24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: advice

Pro Talk: How to Find a Book You’ve Forgotten: Tips from a Librarian

I like my job as a librarian and there are a few tasks I especially love. One of them is readers’ advisory. The other, a sort of branch of readers’ advisory, is when patrons come to me and say: “There was this book I read several years ago. I don’t know the title, and I only know a little bit about it. Help?” And it’s a more common problem than you might think. One of my favorite things is finding the book in question and watching the joy and amazement come over the reader’s face. It’s at this point that, when they express their surprise that I found the book, I note that I didn’t go to library school for nothing. (Which then leads into something like, “Librarians have to get a master’s degree?” and there’s a whole thing about it—but I digress.) If you want to know a bit about how the magic happens, read on to find out how to find a book you’ve forgotten.

woman using laptop


There are a number of strategies when it comes to how to find a book you’ve forgotten. Plenty of folks enjoy the rush as much as I do and there are online resources that will join you in your quest. Goodreads’s “What’s the Name of That Book???” group is an active and popular place to throw your enigma to the pros. You can also try Facebook’s Library Think Tank, which is a general gathering place for librarians and library staff, but accepts all library lovers and will happily pounce on such a question. Then, there’s “What’s That Book Called?” on Reddit. Finally, you could also join the top tier of Book Riot Insidersand ask on the Insiders-only forum.

If you’re intent on figuring out how to find a book you’ve forgotten yourself, though, try these strategies.


WorldCat bills itself as “the world’s largest library catalog.” Essentially, libraries give access to their catalogs to WorldCat, which then makes it searchable for anyone. Access and searching is free, and it can helpfully let you know if the book you’re seeking is available at a library local to you. With WorldCat, depending on the details you know about your book, the basic search might be enough. Chances are, this will yield too many results. This is where the filters come in handy.

If you know for sure you read the book a particular year, consider filtering out all books after that year. When someone tells me they know the book was published in, say, 2008, I usually put a buffer around it. Frequently, readers are totally sure about a thing that isn’t actually accurate. It’s easier to rule things out than imagine things into existence, so add a couple of years on either side for better searching. You can also select “Print book” to rule out other formats, since that’s most likely what you’re looking for. Use the filters to narrow your search as much as you can, but try to keep a buffer when possible.

When the filters don’t get the job done, try switching up your keywords. A decent thesaurus can help you out with that, though often, you’re better off trying to come up with your own. Book cataloging, for the most part, is done by humans—while machine learning is all well and good, it can never exactly match human thinking patterns. Related keywords rather than exact synonyms sometimes yield a better result, so even if something seems a little off the wall, give it a shot.

Another fun trick with WorldCat is using subject headings. Especially if someone has already suggested a title that isn’t your book but has similar themes or concepts, this can be a great way to narrow your search. Go to the page for the suggested title, and under the “Subjects” category, find the topic that makes the most sense for your forgotten book and click the link. This will provide you with a new search based around that subject heading. From there, you can go back and narrow again using the filters.

Essentially, your goal when searching is to boil the book down to its most essential self. If you can derive any kind of theme or subject from memories of the opening scene, for example, you’re in decent shape. Sometimes this is something you can do quickly. Other times, it takes some angling and reframing of your memory of the book. With practice, this gets more intuitive, so don’t give up! Instead, when you get stuck, take a few hours or days away from your search and come back to it with a fresh mind.


For when you can only vaguely remember what the cover looks like, try Big Book Search. If you can include a keyword from the title, you’ll be more likely to find what you’re looking for. However, if you really can only remember images on the cover, you still might have luck. The website’s interface is about as basic as it gets, so if you’re someone who likes a more detailed search method, Big Book Search might not work so well for you. On the other hand, it’s one more place to try a search for that forgotten book.


Google is vast. But once in a while, it yields just what you need. I’ve typed seemingly nonsensical keyword strings into the search box and got lucky. (Pro tip: include the word “book” in your search somewhere; sometimes adding “young adult” or “juvenile” is useful, too, if your book is one of those.) I typically don’t spend a lot of time searching with Google, however. Because there are so many more results to sift through than with World Cat, it often takes more time than it’s worth.


Because the searching process is something that isn’t an exact science, it’s impossible to put together a guaranteed-to-work step-by-step guide. It’s a fun challenge to take on now and then and practice definitely helps. You might help out some of the folks in the Goodreads group until you have your own need for that practice in the meantime.

What other strategies and resources do you use?


