find this to be kind of heroic and also terrifying at the same time. Librarians are responsible for providing books and information, presenting all kinds of programs and entertainment, promoting technological literacy… and literally saving lives?

Speaking of going beyond the call of duty, here’s a librarian’s take on the issue of boundaries.

In summary, most librarians will do their best to help patrons in any way they can. It’s what we do. More than that, it’s our calling and our passion. But don’t ask your librarian to braid your hair (unless you are under the age of five, in which case, maybe they will).

Further reading

For more on the magic we librarians create, here’s an interesting article on the role of librarians.




Fern has worked for Brodart as a Collection Development Librarian since 1990. She also did a stint as a reference librarian in the CNN newsroom and is married to a newspaper librarian. Click here for more.

Turning Over a New Leaf

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

66735564 - staff turnover word cloudWhether you are in a library with a smaller, mostly public-service staff, or a larger system with a dedicated collection development department, the problems are the same. Just when you think you’ve assembled your dream team and everything is running like a well-oiled machine, opportunity knocks and staff leave for greener pastures – other libraries or other departments. Or you may have a hiring freeze and find yourself having to do more with less. For whatever reason, turnover can be a problem, both for the ones leaving and the ones left behind.

Those entering new libraries or departments can feel their excitement turn to horror when they discover it’s been years since anyone updated policies and procedures, or that collections haven’t been weeded or kept pace with circulation trends.

Managers and co-workers facing vacancies may realize that over-reliance on dedicated staff has left them totally in the dark when the “institutional memory” leaves or retires. And few of us have the luxury of a succession plan.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been in all of these situations and asked myself:

  • Who should order what, when, why, and in what quantities?
  • When was the last time continuations and standing order profiles were updated?
  • Is collection spending and shelf space in keeping with collection usage?
  • In essence, why do we do what we do in the way we are doing it?

48356021_sWhen faced with questions like these that may seem daunting, it’s important to remember although trite, it’s often true—challenges can be opportunities.

Whether you are teaching yourself or training replacement staff, now may be a good time to examine and rework how your collection is built and maintained. Sometimes a vacancy can necessitate a reevaluation of all staff and their contribution to the organization. Similarly, this may be the time to make a sea change in a new workplace.

Not everyone comes to the table with the same skills and interests, and some may gravitate more toward public services, technical services, or particular collection areas. The best employees do what they love and love what they do. If possible, play to people’s strengths: make the job fit the person.

If not enough staff (or your new hire) have the right collection development skills or passion, can you shuffle staff responsibilities or look toward automating processes?

Putting more authors and series on standing orders and continuations can help shift the focus on important debuts and sleeper hits and allow more time for public programming, policy-making, and administrative tasks.


Chances are, your holds list does not always reflect titles from print reviews. Your clientele hear about new materials on radio programs, network television, podcasts, and blogs.  Library staff need to listen, watch, and read broadly to keep up on trends. Creating targeted selection tools out of the journals and bestseller lists that are important to your library will free up time to follow newsfeeds and social media. Lack of staff time or interest can also lead to ordering prepublication titles too late, or not anticipating sufficient copies. What types of notification lists could make you proactive rather than reactive regarding patron demand? What lists could streamline your selection or provide help in problematic collections and genres?

Are you running out of space or faced with an obsolete collection? Armed with usage reports from your ILS, you can analyze your holdings and determine which areas to grow and shrink. Could a collection builder list help you strengthen underserved areas?

61242607 - young plant in the morning light on nature background

Think of turnover as turning over a new leaf. It can lead to a new, exciting era with efficient staff workflow, smart selection, and useful collections.

How do you and your library tackle staff turnover? Share your thoughts and experiences below!


stephaniecampbellStephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.

What Drives You?

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

I joined Brodart in 2016 after 20 years as a public and academic librarian. Over the course of my career, I have attended numerous library conferences of all types. But until last week, I had never attended the American Library Association (ALA) annual 44256158 - teamwork hugging people  vector imageconference. I thought I would be intimidated by the size and scope but I felt very at home. Despite its numerous celebrity/author signings and the myriad opportunities to rub elbows with the rock stars of our profession, this mecca of all things library struck me as surprisingly low key and collegial.

ALA is a microcosm of the industry: Public, academic, school, and special librarians representing institutions both large and small, from areas that are rural, suburban, and urban, come together to be the best they can be.

