This interview is over 1 year old and may no longer be up to date or reflect the interviewee/interviewees’ positions
by Fallon Bleich, Head Editor, INALJ Oklahoma
Ingrid Abrams …Creator of Libraries Changed My Life and the Magpie Librarian
Recently, I discussed library advocacy and what we as librarians can do about it. A lot of that article was influenced by Ingrid Abrams a.k.a. the Magpie Librarian (http://magpielibrarian.wordpress.com/) and her actions in regards to Mr. Rosenblum’s article. Along with Natalie Binder, who runs #libchat on Twitter on Wednesday nights and is an author on the Hack Library School blog, she created Libraries Changed My Life (http://librarieschangedmylife.tumblr.com/), a tumblr of stories from real-life patrons on how libraries have changed their lives. She also just happens to be a former Emerging Leader and worked on my current project last year. Ingrid is also a passionate LGBTQ advocate and all around blogging rock star. The following is my interview with her:
1.) What brought about Libraries Changed My Life?
Natalie Binder and I started Libraries Changed My Life after a very long Twitter discussion about Michael Rosemblum’s article What’s a Library? (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-rosenblum/whats-a-library_b_3239502.html). Mr. Rosenblum is not a library patron, yet the Huffington Post let him have a voice on the topic of the relevance of libraries. I wrote a post about it on my blog, and I was very upset that he had the privilege of weighing in on the importance of libraries, while my patrons did not (http://magpielibrarian.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/whats-a-library-written-by-a-man-rich-enough-to-live-on-w-53rd-st-whos-never-been-to-the-library-and-googles-everything/). Natalie suggested setting up a simple Tumblr where people could share positive stories about their experiences with their libraries. Libraries Changed My Life was born. It’s a simple project, but we’re very proud of it. We take story submissions from anyone, but we prefer those from non-librarians. We want to hear from real-life patrons. We want to know why the library is important to them and why they continue to visit the library. Natalie and I have heard from people who found a job because of the library, who found refuge from bullying there, and who found comfort and friendship among the books, librarians, and fellow patrons. Authors Sara Farizan, Melanie Hope Greenberg, and Melissa Guion have contributed, along with my own grandma, a high school student trying to save the jobs of his school librarians, and many others. Every time I’m having a cranky day on the job, I pop on over to LCML and see a new submission that makes me feel better about libraries, librarianship, and my chosen career path.
2.) You’re a huge advocate of LGBTQ rights; how important do you think these issues are for librarians?
LGBTQ issues are important for all librarians, or anyone who works in public service. I tend to get really heated when talking about this, so excuse me if I get a bit bristly. Sometimes people think that they don’t have “those kinds of people” in their town or library, but I promise you they’re mistaken. LGBTQ patrons and issues are not just a “city thing”. Just because you’re in a rural or suburban library, it does not mean that you don’t have Queer-identified patrons. In fact, patrons in those areas may have less support than their city counterparts. Audre Lorde said: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” You can’t just be concerned about the common core or e-books or 3-D printers, or whatever the trendy librarian issue du jour is. Everything in librarianship is intertwined. LGBTQ issues, I feel, are sometimes ignored by librarians because they don’t think it’s something they have to worry about. We *all* have to work on being more inclusive.
3.) What about librarianship makes you love it?
Being a librarian has given me many wonderful opportunities. I’ve found a great community of librarians in ALA’s Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Round Table. I’ve really just started working in that group and with the Rainbow List (http://glbtrt.ala.org/rainbowbooks/about), but I feel really proud to be involved with them. Being an ALA Emerging Leader got me to work out of my comfort zone (which is working with kids and teens) and allowed me to work with a great team of librarians. Overall, though, it’s the daily interactions with Brooklynites. It’s not all peaches and roses and the happy smiles of children and some days I totally want to pull my hair out. But when I can make a kid or a teen feel at home, or give them some support, or find them a book that makes them care about reading or care about a certain cause, I’m happy. It makes me glad that I decided to be a librarian.
4.) What is your dream library job?
My dream library job? In many ways, I already have it. I get to work with kids from birth all the way up through their teens. I do Toddler Time (my favorite class to teach) and get lots of opportunities to do Reader’s Advisory (which is best ego boosting activity for avid readers). Things could be better, though. Here in NYC, we’ve been fighting over library budget cuts for four or so years. It’s exhausting. I’ve been on the layoff chopping block almost as long as I’ve been a librarian. So, I guess my dream job would be a place where the libraries were fully funded, we had enough staff (we’re down around 200 or so staff members in my system alone), and where the administration was pro-librarian and pro-patron.
5.) Favorite library?
I try to really love every library I work at (and I’ve worked at a bunch) and try to find each library’s unique and special features. So right now, it’s Brooklyn Public’s Central Youth Wing, where I work with the smartest and greatest librarians who really know how to put up with my crap. Other than that, Barnard’s Zine Library is really something special. It appeals to the Riot Grrrl in my heart.
6.) Do you have any advice for job searchers?
I don’t know if I have any business giving job search advice. In 2009, I got one of the last, full-time public librarian jobs in NYC. 60 percent of my job success came from timing. After the budget cuts went through, jobs like mine could not be found, no matter how talented or smart the MLS-holder was. I really feel for NYC librarians who got their degrees a semester or so after mine. The jobs here just disappeared and I saw many tremendous librarians who had to look elsewhere for work.
My personality can be kind of an acquired taste, but, in my interview with Brooklyn Public, I just tried to be who I am. If you try to be too much unlike yourself, people can tell that you’re hiding something. I’m loud, I’m vociferous, and I’m super passionate about librarianship. I figured that if they hated my personality, I’d probably hate working there. Luckily, they liked me. I practiced a bit with some friends of mine who had hired librarians in the past. We did some practice interview questions, which really helped. I was ready for every question they asked me. No hesitation. If you’re not confident, pretend that you are.
I’m really inspired by my boyfriend, another librarian. He has two part time jobs, and we would both like for him to have health insurance, benefits, etc. He’s still looking for that elusive full time job and is fearless in interviewing and applying for jobs. If he gets rejected, it doesn’t bring him down for long. I really admire that. I’m petrified of rejection. I’m sure he is too, but it doesn’t stop him from continuing to look for something that will make him happy.
7.) Favorite books?
My all-time favorite books are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (less like a book and more like a religion), Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat, and Ntzoke Shange’s Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo. My current favorites are Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle and If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan.
8.) Finally, besides yours, are there any blogs or sites we need to be following right now?
Well, if you’re not already following Libraries Changed My Life on Tumblr, you need to get on that. Other than that, I love YA Librarian Tales (http://www.yalibrariantales.com/), Bryce Don’t Play (http://brycedontplay.blogspot.com/), and Tiny Tips for Library Fun (http://tinytipsforlibraryfun.blogspot.com/). I have to say, though, my favorite blogs ever are Self Constructed Freak (http://self-constructed-freak.blogspot.com/) and Huxtable Hotness (http://www.huxtablehotness.com/). All librarian work and no play makes Ingrid something something.