Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Libraries are magical places. Surprisingly, that’s a lesson Kara Blue didn’t learn until becoming an adult.
In fact, the reference librarian at Hedberg Public Library didn’t frequent public libraries as a child. In her mind, she is living proof that “it’s never too late to discover what public libraries offer and how they can enrich your life.”
Blue’s family moved around quite a bit in her youth, and she has spent as much of her life in southern Wisconsin as anyplace else. She graduated from University High School in Irvine, California, “sometime in the 20th century” and now holds a Master of Arts in library and information studies from UW-Madison and a Grade-1 public librarian certification from the state Department of Instruction.
The mother of two school-age kids, Blue also has a dog (Kadi), an inside cat (Harvester) and an outside cat (Ringer).
To find out more about Blue and Hedberg Public Library, check out the library at 316 S. Main St., Janesville; visit Hedberg PublicLibrary.org or call 608-758-6600.
1. What led you to choose a career in library sciences? My first career in ecological consulting was unsatisfying. In college, a biology professor introduced me to a collection of land-use records in the college archives that I ended up integrating into a senior research project. Long after my first career took off, I never forgot that connection I felt to the archival collection. When it was time for a change, I reconnected with libraries and made it a career.
2. Has the experience of being a librarian been what you had expected it would be when you decided to become one? No, but I’m not certain I knew what to expect. I anticipated a calm work environment, which is true only some of the time. I expected long hours of organizing collections, but librarians have many responsibilities to balance and spread across their work days. I never thought I would do so much learning on the job. It is one of the best things about being a librarian. You learn something every day.
3. The stereotype of a librarian is a spectacle-wearing shush machine with a stern look and a hair bun. Do librarians find that insulting, or do they tend to just laugh it off? I think we tend to laugh it off because we can very quickly prove the stereotype wrong to anyone who spends any time with us. Look around at the staff at Hedberg; most of us don’t have hair long enough for a bun. We wear glasses if we need to, just like everyone else on the planet. We exhibit all kinds of styles and personalities here. And we are more interested in our patrons enjoying their experience at the library than we are about the noise level.
4. What are some of the lesser-known services librarians can provide to patrons? Answering very specific questions using reliable and reputable sources. Connecting people to community services. Partnering on community groups or events. Assisting one-on-one with computers, personal devices, software or social media. Fostering creativity and lifelong learning through classes, speakers and drop-in activities.
5. Share the title of the last good book you read. What made it so enjoyable? “Into the Forest” by Jean Hegland. I enjoy books with elements of homesteading, survival and nature. Two sisters in this book learn to live off the land when a distant war and family tragedy isolates them from the comforts of modern society.
6. Share one of the best excuses you’ve heard for a book being returned very late or lost, and the largest late fee you have ever seen or heard about. The classic “my dog ate my book” happens regularly, but it’s still funny to hear someone say it. They usually laugh at themselves, too. Late fees are capped at a reasonable value per item, but replacement fees for damaged/lost books or DVDs can quickly add up to several hundred dollars.
7. Have check-outs of physical publications (books and magazines) decreased dramatically, or are there still a lot of people out there who prefer holding a book rather than looking at a screen? It’s different for every library. Hedberg Public Library has experienced a decrease in physical checkouts, as have most libraries. We have noticed a dramatic increase in checkouts of digital books. Certainly, there are people who still prefer holding a book, but even if you do prefer a book, modern life sometimes dictates a more convenient format. Libraries have ever-increasing access to digital materials—eBooks, audiobooks, music and movies—that you borrow with your library card and then download to your device. We encourage patrons to try these services because they offer additional titles, often with no wait times. We recognize they aren’t for everybody, though.
8. Do you prefer to read physical books or eBooks? I fall into the camp of preferring a physical book but gravitating toward digital audiobooks because of my busy life. I listen to books on Hoopla while driving, doing chores, waiting in line or walking the dog. I almost always have a physical book on hand, too.
9. Like many other libraries, Hedberg has specific areas aimed toward kids and teens. Why is that so important? There are well-researched reasons why children and youth thrive in environments matched to their developmental, emotional and social needs. Our children’s and youth librarians are specially trained to recognize these needs and target collections and programs, and to provide spaces to entertain, educate, socialize and grow these young minds.
10. Many families view libraries as critical entertainment resources. To what do you attribute that? Libraries are free at the time of service. If indoor play space for toddlers is needed, we have it. If computer games or movies or books are needed to play, watch or read at the library or at home, we have those. If a fun family experience is the goal, we have all-ages programs (such as our escape rooms). If an outing is needed, but the family needs some time apart, there are spaces appropriate for every age within the safe boundary of the library building.
11. Does the library have books or other materials behind the desk that you have to ask for specifically? If so, what are they? We keep PlayStation, Xbox, Wii and Nintendo Switch games behind the desk, as well as some equipment such as headphones, flash drives, laptops and Chromebooks for in-library use.
12. What are your greatest joys and frustrations as a librarian? My greatest joy is a happy patron—someone who needed help, received it and was pleasantly surprised by the service. My greatest frustration is the digital divide. Using the Internet, email, flash drives and social media to apply for jobs, check bank accounts, receive unemployment benefits, learn new skills, etc., is not easy for some folks. A substantial portion of our population struggles with digital literacy, and on some days, we librarians really feel the impact of this struggle.
13. Do you have a pet peeve? Yes. In my perfect world, all holiday lights would come down by Jan. 1.
14. The library offers the Mango language program. Do you speak any languages besides English? No, I don’t. I would learn Spanish, as I could provide the most help in public libraries if I could speak it.
15. Describe a typical day at work. I typically have some on-desk, on-floor or phones time, as well as some off-desk time. When on-desk, I’m at a public service desk assisting patrons with reference questions, reader’s advisory or circulation (check-out). When on-floor, I’m free from the desk to help patrons at computers or in the stacks. When on phones, I’m answering calls coming into the library. I spend off-desk time on training, scheduling one-on-one appointments, liaising with the business community, planning classes, attending meetings, purchasing new books and removing noncirculating books in my collection areas, and brainstorming ideas with my colleagues.
16. When I was young, libraries just loaned out books and periodicals. Today, they offer many more materials, conduct community outreach and offer in-house programs and classes. In your opinion, what is the next evolution of libraries? The library we are building toward is a community hub and information gateway. A physical space to meet up, generate ideas, be creative, connect with others and retrieve information. Combine that with a strong digital presence offering 24/7 library services such as online classes and databases.
17. When you tell people you are a librarian, what is their reaction, and what is their most common misconception? A common response and misconception is “Oh, I wish I could be a librarian and read all day, too!” Where does this come from? I’ve never seen or known librarians to read while at work unless it’s during their lunch breaks. It’s hard enough to find time to read when you’re NOT at work.
18. Are there any special perks that come with being a librarian? At this particular library, staff are not subject to due dates or fines. I recently participated in a free wine tasting because of our involvement in a wine walk, so I consider that a perk!
19. People would be surprised to know that: I am a wide-open spaces country girl at heart. If I didn’t have very important family, relationships or finances to worry about, I would live off the grid and as sustainably as possible.
20. Name the one item you own that you could not live without. My French press coffee maker. I must have a way to make coffee even if the power goes out.