Q&A with Zahra “Z” M. Baird, Teen & Technology Librarian at the Yonkers Public Library

Are books becoming obsolete?
Definitely not—there’s an allure to holding a book that will never die. They will be available, however, in increasingly different formats.

What are some common misconceptions people hold about librarians?
The stereotype is that we all have buns and glasses and are very quiet and reserved. In reality, many of us are very outgoing and have a wide range of interests. And, while I wear glasses, I’m often sporting flamboyant hues like red, pink, and purple in my hair. And I have a cuff tattoo on my arm.
How has the public library changed over the course of your fifteen-year career?
It used to be like a grocery store—you went and got stuff. Now, it’s more like a kitchen—you make things happen, do research, have meetings, share ideas, collaborate, and network.

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How can libraries compete with, say, a Barnes & Noble?
I don’t feel we need to. We are free; no store can beat that.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Getting people to understand that we don’t have to know something but just know how to find it.

How do you keep kids engaged in reading with so much competition from the screens?
It’s not a competition—it’s working with or dovetailing into the media and building upon their interests. So if you like watching Glee, here’s what Glee characters read. And thanks to CSI, a lot of people have become interested in reading about true crimes and forensics. One interesting way we promote reading using technology is the posting of book trailers, similar to movie trailers, on our website.

What do you think about the Fifty Shades of Grey books?
What I can say about it is that there is a book for every reader and a reader for every book and I’m glad it’s getting people to read and come into the library. Right now, the Westchester Library System has six hundred twenty-nine holds for the two hundred eighty copies of the first book alone.

What are some of your recent favorite titles?
Some books that stayed with me this year are The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Shortcuts to Inner Peace by Ashley Davis Bush, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

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Do you use an electronic reading device?
I own a Nook. I’d say my reading is split fifty-fifty between actual and downloaded books. I commute to work by train or bus, and so I tend to use the Nook more then.

What will the library of the future look like?
The library will become more of a digital portal, with more people connecting to it through its website rather than just coming in through its doors.

What’s the most unusual request someone has made of you?
Someone once asked me to help her find a book she had been reading with just the cover color and book thickness to go by—no title or author! I was able to dig a little deeper to help her identify character names and places and eventually I was able to help her find what she was looking for.

Photo by John Rizzo

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