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Find more Notes from the Field
Rita Meade, also known as Screwy Decimal, is a Library Information supervisor at Brooklyn (NY) Public Library. She balances her background in children’s services and a host of extracurricular yet library-related activities (find her on Twitter @ScrewyDecimal) to enthusiastically promote the profession she obviously loves. She recently took time out of a very busy schedule to talk to us.
Tell us a little about yourself and your position.
Rita: I started working in libraries when I was 14, back when they were just starting to get rid of card catalogs! (Wait, does that make me sound old?) My first job was as a library page, and although I didn’t go directly to library school after college, it’s definitely the job that I was meant to be in, and I’m so glad I found my way back. Throughout library school, I worked in my hometown library on Long Island as a part-time children’s librarian trainee, and I was a full-time children’s librarian for my current library system for six years, working in different branches in diverse Brooklyn communities. I loved it—doing class visits, storytime, and readers’ advisory for kids was extremely rewarding. But I also wanted an opportunity to work in a more supervisory capacity, so when a position opened up in the branch not far from where I live in Brooklyn, I went for it.
I’ve been in my current role of Library Information supervisor for about four months now, and I’m finding it very interesting and challenging. I help oversee the day-to-day operations of the branch, manage staff, and do scheduling (along with the million other things librarians have to do, including maintaining the collection). I also still get to do children’s programming and school outreach at times, so that makes me happy and reminds me of why I became a librarian in the first place!
Is there something unique or different that your library does in its approach to patron services or collection development?
Rita: Not to sound too much like a commercial, but I think with our vast array of programs, classes, and materials, my library system really has something for everyone. Since Brooklyn is so diverse, we need to keep changing and adapting to current technology and doing community assessments. My specific library branch is a very busy one—we have multiple programs every day that cater to specific needs within the community, whether it’s English classes, knitting groups, or homework help. Another great aspect of the library system is our array of online offerings—if you can’t make it to a branch library, you can check out books online, explore our databases, and even get personalized reading suggestions from librarians. It’s all about customer service and finding out what people need.
I also think that our children’s library services are extraordinary in Brooklyn. There are programs for all age groups, storytimes in different languages, and resources on our website that help parents develop their kids’ literacy skills (and have fun, too!). There’s a lot going on, and it all centers on the community.
What kinds of things do you find your collection is in need of most right now?
Rita: I work for a very large library system, and our collection development is, in general, centralized, so I don’t get to do a whole lot of handpicking myself. However, I think right now our print collection covers a lot of ground; it’s just a matter of having more copies of things available (due to budget restrictions, we’re obviously not going to have a copy of everything we need at all times—thank goodness for holds). But I feel like you can search for virtually anything and find it in our catalog—and, of course, if we don’t have it, we can try to get it. I think we as a system could definitely benefit from expanding our e-book collection, though that’s really more of a publisher-controlled issue. Basically, I want people to be more aware that e-books exist and are available to them—and I’d love to be able to circulate e-readers more readily, because as we know, not everyone can afford them or has access to them. My library branch has a tablet-lending program that has been great, and it would be nice to be able to expand that kind of service.
Let’s chat about your personal pursuits. You’ve got a lot of “extracurricular” activities going on—you blog, you are a contributing editor for Book Riot, you’re a children’s book author, and a singer in a library-themed band . . . (Did you ever know that you’re my hero?)
Rita: Ha! Sadly, the library band I sing in, Lost in the Stacks, hasn’t performed in quite a while because we’re all so busy, but we fully intend to have a reunion when the opportunity arises. Other than singing with librarians, I enjoy various hobbies and freelance work outside my library job (although, to be honest, they all seem to be library- or book-related in some way!). I blog about library things that I find amusing or poignant at ScrewyDecimal.com. My intention when starting the blog, as well as my Twitter feed (@ScrewyDecimal), was to raise awareness of the day-to-day aspects of libraries that people might not know about, so it’s been a fun project for me (though lately I have been posting there rather infrequently as I’m working on other things).
I do also write for Book Riot and host a bookish advice podcast there called “Dear Book Nerd.” People submit questions (à la Dear Abby) about “life, love, and literature,” and I, along with a different guest cohost each week, try to provide insight and guidance. It’s a lot of fun and I get to talk with some very interesting and smart people. I really enjoy writing for Book Riot because they give me a space to advocate for libraries and also to have fun, such as a recent piece I did for them about literary moments in The Golden Girls.
I also review children’s books for School Library Journal, and I wrote a picture book myself called Edward Gets Messy that’s being illustrated and published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. I’m very excited about that! Overall, I feel that all the good things happening in my creative and professional life stem from libraries, and I’m grateful to be a part of them in various ways.
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