Meet the Librarian | Kati Coleman


We explore the nuances of nonfiction

Library Life

Learn about library life

Book loves

What do you want to read?

The Journey

Everybody has a different library experience

April’s Librarian

Kati Coleman

Adult Services Programming Librarian
for Northland Public Library
in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Join us as we talk about library life and her journey in books.

Wanted: Pennsylvania librarians to interview throughout the year!
Please contact me here if you are interested.

When did you realize you wanted to be a librarian? Was it a life-long dream or did it just kind of happen?

I actually spent most of my life avoiding working in education! All of the women in my family are teachers or librarians, and I was convinced I would be different. I mostly just wanted to do theater, went to school for journalism and PR, and thought if I taught, it would be as a dance teacher. Then, while working at Starbucks after college, one of my customers was a librarian at Point Park. As we were chatting one day, she suggested I get my MLIS. She talked about how it wasn’t just books, it was programs and technology, and overall, it was customer service – helping people get the information and resources they needed. I went home and applied to Pitt’s program that weekend!

The Semi-Annual Book Sales are hugely popular for Northland Public Library. When did this event begin? Is it a fundraiser? A way to get rid of surplus materials? How did the idea for it come about?

Sadly, I do not know the answer to most of this, other than it is a big way to help the library. We do use the money to help with our budget, and in a year like this year where we had serious funding cuts, it has been more important than ever!

What’s your favorite section of the library? (ie romance, Pennsylvania history, biographies, reference, how-to, etc). Is it your area of expertise or one you enjoy learning more about?

I love getting to order books for the collection, and I am lucky enough to order for categories I LOVE. My two favorite sections to browse and buy for are the ones I read the most, Mystery and True Crime. I also love to go downstairs and walk around the teen section. They have a whole shelf for RPG books, and I love reading YA horror and mystery. We also have board games and video games, both of which I love to play, so it’s always fun to browse those sections before a weekend.

For folks looking to start any kind of knowledge journey, do you have research tips for them?

I know I shouldn’t say this, but most people can start with Wikipedia. It isn’t always reliable, but it can help give a basic overview of a topic and help you narrow down where to go next. From there, it really depends on the topic. History topics, for example, can be researched in a book or most any database, since it’s not something that will change much over the years. However, topics like medicine, science, and politics are always being undated and reexamined, so checking recent online sources will probably be best, or making sure a book you find is from the last year or so, depending on the topic. One of my favorite databases we have is Research In Context. You can search any topic, and it will give an overview followed by articles and resources as well as related topics. And of course, if you aren’t sure where to start with researching a tough topic, a librarian is your best resource!

If you could choose to work for any library in the world, which one would it be and why?

I know it may sound corny, but I think there are few places I’d rather be than here in Allegheny county. Being able to get a book from any library in the county or even the state is such an amazing thing for our patrons, and we frequently work with other local libraries on programs. However, I would love to work in a more walkable library system, like Seattle or New York. It would be chaotic, with all types of patrons coming in, but it would mean being able to offer services and programs without the huge barrier of patrons not being able to physically get to the building. If I’m dreaming big, though, I’d definitely want work at the London Library or The Library of Alexandria.

Do you have any book recommendations for non-fiction lovers? Do you rely on any of these resources to assist library patrons?

I was never a big non-fiction reader growing up, but I think that was because non-fiction has evolved so much over the past 10 or so years. It’s no longer the overly descriptive or boring fact filled texts we grew up with. And a big part of this is that many authors frame their books around personal experience or a story. So, for anyone who likes non-fiction, it’s easy to find a good read. The New York Times has a bestseller list each Monday for non-fiction, any blog or library site will have lists, and Novelist is a great database for both fiction and non-fiction recommendations. But if someone just wants to find a good read, I usually ask what topics they enjoy and find the call number for them. They can browse the section and find some great books they may not have found with a simple search.

What’s your favorite thing about working in a library? What’s something you wish you could add to enhance reader experience?