*Originally published on Book Riot, September 12, 2018.

Up Your Productivity: The 5 Lists that Will Rock Your World

One of the things I get asked most often is, “When do you sleep?”

Answer: At night.

But let’s back up a little bit. This question is typically prompted by some realization that I currently have three jobs (one full time, two part-time — though, to be fair, “part-time” is loosely defined here) and am enrolled in graduate school full time. I don’t say this because I want people to think that I’m some kind of amazing person who sacrifices everything for some vaguely-defined sense of success. Actually, I say it because I know you (yes, you) are perfectly capable of this, too. And not only that, but you can do it and still have free time. Yeah, I still have time for things I do for fun — though I can’t say that I spend that time as wisely as I do my “not free” time (read: Abby mostly scrolls through Tumblr aimlessly while watching Jane the Virgin in her free time, which is to say she is imprisoned by mindless entertainment that fulfills some desire to mentally engage with concepts regarding social justice, relationships, and funny memes).

Right. As I was saying. You, too, can achieve crazy amounts of productivity in whatever arena you like. You just have to follow me down the rabbit hole that is organization.

Now, to be fair, if you search “organization” on Tumblr or Pinterest, you’re going to find pictures of immaculate to-do lists, notes that have probably been rewritten about a dozen times to ensure a lack of mistakes and perfect handwriting (seriously, it will make you cry), and beautiful, expensive stationery. That’s not how I roll (although I wish I did). I do messy and relatively improvised — at least for my standards. Asides aside, let’s get started on my list about lists (are you surprised?).

1. Blackout

I first started using what I call the Blackout List in summer of 2013 during my internship at the National Science Foundation. It was my first experience working full time in an office and I felt like I needed a fresh organization method that would propel me through each day. As a Resident Assistant, I’d seen my supervisor with  her legal pad every day, crossing out  tasks she’d completed with a black Sharpie. It seemed to work really well for her, so I adopted it. I still use it today in my daily work.


Blackout List

The Blackout List is for anything and everything I intend to do at work. I write up the following day’s tasks every day before I leave. My list currently works in three columns, mainly to save space. Each list has tasks I’m supposed to complete on a daily cycle, plus other tasks that are either completed on a less frequent basis, or are “fresh” tasks that are one-time things. Every day, you’ll see “newspapers” listed first on my list because I deliver newspapers every day. It’s not that I’ll forget to do that task, necessarily, but putting it on there helps me start the workflow for the day. I include bi-weekly meetings, reference requests, and long-term projects, too. Typically, I try to list the items in order that they should be completed, but as things get added throughout the day, I don’t worry too much about it. When composing the list, I always check my calendar for the next day to see what meetings and other unusual tasks need to be added. At the top of every list is “To Do” and the date in MM/DD format. This piece is highlighted in pink to offset it from the actual tasks.

Then the “blackout” part comes in. As each task is completed, I black it out — that is, I cross it out fully with a green highlighter (I find the permanent markers bleed through too much on legal pads). Whatever isn’t finished at the end of the day — long term projects, reference requests I didn’t finish for whatever reason, etc. — gets transferred to the next day unless it’s no longer relevant, in which case I either cross it out with a pen or leave it alone.

I love this method because it’s great for looking back to see what you’ve accomplished. You can see how long long-term projects took to complete, you can see what you worked on on what days, and you’ve got a record of tasks you did on a daily basis. This can be especially helpful for job searching later; filling out applications that detail your previous experience immediately becomes easier when you have a concrete list to pull from.

2. Priorities

The Priorities List was developed when I started getting more responsibilities at my full time job. Just before lunch time, I started lists that I called “Afternoon Priorities” so I’d be able to take off running when I got back from my break. When things get tough in school, I sometimes break out the Priorities List to help me get through.

The Priorities List lists only the most important tasks to be completed by the end of a given set of time (often close of business) in a single column. These tasks are all pending. Typically, I determine the level of priority for each task and do so by figuring out each task’s due “date” (or, how soon the item needs to be completed), if other people are waiting on the task to be completed, how long it’s been on the list, and other factors. Then, I design a key at the top of the list with three or four highlighter colors. The colors are listed in order of priority: first, second, third, fourth. What color I assign to each level depends on the day. I don’t currently have a standing color for each level. For the sake of explanation, let’s say I assign pink to first, yellow to second, and green to third. I then go through my list and highlight all of the first priorities in pink, again weighing the factors I described previously. Second priorities are highlighted in yellow and so on. Each task also gets a check box next to it to be checked when completed.


