Welcome to Shhh…Secrets of the Librarians, a new series (inspired by our long-running Secrets of the Book Critics) in which bibliothecaries (yes, it’s a real word) from around the country share their inspirations, most-recommended titles, thoughts on the role of the library in contemporary society, favorite fictional librarians, and more. Each week we’ll spotlight a librarian—be they Academic, Public, School, or Special—and bring you into their wonderful world.
This week, we spoke to Assistant Director of Readers Services at the New York Public Library, Lynn Lobash.
Book Marks: What made you decide to become a librarian?
Lynn Lobash: When I was in college, I thought my professors were really cool and probably led interesting lives so I wanted that job. Unfortunately, I couldn’t imagine getting a Ph.D. in anything. I did know I wanted to work in a place where people were learning, so I thought about libraries. I moved from San Francisco to New York in 1999 and went to library school, then I got a job at NYPL and I’ve been here ever since.
BM: What book do you find yourself recommending the most and why?
LL: I do readers advisory so it’s really about the reader more than the book. What works best for me is to get someone talking about a book they loved, TV and movies work too. You have to listen carefully for clues. “I felt like I was there,” means they want something with a strong sense of place. “I missed the characters when the book ended,” means they want something introspective where you spend time in the characters head. “I stayed up until two in the morning finishing it,” means pacing is important as well as a compelling plotline. The tone is important too, adjectives like funny or menacing or quiet go along way toward finding a good match for the reader.
BM: Tell us something about being a librarian that most people don’t know?
LL: You don’t read books all day. Sadly.
BM: What is the weirdest/most memorable question you’ve gotten from a library patron?
LL: I get a lot of requests to find a book whose title a patron has forgotten. They remember plot points, the color of the cover, maybe where it was set. It’s often a book they remember from childhood. It’s pretty sweet actually. They usually want to re-read it or share it with someone. It’s a particularly difficult request and it feels great when you find the book for them.
BM: What role does the library play in contemporary society?
LL: Ideally, a library serves its community the way it wants to be served. Here in NYC, that means something different for every one of our 88 neighborhood libraries. There are services like lending books, programming for all ages, and outreach that happen in all libraries but the shape they take is particular to the patrons in that community.
BM: Who is your favorite fictional librarian?
LL: I like the librarian in this picture book called The Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen. The librarian allows this lion to hang around the library and he does stuff like dust the shelves with his tail and serves as a backrest for the kids at storytime. She has a colleague who is a real stickler for the rules and does not like the lion in the library one bit. She ends up teaching him that there are times when it is okay to break the rules. I like any librarian who flies in the face of the hushing crabby spinster stereotype.
Lynn Lobash is the Assistant Director of Readers Services at the New York Public Library. She has been with the library for 16 years. She is a reader for the American Library Association’s Notable Books Committee and Vice Chair of Board of Directors for LibraryReads. When she is not reading and recommending books, she is watching her children do something amazing (look mom!) or petting her needy cats.