I love helping people and hearing their stories, and I love that no day is ever the same. I used to work with teens, and that was always chaotic and unpredictable. Once I started at Northland, I realized adults can be just as hard to predict! It’s easy to make a judgement based on a patron’s age or looks, but they will usually surprise you! I just love that I get to hear about people’s problems and activity try to help them find a solution, whether that is a phone number to a community organization, a program to help educate and connect them with resources, or just finding a book to cheer them up! If I could add anything, it would just be more funding for libraries to be able to pay more and hire more. This would have such an affect on reader experience. We could take the time to really chat and walk around with every patron wanting help. We always talk about wanting to have a desk that is just for recommending books or helping book clubs, but we’ll never have the time for that with our current staff hours!

Northland offers loads of programs for readers of all ages. What are some of your favorites? Do you think there’s a good variety or do you have ideas for new ones?

I’m a little biased on this one since I am the programming librarian for adults. I love that I get to book and run programs, though there is definitely more I wish I could do. I think we have a good variety of programs overall, but our programs that meet regularly each month are mostly book clubs now. I would love to be able to get more on the schedule for patrons who like to do more than read, or who want to connect with others over more than reading. I also would love to offer more all ages programming, which is something the children and teens department and I are always working on. And I would love to offer more programs out and about in our communities. Hopefully, as we get back to some normalcy, I can work on these bigger projects again and we can bring author fairs, comic cons, and other larger events back to the library and beyond.

If Northland could partner with any library outside the ACLA, which one would you want fellowship with and why? Would it be a smaller library or a larger one?

This is such an interesting question, because libraries traditionally have thought of themselves as serving their surrounding communities only. With the internet and other technologies becoming more accessible, the whole world can become your community in some aspects. We partnered with the Philadelphia Free Library on virtual programs during the pandemic. I would love to see more state partnership programs like that, since the communities across the start are all so vastly different. It would also be amazing to partner with libraries in the mid-west or on the west coast, or even in other countries, to give patrons a chance to chat with people from environments and cultures different from their own. Finding another system similar to ours would be ideal for this type of partnership – one that could connect with several libraries to get the most attendees possible. Locally, however, it would be nice to partner on programs with smaller libraries to help get information or resources to areas that might not have them. So I guess the answer is I just want to work with everyone!

Do you think social media has helped or hurt readership and literacy? How often do patrons come in and ask for “that book they saw online?”

I think social media has made it easier for readers, which is such a plus to readers everywhere. It’s easy to get recommendations or find books on topics you might not have considered otherwise. We as librarians can usually tell when a book has been on social media or in the news somewhere, and we have historically had patrons come in with clippings from a magazine or newspaper of a book they want. The only difference is that now they are showing us a screen shot of a book they saw on Instagram or TikTok. I will be honest and say that the one thing about social media that has hurt readership is the rise of the self-published books that people push online, either intentionally or unintentionally. We have noticed more people looking for a book that no library owns, in our county or in the country, because they saw it on someone’s social media. Social media has also been a positive thing for libraries to take a part in as well. From book recommendations and lists to funny TikTok showing what it’s like to be a librarian, we love connecting with patrons in a new way.

And so concludes the first Meet The Librarian!

What do you think? Isn’t this a fun addition to Easter and Spring Break is a time for new beginnings, and it was just a happy accident that Kati’s interview was set to go live as Pennsylvania reawakens to SPRING.

If you’re a writer/author, I highly suggest getting to know the librarians in your area, especially if you’re not yet published. No matter what you write, you’re going to need to use their resources at some point. Why not start with their very knowledgeable personnel? Don’t be afraid to get out there and ask them questions!

1 Comment

  1. Matt says:

    This is great! Thanks for the interview. Did you ever get a recommendation out of her for a non-fiction recommendation in the end? 😄

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Budding #historian. Writer of #adventures and #sciencefantasy. Lover of mushrooms and libraries. Fan of #chocolate, #books and Pennsylvania history.

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