Priorities List

And so I go through, hitting the pink tasks first, then the yellow, then the green. In some cases, I may skip to what I originally determined was a lower-level task because I need a break from one of the more intense higher-priority tasks or because it’s quick and can be easily checked off. I find that checking something off a list as being achieved boosts my motivation, so checking off a quick, lower-priority task can make accomplishing higher-priority tasks easier.

I find Priority Lists most helpful in two scenarios. The first of these scenarios are times in which I feel so overwhelmed with things to do that I don’t know where to get started. Writing them out allows me to visually assess what needs to get done and compare tasks to each other to find the most important things to finish. The second scenario is just the opposite — when I feel I have so little to do and can’t decide what to do with myself. By mapping out possible things to work on, I’m often able to find at least a few tasks that really need doing and, as a result, I’m no longer at a loss as to what to do next.

One final perk of the Priority List is that the order tasks are added to the list doesn’t matter. Because priority is designated by highlight color rather than physical location relative to other tasks on the paper, you can easily tack on more tasks to the “bottom” of the list and still highlight them as pink, or a top priority.

3. Bullet

You might’ve seen articles about the Bullet Journal circulating around the web. One of the great things about the Bullet Journal is its adaptability. For those of us who like to follow rules to a T, the creators of the Bullet Journal make it easy to move away from the original design by encouraging the adaptation of the Bullet Journal method as you see fit. I started out using the Bullet Journal method as it’s prescribed, but quickly found that it wasn’t entirely helpful for me. I then made a few adjustments and relied on it to keep track of my school assignments throughout the semester.


Bullet List

For my version of the Bullet Journal, which I just refer to as the Bullet List, I make weekly lists rather than daily. My class schedule at San José State University runs on a weekly cycle, so each page is a new week. For this past semester, I had a class that “started” on Mondays, one on Wednesdays, and one on Thursdays. At the very top of the page was the week’s number for that semester. Fortunately, a lot of the course content is listed by week number, so it was easy enough to group classwork by week. My Monday class, Reference and Information Services, started each weekly list. I wrote the course information and the date range (INFO 210-10: 12/21/15 – 12/27/15, for example) as a header. Then I listed all of the assignments for that week in two columns. If there was a paper or some other kind of assignment with a deliverable, I added the due date for that assignment in parentheses after the description. Other assignments might be readings, discussion board post obligations, and research I needed to complete. Below that course would be the other two courses with similar headings. The next week started on the following page.

Throughout the week, as tasks were completed, they were checked off the list. Unfinished long-term projects got moved to the next week.

The Bullet List is pretty straight-forward as to-do lists go. It’s a slightly more-organized and time-sensitive iteration of the ordinary to-do list, but has the benefit of adaptations floating around the Internet that you can take and make your own.

4. To Do

Speaking of standard to do lists, I make about a million of them. Often, I take tasks from any of the lists listed (ha) above and dash them onto a piece of scrap paper. I use To Do lists whenever I need them. Some are long-term and some are short-term. I do have a little notebook where I keep two running To Do lists: one is a list of blog topics I want to get to, the other is a list of funny things I want to write about in the memoir that will probably be on another To Do list perpetually.

My standard To Do list is usually listed by bullets or dashes, and occasionally both if I have mini tasks within larger tasks. I try to keep the tasks in these lists boiled down to easy phrases like “laundry” or “homework.” Once something is completed, it’s crossed off — easy peasy.


To Do List

While I use To Do lists more than any other list (probably), I actually take them less seriously. As I mentioned, I usually do them on scrap paper, so they have a more temporary feel to them. They should probably be called Should Do lists rather than To Do lists, but we’re all imperfect people and I’m too lazy to write out “Should” when I could write “To.” Anyway, I find the temporary “aura” of the To Do list makes it lower-pressure to complete. If I get to it, I get to it; if I lose the list, I lose it — I can always make another. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s an old standby. I approve.

5. Wunderlist

The Wunderlist is not actually something that I created. Wunderlist is an app that is accessible through Smart Phones, tablets, and computers. Unlike the other lists, I use Wunderlist for items rather than tasks. Right now, I have a lists for groceries, things I want (ie, a wish list), and gift ideas. Admittedly, I use Wunderlist on a superficial basis. I’m sure there are lots of great features that I don’t use, simply because I haven’t felt a need for anything beyond what I currently use it for.

