From ‘Librarian Problems’ to ‘Librarian Tales’: local librarian with popular online presence releases his first book

photo by: Lauren Fox, Skyhorse Publishing

"Librarian Tales" author William Ottens inside the Lawrence Public Library and the "Librarian Tales" book cover.

A local librarian’s new book tells readers all about what it’s like working in a library — and in doing so, dispels all notions that librarians just sit and read books all day.

“Contrary to popular belief, a librarian’s job isn’t always the quiet, easy, and stress-free paradise some movies, TV shows, and commercials portray it to be,” William Ottens writes in his upcoming book. “Unhappy patron contesting a 15-cent fine? Picture book with its corners gnawed off? Unattended toddlers ransacking the shelves? Dead bird in the book drop? All in a day’s work.”

“Librarian Tales” is Otten’s memoir about his career thus far. It comes out Sept. 15 from Skyhorse Publishing in cooperation with the American Library Association, and it’s Otten’s first book. He describes it as a “love letter to librarianship.”

photo by: Skyhorse Publishing

Book cover for “Librarian Tales” by William Ottens

An editor at Skyhorse Publishing contacted Ottens about writing a book after seeing a tweet from his popular Twitter account Librarian Problems (@librarianprblms), which has over 21,000 followers. The comedic account that shares common library frustrations through GIFs (animated images on the internet) began as a Tumblr page in 2012, and Ottens said he’s up to around 30,000 followers there.

“I usually just communicate in GIFs on the blog, so I was like, how do I turn this into a book?” Ottens said. “It took me a while to kind of put together a book and decide what exactly should go in it.”

Writing a book has been something Ottens has dreamed of since he was 15, but he didn’t think at the time that he would be writing a nonfiction memoir such as “Librarian Tales.” He said he enjoyed reliving the experiences he wrote about.

In the first part, Ottens, who grew up in Tonganoxie, tells how his high school librarian and her book club launched his interest in the library. He also writes about how his goal was always to work at the Lawrence Public Library, where he currently serves as the cataloging and collection development coordinator.

Part two covers the five most common areas of the library people work in, and the joys and tribulations of them all: circulation, reference, youth services, tech support and collection services. Ottens then goes into his time as director of the small public library in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where he worked from 2012 to 2015.

In the final section, called “Librarian Rants and Raves,” one chapter details what not to say to the local librarian. Don’t mention “the other librarian” or what happened at “my last library,” Ottens says.

“Also, be warned: sentences that start with ‘As a taxpayer…’ are likely to send a librarian into a fit of convulsions,” Ottens writes.

Ottens said he expects his audience to be people who have a passion or interest in libraries, and he hopes he can “disprove that common notion that librarians just shelve books and have a quiet easy job, when in fact we work with the public, and anybody who works with the public can know things can get a little weird.”

Brad Allen, director of the Lawrence Public Library, described Ottens as “a very quiet fellow,” and noted that “it’s always fun and insightful to hear the things that he is thinking.”

He said he has ordered a copy of “Librarian Tales” and is “super excited” for Ottens. Allen is also eager to hear people’s reactions after reading about what the life of a librarian is truly like.

“You don’t see a whole lot of books specifically about the experience of a librarian published by a more mainstream press,” Allen said. “Every librarian I know says that they are going to write a sitcom or book about working at a library. William actually did it.”

photo by: Lauren Fox

William Ottens, cataloging and collection development coordinator for Lawrence Public Library, is pictured outside the library on Sept. 9. Ottens’ first book, “Librarian Tales,” publishes on Sept. 15.

While Ottens spends time in “Librarian Tales” disproving the common stereotypes of librarians, there’s one he said is pretty true: that librarians wear cardigans.

Clad in a gray one Wednesday afternoon, Ottens said it’s one of multiple in his collection: “I only have about eight cardigans in my closet.”


Ottens laughed, and offered some context. At a keynote presentation he made for the South Dakota Library Association, he put in a poll asking how many cardigans the librarians owned.

“I think the cardigan queen of South Dakota said she has more than 40,” Ottens said. “She was a children’s librarian.”

Ottens has only worked in libraries for 10 years, so he includes others’ excerpts and experiences in his book to augment his own experience. There are dozens of quotations from other librarians who submitted stories and comments to Ottens through his social media pages. And toward the end of his book, Ottens interviews three longtime staff members of the Lawrence Public Library: Sherri Turner, Darla Sieg and Nancy Oshel. Ottens writes in “Librarian Tales” that he wanted to pass the mic to those who have more experience than he, a “newbie.”

“I don’t have as much experience as some people in this field, or knowledge,” he told the Journal-World. “I haven’t seen all the librarian problems.”

“Librarian Tales” will have a virtual book launch on Tuesday, Sept. 15 from 7 to 8 p.m. via Crowdcast. The link to join the launch is available on the Lawrence Public Library’s website under “Events,” and copies of the book can be purchased through The Raven Book Store.

photo by: Lauren Fox

William Ottens, cataloging and collection development coordinator for Lawrence Public Library, is pictured in the library on Sept. 9. Ottens’ first book, “Librarian Tales,” publishes on Sept. 15.


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