Secret Lives of Librarians

Season 3, Episode 7

What do librarians do all day? When they're not planning programs or working the reference desk, these librarians are also obscure trivia players, birders and ... sword fighters! 

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Check out the books recommended for this episode.

Episode Transcript

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Seventeen-year-old (or thereabouts) William Cullen Bryant's musings on a magnificent and omnipresent Nature, human mortality, and a particular view of death are contained in a meditative poem first published in 1817 under what title? Woof. Do you know this one,?

Bean Amerika There's a lot of words in that question. I don't know it. I've always felt bad when I don't know the literature ones, and especially the children's literature ones. 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Because like I don't even know who William Cullen Bryant is. So my ability to guess based on, like, a card on file with a bunch of works from an author, it's like it's just I don't have the card, so. Then I have to think about, like, do I know any meditative poems about magnificent and omnipresent nature? Like, I don't know that either. So, you know, you have to write something. I mean, you don't have to write something. But like, I typically try and write something, but I don't.. I've got nothing. Nothing. No idea.

Adwoa Adusei Okay, Krissa, I cannot tell you what I just heard. can you tell me what I was just listening to?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras That was me, and fellow BPL librarian, Bean Amerika, who is much better of this than I am, talking through this online trivia league that we have both done for a long time called Learned League!

Adwoa Adusei Um, yeah. You’re going to have to further elaborate.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras So, like I said,  Learned League is a daily online trivia game. It's invite only. Right now I think about 10,000 players play. And then every day you get these six questions and you will write an answer in a blank text field, it's not multiple choice, and then you will defensively score your opponent based on a review of their statitstics to see how well you think they would get a math or a literature or a science questions, how likely they are to get it right. You're then going to assign them a point score. And it's been around for about a decade I think, and it's always been online. It's always been very nerdy and very niche.

Adwoa Adusei I mean honestly, it sounds like torture to me. But, did you get it right? The question about William Cullen Bryant?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras We did not. It was “Thanatopsis.” If anyone listening already knew that — you get 1000 gold stars and you might want to check out Learned League!

Adwoa Adusei I think I’ll politely decline. But really Krissa, why do you like this game? 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras [Laughs] Well, um, I do find it fun, even when I only get half the questions right. There is this, it's just a type of masochistic knowledge accumulation where, even when I don't know it before and I don't answer it correctly, at that point then now I've heard about it. So it is this really trial by fire way of like accumulating very small pieces of trivia that just kind of float around like flotsam in your brain. There’s also this really wonderful community you get to enter into when you start playing, you know, people who also love challenging themselves with these random questions — and, there are a good number of librarians in Learned League, unsurprisingly, librarians like Bean and myself who find this fun! I asked Bean why he likes the game, and he said it’s sort of like library reference work. He says it tickles the same part of his brain.

Bean Amerika Although with this it's rather than than using the the the the library or the Internet to find that answer, it's it's sort of plumbing that your own brain, you know, sort of taking apart the question and figuring out what it's really asking and then also digging into your brain to sort of find it.

Adwoa Adusei Honestly, I’d prefer to look it up. But, I guess I should have known that some librarians are into secret and obscure trivia groups! So, listeners, we’re going ring in the new year with a light-hearted episode. Coming up: two more stories about the secret lives of librarians. I’m Adwoa Adusei.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras And I’m Krissa Corbett Cavouras. You’re listening to Borrowed: stories that start at the library.


Adwoa Adusei So, a massive online trivia game is perhaps not the most unexpected past-time for a librarian, to be completely honest.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras No, good point. In fact, we are known for being big nerds on that front. But I did get to talk with another BPL librarian about her much, I think, cooler hobby. I met with Lauren Comito, librarian at Leonard Library who is also the chair and co-founder of the Urban Libraries Unite advocacy organization, at Astoria Park on a chilly Saturday afternoon.

Lauren Comito So a German long sword is a two-handed sword. Mine is about 51 inches long, just a bit more than four feet. And, you have to use basically two hands with it, and you can either cut or stab.

Adwoa Adusei Did I hear that correctly? A German long sword?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Yes. that's right. It's a sword. It's the exact same type of sword you're going to see in a Renaissance film about knights fighting. And when Lauren and her partner were practicing in Astoria Park, they were moving forward and arching and swinging the sword.

Adwoa Adusei How did Lauren get into this past-time?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Well, for Lauren, this particular passion started a long time ago. 

Librarian Lauren Comito sword fights with a partner in Astoria Park.
(Krissa Corbett Cavouras, Brooklyn Public Library)

Lauren Comito I’m a librarian, so I spent my entire youth reading Tamora Pierce books, as most of us do, um, and I always wanted to do this. And then my doctor told me I should exercise because I was getting older, and I said, I hate exercise, but this is something I always wanted to do, and I found it and I thought, well, that sounds like exercise, that’ll work. So, I just signed up!

[Sword sounds]

The Venn diagram of librarians and sword people has a big overlapping middle bit. So, we’re basically recreating a martial art from the 1300s to 1600s based on documents that have been left behind. Every house would have like a book of all the stuff, like how to preserve food and teach people how to — like, they had these books they used to pass that information down, and one of the things was called a Fechtbuch, which is a fight book in Medieval German, that you would use to teach people how to fight.

[Sword sounds]

All of the blades are blunt and flexible, so that if they hit you, you don’t really get hurt ... that bad. You just get bruised. So many bruises. You have to control what you’re doing. You can’t just, like, wail on somebody. So if you hit somebody with  or try the wrong angle, you just miss, or you hit them with the flat of the blade and it doesn’t count.