I will say there are a lot of helpful things about Wunderlist that I do use. One of the best features is that Wunderlist allows collaboration. This has been invaluable for the grocery list, which I share with my significant other. Whenever he or I notice we’re low on something, we can easily add it to the list. Wunderlist has an alert feature that will let you know someone has added something to shared lists unless you turn that feature off. So, if you’re using Wunderlist for groceries and you see someone you live with has added “milk” and you happen to be going to the store on the way home from work, it’s easy enough to know with minimal communication that you should pick up some milk. Shared lists are on a list-by-list basis, so sharing a list does not mean you have to share all of your other lists, too. This has been great for me because I’m able to keep sharing groceries with my significant other without letting him in on my gift ideas for him.



In my experience, Wunderlist loads quickly (I have a two-and-a-half-year-old iPhone 4S, which tends to load other things rather slowly compared to newer phones) even on 3G, so it’s easy to access in grocery stores. Once you’ve obtained an item, you can tap it to check it off and the item disappears from your list. The list also notes how many “tasks” you’ve completed from that list. Lists continue to exist even when there are no items on the list. Each item can also holds more than itself. If you open up any given task item, there are slots for a due date, a reminder, subtasks, notes, files, and comments. You can also “star” that task if it’s particularly important. Tasks can be sorted alphabetically and the app organizes conversations initiated by comments on shared lists.

And the best part? All of this is free.

Bonus: Outline

There is one more kind of list that I use fairly frequently. I first learned, really, to do outlines when I was in sixth grade. My Social Studies teacher loved outlines for lecture purposes and had fairly strict guidelines about what an outline should look like. I’ve seen arguments for different formats since, but have stuck to the one that makes the most sense to me with slight alterations depending on the project. Microsoft Word has leveled list format suggestions, but here’s what I prefer (with increasing indents for each level — unfortunately this editor won’t allow that, even with spaces):

I. Dogs

A. Bodies

1. Heads

a. Mouths

i. Teeth

ii. Tongues

b. Ears

2. Legs

B. Personalities

II. Cats

Obviously this is very skeletal as it’s just for example purposes, but you get the idea. Some will argue you can’t have a sub-level if you only have one or two points (so, for every A, if you’re going to have a 1, you also have to have a 2 and 3). I think that’s phooey. Outline in a way that works for you and you’re doing it right. There will be no outline snobs here.


Outline List

I primarily use outlines to write papers for school or, occasionally, get an idea of where I’m going with a particular blog post. (Yes, I did one for this blog post. No, it wasn’t in my standard format.) Like all my other lists, Outlines are helpful for propelling you forward, always giving you a “next.” Personally, I like to mirror my essays to an extent, so the Outline often ends up propelling itself forward. If I mention dogs, cats, and bunnies in the introduction in that order, I already know what my three main body paragraphs will be. Many people will probably argue that’s just solid writing practice, but there are arguments to be made for other effective techniques. I don’t pretend to be an expert on writing, regardless of how much of it I may do or pretend I do.

Lists are absolutely instrumental to me gettin’ stuff done. They provide clarity, direction, and a sense of accomplishment. There’s no way I could do even half of what I do without a good plan ahead of me. In fact, I honestly believe for every five minutes I spend planning and listing, I save another half-hour down the road. (And I’m not the only one who feels this way.) Time management and productivity are my things. It’s what I do well.

Oh, and sleeping? I also do that well — but only because I put it on my list.

What are your favorite methods of organization? Are you into any list trends? Do you have a Pinterest board full of beautiful lists? Do you hate lists? I want to know! Please share in the comments.

9 Simple Ways to Hack Your Job Search

Since March, I’ve been seriously applying to jobs.  It’s absolutely a full time job that, unfortunately, doesn’t pay. Many recent grads are in the same boat and, with a sea of job sites to navigate, it can be difficult to figure out the best way to start. Here are some things that I’ve learned while job searching.

1. Network

Okay, so maybe you’ve heard this one a million times, but it’s important. Networking can open opportunities for you. They say you’re “six degrees” from anyone you can think of, chances are you’re far fewer than six degrees from a job. Talk to people about what you’re interested in. Return the favor. Even if someone can’t offer you a job or a connection to someone who can offer you a job, networking is a good way to learn how to look for a job and how to talk to people.