I always find conferences energizing. The validation of being surrounded by thousands of like-minded individuals is palpable and undeniable. Taking in the crowd at McCormick Place, I was reminded of Kyle Cassidy’s “This is What a Librarian Looks Like.” Of course, there is no commonality of appearance, but I do believe there are shared values.

Sometimes it’s all too easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of being a librarian: juggling the priorities of boards, administrators, and staff, not to mention the demands of working with the public. Days are filled with managing public service schedules; calculating circulation, reference, and programming numbers; analyzing collections while keeping up with weeding and ordering; getting quotes on furniture, supplies, and building repairs; attending meetings; etc. When managing the day-to-day library operations, losing sight of the big picture is an ever-present potential pitfall. That’s why it’s so vital that we remain aware of what drives us and remember why we became librarians in the first place.

My first career choice was journalism. I was motivated by a love of writing and the written word, along with a desire to make information understandable. From there, it was a pretty natural transition to library science. I decided I didn’t necessarily need to be an information creator. I found I preferred pointing people to all that’s available and letting them choose the best source for them. The ideals of librarianship really appealed to me – the importance of trust and fairness in information and bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots. This is still very much in the back of my mind as I help librarians with collection development.

I once attended one of Library Journal’s “Lead the Change” workshops, where attendees were asked to rate a list of terms to determine: “What drives you?” I discovered that my personal core values revolve around health, family, freedom, and independence. Professionally, I am driven by curiosity, communication, creativity, and personal growth — not just for myself, but for the greater good. This exercise really stuck with me. It was great to be reminded of why I do what I do. Ultimately, I want to help others. I think that’s a quality I share with most librarians.

I think what I enjoyed most about ALA Annual was the air of curiosity and helpfulness among the conference-goers. In the same way that librarians serve library users, they are eager and happy to help each other. Throughout the programs, roundtables, and exhibits, one could see the unselfish exchange of ideas: showcasing the great things they are doing and teaching others how; talking openly about problems and providing potential solutions. Even though I no longer serve the public directly, I take my role as consultant very seriously as I am supporting fantastic people across the country who have made this their life’s work.

I would love to hear your impressions of ALA, your thoughts on the field of librarianship, and what led you to this profession.

What drives you?




Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.


Just a Librarian

By Lauren K. Lee, M.Ln.

18867960_lSometimes I get to be “just a librarian,” not a librarian/bookseller/trainer/salesperson. Attending Library Journal’s Day of Dialog last week was one of those times. I’m pretty sure that I attended the first one in the late 1990s. I spoke on a panel about opening day collections in 2005. I don’t believe I attended in the last eight years or so. It felt good to be back. I saw the familiar faces of Barbara Hoffert, and Francine Fialkoff, and Nancy Pearl, and Marci Purcell.

I came away from the author and editor panels with a very long list of books to read and a tote bag full of advance reading copies. More importantly, I came away feeling more like a librarian—even a reader’s advisor (“Oh, Amber would love that book!”). When I hear an author tell a good story about why they wrote a particular book, I am immediately intrigued. The same is true for hearing about a mystery set near my home, or for an editor explaining why a title becomes a “lead read.”

As one who loves selecting adult nonfiction, I am not surprised that the nonfiction panel was my favorite. I find the storylines and the way they unfold to be every bit as captivating as fiction. For instance: A woman tries to solve the mystery of why her cousin became a victim of the juvenile justice system. A director has to learn more about the story behind the play she is directing. A contemporary single woman is fascinated by the Vogue editor who talked about “extra women” and the advantages of the “live-aloners.”

On to fiction. How can you resist the “first sentient sourdough starter” as a main character? Or the story of a drug that addicts the user to work? (Has someone been slipping me that one?) The author of this last one had the best quote of the whole day: “I went into fiction to tell the truth.”

The word of the day at Day of Dialog was “trope.” Guess I had better learn to use it in a sentence soon.

Don’t we work in a wonderful profession? We get people’s thoughts brewing, just like that sourdough starter (or the first batch of kombucha I just made).



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.



Loving the Model vs. Loving the Mission

By: Ann Wilson, MLS, MA, Collection Development Librarian


As a librarian, I think a lot about the evolving role of libraries. Sometimes I find insight from unexpected sources.

