If you write anything at all and you haven’t heard of or followed Library Lady Jane (aka, Jane the Librarian), start getting to know and follow her now. She’s a guru of grammar and a darn nice lady too! We’ve admired her work for quite some time, so we decided to connect with her and see if she’d grant us an interview. To our great delight, she did!
Edit911: Where did you get your love of grammar?
Jane: I got my love of language from my Mom, and from constant reading, another love that was bequeathed by her and pretty much every member of my extended family. Mom demanded perfect grammar and regular precision of vocabulary, and I loved being able to get it right. When she saw that, she had me read books on language really early; I remember reading The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way, by Bill Bryson, some time around fifth grade.
Edit911: Why do you think so many people have so much trouble with grammar?
Jane: People have difficulty with grammar because they hear it spoken and see it written imperfectly far too often, and they don’t have good models to imitate. Grammar is taught in very dry ways, and grammar in school would never have interested me in the slightest if it hadn’t been a key to decoding formulas I already knew from reading great books from a young age.
Edit911: What advice would you give people who want to improve their grammar?
Jane: If you want to improve your grammar, read your own writing aloud. Yes, it can be painful, but you will surprise yourself with what you catch if you add the sound of your own voice to the process of revision. Also, read more. Read good, well-written, entertaining books when you have the chance.
Edit911: Do you have a favorite grammar book and grammar website?
Jane: My favorite grammar book is The Elements of Style, affectionately referred to as “the Strunk and White.” It’s the only physical book I find myself reaching for for reference purposes on a semi-regular basis. I don’t have a particular favorite website, but I find myself agreeing with Grammar Girl a great deal of the time. I very rarely use only one resource for grammar or language questions, though, because when such questions arise they are often points that language experts have some disagreement on, or they’re points of definition of use and grammar terminology, so it is necessary to compare several resources. Google is my best friend for that kind of inquiry; it definitely helps to have mastered some advanced searching techniques.
Edit911: What else would you like our clients and visitors to know about you and your work?
Jane: I’m just a librarian with a passion for language! I got started working with Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) because I sent him a fan email about four years ago and offered to help him with proofreading, and that led to the creation of the semicolon comic (“How to Use a Semicolon“). We’ve never met in real life. He sends me comics, and I proofread them to the best of my ability and aim for a fast turnaround, because he often wants to publish as quickly as possible. Sometimes we collaborate a bit more closely on the text, especially when he is focusing on points of grammar, but we’re not perfect. I’ve overlooked some mistakes that make me cringe now, and wow, the internet is an unforgiving audience for that kind of thing.
Jane has some additional advice: if you want to improve your own writing, or if you have a document that needs another set of eyes, I would encourage you to seek out resources that you might have at your disposal that you may not have considered. Are you in college or graduate school? Utilize the writing center on campus. I worked at Auburn University’s writing center for almost three years while I was in school there. Out of school? Try the public library. As a public reference librarian, I helped people with papers, resumes, even contracts occasionally, for free.
And, if you have a longer document that absolutely has to be right, it is worth it to pay for professional editing and proofreading services. I have seen important documents that were poorly edited because someone didn’t want to pay an experienced professional for their time and expertise, and that only reflects poorly on you, the initial author. Don’t skimp for this kind of service!
Thanks for your wise words and friendly exchange, Jane! You can follow Jane on Twitter @libraryladyjane