Adwoa Adusei Krissa, did you try out sword fighting?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras I am a huge chicken and I did not. It is also, you know, these folks are, they're trained in how to do this. They're holding this incredibly large weapon. I stayed actually pretty far away from them so I would not get in their way. But there is something that I do for fun these days, when I'm not working or parenting, and that is birding. And, it turns out a bunch of other librarians do that as well. So, a few weeks ago, I went birding with Addie Smock, who's a Young Adult librarian at Brownsville Library.

Addie Smock So, we are walking into Prospect Park. The winter sparrows have shown up. That includes the always-lovely Dark-eyed Juncos, might see a Fox Sparrow, which is always great. Brown Creepers, which are super cute. 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras He's right there! [Bird tweet] Yeah. he’s like, leave me alone.

Addie Smock Okay, so we’re going to walk real slowly so I can listen.

[Bird sounds]

Krissa Corbett Cavouras See, who is that? That seems like it should be so obvious.

Addie Smock That’s the White-throated Sparrow. And he says, “Oh sweet Canada.” [Sings: "Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada."]

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Oh, that’s the short repeating notes at the end, yeah. It’s funny how sparrows … I think that’s one of the things I learned at the beginning of my real birding — you know, if you’re really, in the morning or in the evening, hearing quite beautiful song in the city, it’s probably —  and I say just sparrows, I’m not trying to beat up on sparrows — but, you know, we think of these as these little sidewalk trash birds, you know, but they’re actually making beautiful song all the time!

Addie Smock If you hear that high-pitched "eee" that’s probably a Kinglet. 

[Bird sounds]

Krissa Corbett Cavouras You’re a librarian. Are there skill sets you bring to bear to both?

Addie Smock So, there’s nothing that is directly related between the two, but I think a deep sense of curiosity and, there’s always more to learn. There’s always a new bird, there is always a new program, a new database to help patrons. There’s always something more around the corner. And being able to be open to that, and being receptive to what’s around you, I think really parallels librarianship. So there are approximately ten thousand bird species in the world. I’ve seen — I haven’t even seen 500 species yet in my entire life. And so, I got a long way to go. I will never see them all, but I can try and I can learn as much about them, and their environment and what kind of trees they like and what the cycles of bugs are doing...

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Yeah, it really is an art of noticing. 

Addiw Smock Yeah. That’s a really good way of putting it. I like that a lot.

[Music and bird sounds]

Krissa Corbett Cavouras and Addie Smock birding in Prospect Park.
(Virginia Marshall, Brooklyn Public Library)

Adwoa Adusei It wouldn’t be a Borrowed episode without a Bookmatch segment! Djaz Frederick Zulida, business and career librarian and honorary pandemic hobby specialist spoke with our producer about a few hobby books to get you started in 2021.

Djaz Frederick Zulida My first recommendation for today is Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom by Snye Mitchell. You know, as the pandemic started, I think a lot of people started picking up hobbies. I’m definitely one of them, but I definitely have something to confess: I bought a loom, I was going to start weaving, I got all the yarn. I got as far as sanding and painting my loom before I was like, okay, that was a lot of work. But, Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom is such a great book. It’s very non-threatening. Even though it can be complicated to get started, this book is so helpful. And even though I haven’t actually started weaving yet, this book is definitely going to steer me on the right path.

Virginia Marshall We'll have to check in with you and see how it's going. Awesome. So, I would love to hear actually about another hobby book that you have.

Djaz Frederick Zulida Sure, so my second recommendation today is the Honeybee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees by Norman Gary. And, it's basically about how to keep bees and they have a whole chapter on urban bee keeping. When I was in Boston, I was working at the Boston Public Library, and we ended up having a bee hive. Out of two small hives, we ended up having jars and jars of honey. And let me tell you how thrilling it was to be able to point out the window and show people the hives, and then to bring in a jar of honey and let people try it.

My third recommendation for today is The Quick Pickle Cookbook by Grace Parisi. Canning and pickling? Like, another big COVID hobby. I love quick pickles because I don't have to remember to do anything fancy. I don't have to worry about my fermentation and pickling gone wrong. All I have to do is pick out what kind of vegetable or even fruit I'd want to pickle, mix up my ingrediants, and then pop it into a mason jar with a lid, then pop it into the fridge and like, a day or two later, I have awesome pickles. 

Virginia Marshall Nice. Yeah, you definitely don't want to have to worry about fermentation gone wrong. That sounds like a nightmare.

Djaz Frederick Zulida So I did actually take a fermentation class, and it was great. But something went horribly awry with my carrots. They went fizzy. And that's not good. Don't eat fizzy carrots.

Virginia Marshall Noted. [Laughs] That was great. Thank you so much, Djaz. I am very intrigued by this list. 

Djaz Frederick Zulida You're welcome. It was really fun to make.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras I love all of this: beekeeping, pickling, weaving. They're all really great hobbies, and they have that real urban homestead feel going for them. So, the rest of Djaz's list is available on our website. And they've selected other books on sourdough making, Japanese braiding, woodworking, book making ... so many great hobbies for 2021. 

Adwoa Adusei Borrowed is brought to you by Brooklyn Public Library and is hosted by me, Adwoa Adusei, and Krissa Corbett Cavouras. You can find a transcript of this episode at our website, B-K-L-Y-N Library [dot] org [slash] podcasts. Tape for this episode was collected by Krissa Corbett Cavouras.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Borrowed is produced by Virginia Marshall and written by Virginia Marshall and Adwoa Adusei, with help from Fritzi Bodenheimer, Jennifer Proffitt, Meryl Friedman and Robin Lester Kenton. Our music composer is Billy Libby.  

Adwoa Adusei Borrowed will be back in two weeks. Until then, go out and find a new hobby for a brand new year.