Our pastor has been sharing with our congregation some thoughts on our changing world and how the church can remain vibrant while seeking to connect with this changing world, which, on the surface, seems to change so much from day to day. Specifically, he has offered ideas from Carey Nieuwhof, a church communicator and strategist who wrote an article called “10 Predictions about the Future Church and Shifting Attendance Patterns” (23 Feb. 2015 blog). Prediction #2, “Churches That Love their Model More Than the Mission Will Die”, caught my eye especially, because I believe it is appropriate not only for churches, but also, for libraries.

Nieuwhof used the example of the invention of the automobile to illustrate his point. As automobiles became common and affordable for average families, carriage and buggy manufacturers lost business and many went under, even though human transportation actually exploded as average people began to travel more than they ever could before. The mission is travel; the model has changed over the years, from horse-drawn buggy, to car, to airplane. Many other examples exist – think of the recent developments in the fields of communication, music, photography – and even publishing. The mission is entertainment, but the model shifts from 8 tracks to cassettes to CDs and streaming audio and video. The mission is information, and the shifting model includes books, magazines, videos, audiobooks, online/digital content, social media use, innovative programming, maker spaces, and much more. Companies that innovate strategically around their central mission (think Apple or Samsung) will outlast companies that focus myopically on their method (like Kodak).

Can we apply this concept to libraries? What is our mission? Could that question be answered differently by different libraries? Could a library have several missions, perhaps dictated by the various populations who use the library (or who we WANT to use our library?) Does the mission of a library change over time?

Answering these questions consciously will help library decision-makers chart a path through a changing landscape. Keeping the mission(s) foremost in the minds of library staff should help the library connect with the changing world. The key to this effort lies in separating the specific means and media we utilize to serve our patrons from our ultimate objectives as community-based centers for learning and the exchange of knowledge and ideas. To paraphrase and adapt Nieuwhof’s summary statement, “In the future, libraries that love their model more than their mission will die.”




Ann Wilson started working for Brodart, where she is affectionately known as The Sourceress, in 2000. Ann draws from her high school/public library career experience to feed sources and choose key titles for our selection lists. Click here for more.



Fake News & Libraries

By Fern Hallman, M.Ln., Collection Development Librarian

myth and reality word cloud

One of the hottest topics around right now is so-called “fake news,” the recent explosion of intentionally false or highly biased news. Many of these stories are fabricated and then packaged and distributed to look like legitimate news. Librarians are major players in the fight for REAL news and information literacy.

A recent Stanford Graduate School of Education study found that most students have a hard time distinguishing between credible and unreliable news articles. Some even have trouble distinguishing paid advertising from news reporting. Another study, by the Pew Research Center, finds that a majority of US adults are getting their news from their social media feeds, which certainly do not present all sides of a story.

Throughout history, various fabricated stories have been presented as truth. In the 1880s, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst practiced yellow journalism, using lurid stories and sensationalism to attract readers. For a long time, tabloids such as the National Enquirer have done the same for readers in line at the grocery store. The current combination of a divided electorate and rampant social media has led to the deluge of questionable reports.

Fake news can take several forms. Some stories are intentionally misleading, and are packaged in a way that makes them appear credible. Other stories, often called clickbait, are just intended to lead readers to a specific site. Many stories may seem to contain real facts, but the perspective may be biased. There are also sites that specialize in parodies or satire.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), a leading organization for the library and information professions, has put together a simple graphic describing how to spot fake news. The first step in evaluating a story is to consider the source. Check to see if that story really is from a valid source, or if it is just someone using a similar name or URL. Read the whole story. Sometimes a headline will draw you in, but you will find there is more to the story if you dig deeper. Find out more about the author. Do a little checking to see what else they have written, and whether there is a reason for their point of view on a topic. When was the story written? Is this current “news” or a rehash of an older event? Is this a joke? Some stories from satiric websites go viral and certain readers may not understand or recognize the humor. And finally, determine the point of view of the story, and evaluate the role your own feelings are playing in your interpretation of it. It is not appropriate to call a story fake news just because you disagree with it.

Libraries everywhere are helping their users spot fake news. Many have assembled web sites and fact sheets on the subject, and are holding workshops and webinars. Here are some additional ideas. Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association recently gave this quote to Governing Magazine: “The authority of the president of the strongest country in the world needs to be protected. But we have to think about facts and information now more critically than ever.”

For more information on this timely topic, here is a great guide from the librarians at Hillsborough Community College:



Fern has worked for Brodart as a Collection Development Librarian since 1990. She also did a stint as a reference librarian in the CNN newsroom and is married to a newspaper librarian. Click here for more.