An even bigger secret? People have been telling me to network forever. I understood that networking meant talking to people, but I had no idea what to talk about or how to even start those conversations until recently. You’re going to think I’m joking when I tell you this, but I promise, it’s the truth: I learned to network by playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. While you can’t enter personalized responses to things people say, watching those conversations (and their consequences) play out on your tiny phone screen can make a world of difference in how you approach networking in real life. At least, it did for me. Not sure where to meet people? Try joining a Meet Up relevant to your interests. Because Meet Ups are built around hobbies and career interests, there’s already a topic to break the ice.

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2. Keep a List of Keywords

If you’re not looking for a super specific position (like, Professional M&M Taster), keep a list of the keywords you use to search for jobs. This allows you to check back in on those job listings with less hassle and more consistency. It also empowers you to search more creatively. Occasionally, job search engines are smart enough that they will find synonymous listings, but this isn’t always the case. Keep a thesaurus or www.thesaurus.com nearby and handy to help you have a comprehensive search going at all times. Some job search sites also keep a history of your search terms with a number of new jobs posted under those terms since your last visit to their site. This can be helpful, but the history only goes back so far and if you have an extensive list of terms, you’re probably better off keeping track yourself.

3. Track with a Spreadsheet

My “Job Search” spreadsheet is a lifesaver. Every time I apply for a job, I enter it into my database. This not only helps me keep track of the number of jobs I’ve applied to (and thus enables me to be appropriately bitter as I mutter that I’ve applied to ninety-one jobs to no avail and I can prove it), but it also helps me to remember important contact information, passwords for jobs that require a log-in, and a link to the job description should an interview present itself. The categories I use in my spreadsheet are: Job Title, Organization, Link to Post, Date Applied, Location (City), Result of Application, Follow Up (Date), and Notes. When I receive a result, I highlight the row of boxes so I know it’s no longer an active application. You may find other categories more useful to you, but I highly recommend keeping a spreadsheet to help keep your search organized.

4. Add to Hacks to Your Search Terms

It occurred to me recently that many of the hacks you can use to search Google more effectively also apply to other search engines. Use them to your advantage. While some search engines automatically search both “library” and “librarian” when you type just “librarian” in, it’s not necessarily guaranteed. Try typing “librar*” without the quotation marks to search all job posts with the words “librarian” or “library” in it. My favorite alternative search technique is to add a minus sign before the word “intern” to weed out any internships listed in the results. Many of the advanced search techniques in this chart can be transferred to job search sites.

5. Limit Your Searches with Filters

Some job sites, like Simply Hired, allow users to limit search results. Looking for something that requires little experience? Select “0-2 years” under the experience panel. Only interested in working for a non-profit? Click on “non-profit” to find jobs in the non-profit sector. This will save your hours of scrolling through irrelevant search results, thus enabling you to apply to more jobs that better suit your interests and intent.

6. Don’t Just Rely on One Job Site

Although you’ll often be presented with over a thousand search results at just one site, you’ll be better off if you check with multiple sites. My favorites at the moment are Indeed, Idealist, Simply Hired, CareerBuilder, Snagajob, and Monster. Admittedly, I don’t check them all with the same frequency, but even by checking more than one, I increase my chances of finding the right job by quite a bit. It’s unusual to see the same job posted on multiple platforms, so your results are very likely to look totally different. Like your keyword list, take a minute to make a list of sites you want to check on a regular basis and then do it.

7. Check Career-Specific Sites

While I can’t speak for other career paths (though I suspect there are resources for most of them), the library science field has many career-specific resources for job seekers. I Need a Library Job compiles an almost-daily list of job posts with links. The American Library Association has a JobLIST as well. A quick Google search will reveal a number of other resources for job seeking in library and information science and it can help make your search more specific and effective.

8. Follow Librarian Blogs

As an active Tumblr user, it’s easy for me to keep my finger on the pulse of the library job market and trends therein. Of course, Twitter is another useful social media platform to keep up with librarians. With a lot of high profile librarians keeping blogs and other social media accounts, you can watch for advice from the pros. Often, these are the kind of people who can hire you, and I’ve read more than one post on what to and not to do for resumes, cover letters, and interviews in a library setting.

9. Be Optimistic

It’s okay to have glass-half-empty days. Overall, it’s important to keep a positive attitude. If you don’t, it’s likely to show up in your cover letters. Fake confidence until you feel confidence and don’t take rejections personally. When the time and the job is right, it will happen.



Glu Mobile, Inc. (2014). Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. (Version 1.3.1) Glu Mobile, Inc. video game. San Francisco: Glu Mobile, Inc.

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