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Paper Planner People: A Unique Subculture in Academic Librarianship

by | May 31, 2023 | 4 comments

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By Steven J. Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University Libraries

There was a time before computers when scheduling and planning one’s workload using paper calendars and planners was the rule rather than the exception. Those of us in the library profession who continued using paper planning products well into the digital age were regarded as eccentric oddballs. Times have changed. It’s beyond just all right to show up with a paper planner. Paper planner people are now cool.  

For a time, before there were highly developed computer and phone apps for digital scheduling, I gave a variety of e-planning tools a try. Radio Shack was a reliable source of fairly inexpensive devices of this type. Their tiny physical keyboards on these devices made planning chores cumbersome, but their users could claim a coolness factor associated with being at the cutting edge of technology.

Times have changed. Just as manual typewriters and vinyl records are now the cool tools for the newer generations that seek a physical connection with their devices, I discovered a similar subculture within our profession that prefers an intimacy and customization that are unobtainable with the myriad planning, scheduling and to-do apps.

While I’ve been using a basic paper planner for the last 20 years, I had no idea there existed among our colleagues a group of paper planner aficionados. 

This discovery came at the ACRL conference in Pittsburgh this past March. It was a session I probably would have ignored had it not been brought to my attention by the “community chat” organization, my colleague Carmen Cole. She had no idea if anyone would show up but suggested I should stop by to see what would happen if a critical mass appeared. 

To our surprise, a small but highly engaged group of librarians arrived with paper planners in hand; more joined throughout the session. Things kicked off with attendees sharing information about their planner and how they used it. This was quite the revelation. As the owner of a bland but dependable Day-Timer, I had no idea so many different planners existed. Furthermore, the owners of these planners articulated what it was about their own paper planner that earned their loyalty and passion for that particular style or brand. 

What did librarians like about their particular planners? For some it was the size of the pages, which allowed them to incorporate a mix of appointments, daily to-dos and personal journaling. Other notable features were the ability to add new pages or sections, a preference for smaller size books that fit neatly into backpacks, the perceived quality of a brand or its country of origin. Some preferred a particular brand from Japan. The most common element of interest shared by attendees was the degree of customization offered. There was a high degree of interest in colors, page styles and paper planner covers/binders. My own is boring black, so I was in the minority in that respect. 

What about stickers? How many stickers does your planner have? Where do you get them? Who is making their own stickers? Lots of questions and dialog about stickers. If button makers were the must have appliance for librarians a few years ago, sticker makers are the new must have library maker device. Fortunately, I had a couple of stickers on my planner. Nothing too exciting, though. Just from a few state parks where I’d gone camping. Paper planners and stickers go together, so if you have one but not the other consider making an addition. 

There are some strong opinions about pens too – another planner thing about which I had no idea. Well, I stick with pencils because I need to do a lot of erasing. That was all right with the group, but they wanted to know what kind of pencil I was using…because it makes a difference. I had to look at my pencil before I answered. Turns out it is a Papermate Sharpwriter #2. Can you hear the sound of a room full of librarians groaning? This community chat was all about sharing information and practices and I was glad to find out about Blackwing pencils so I could elevate my game. They come with a great eraser.

Despite the love for planners among this group, there was also recognition – with a degree of sadness – that the use of electronic scheduling tools was an inescapable fact of life in the modern library organization. No one wants to be THAT librarian whose colleagues cannot find their entire schedule on Outlook or Google Calendar when it comes time to plan a meeting. But to a person, each of us relished the thought of whipping out our paper planners when colleagues ask us about our availability for meetings. Wait….I’ve got something penciled in for 2:00 pm next Thursday. By the way, what do you think of this new sticker?

My big takeaway from this community chat, along with an hour of fun chat and idea exchanges, is that if this little-known subculture within academic librarianship brings together a small group of colleagues for an engaging discussion, what other similar subcultures exist. There could be dozens of them. Have they had similar community chats? Do the librarians who fit within these subcultures know about each other? Perhaps our professional associations can do more to tap these subcultures as a way to engage more colleagues. That said, these subcultures often have their own online communities, opportunities for engagement and even specialized conferences

At the end of the meeting at ACRL, some interest was expressed in continuing the conversation online for future engagement. So far that hasn’t happened, but I really enjoyed this community chat. I know others did too so I sure would look forward to it. I did learn a lot about paper planners, and the people who are passionate about them. What librarian subculture do you belong to? Tell us more.

4 Comments

  1. Stacy Anderson

    I feel seen!

    Reply
  2. Terri B.

    Not a papermate pencil! 😀 Welcome to the Blackwing community. Did you know there’s a fantastic podcast that’s all about pencils? It’s called the Eraseable Podcast, and they even have a Facebook group where we all rave about pencils all day. : )

    Reply
  3. steven bell

    Hi Teri. Thanks for sharing your comment. No – I totally did not know about the podcast or FB group. As you can tell from my blog post, this is all sort of new to me. I will look into the podcast. Thanks for bringing it to the readers’ attention.

    Reply
    • steven bell

      Hi Teri. Thanks for sharing your comment. No – I totally did not know about the podcast or FB group. As you can tell from my blog post, this is all sort of new to me. I will look into the podcast. Thanks for bringing it to the readers’ attention

      Reply

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