Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Interview With a Librarian

Recently an eighth grade girl asked to interview me about my career as a librarian.

She was working in her school library and in order to get credit she needed to write a report about the profession.

She asked me 13 questions that ranged from what kind of education a librarian needs (a master's degree) to what pay you can expect (not much) to skills that would be helpful (just about everything) to what is the work environment like (it depends).

I had to explain to her that my responses mostly related to working in public libraries.  Though I had worked in a college library and a medical library, most of my 40 years were spent working with the public out on the front lines and as a manager in a public library environment.

I expanded on those answers, but the question that really had me thinking was:

What have you learned from being a librarian?

I can't really remember how I answered that question for the young girl, but it struck me as a question I hadn't really thought about.  "What had I learned from being a librarian?" I have been thinking about that question ever since and wanted to sort that out, so here I am.

I have written quite a bit about libraries and librarians, sometimes in a humorous way, sometimes in a serious way, but I haven't really addressed that particular question.  So after much thought and late night glasses of wine, this is what I have come up with.


What have I learned from being a librarian?



I have learned that

  • being a librarian involves many skills and tasks that we never learned in library school, such as plunging the public toilets several times per week. 

I know, ha, ha.  But for some reason, putting whole rolls of toilet paper into the toilet is a fun activity for some people. Not fun for me, though, when I am wearing a cute outfit with fancy shoes and the toilet stall is amok with water.  And again, ha ha.  Yes, librarians wear cute outfits and fancy shoes.  

Another skill that I did not learn in library school - oh, right, it's not called library school anymore.  It's Information School because for some reason LIBRARY is a dirty word.  OK, sorry, I am ranting. 

So another skill not learned in library, er, Information School, is "reuniting "lost children" with their parents who are obliviously using the public computers."  And then there is the fielding complaints thing from the smell in the lobby to "why is that man in the corner staring at me?" I was not warned about any of that in Information School. "Putting out fires" should be in the curriculum as well as on the job description because a librarian's typical day consists of what anyone would have to do when managing staff and working with the public in a public space. 
      (I wrote a blog post called "What Do Librarian's Really Do" back in 2014
       that illustrates that).

  • managing and working in a library requires the same skills as any business: good customer service skills, the ability to lead, initiative, creativity. 

For some reason, people think that all we are doing in the library is what you see happening out in the public areas, which sometimes, I confess, can look chaotic. Several years ago when I was managing a branch library, a woman came in who wanted to volunteer.  Library staff welcome volunteers from the community.  They add value by doing tasks that library staff often don't have time to do.  The woman informed me that she wanted to volunteer because she felt she needed to whip us into shape.  She didn't think we were doing what we were supposed to be doing.  We signed her up and, let's just say, it wasn't long before she realized what really went into running a library.  I think I saw her hair turn white over the course of five weeks. She came to me and said, "I had no idea what you all go through to keep this place going!" 


  • having a sense of humor when I tell people I am a librarian is important because they will most likely put their finger to their lips and go "SHHHH," or say "I bet you read a lot of books," implying that's what I do on the job, or "You don't look like a librarian." 

The sense of humor is important because what I really want to do is bop them. 

Stereotypes still remain when it comes to libraries and librarians, despite the fact that libraries are not dusty institutions run by ugly old bats. Well, mostly not.


  • people like the idea of having a public library even though they never go there.  

A library is a part of the fabric of the community.  They know it's something good to have and they want to have it.  Don't try to take a little branch library away from a community.

But ask the regular person on the street or in a bar or at a party if he or she goes to the library and you will inevitably hear, "I haven't been in a library since I was a little kid," or "I buy my books" or worse yet, "I haven't read a book in years."  But then, after I get over my initial impulse to bop, I realize that people don't really care about public libraries that much.  They just don't think about them.  Why should they? As a librarian, libraries were always on my mind because I lived and breathed them but that just isn't the case for most of the public. They take them for granted as part of what is expected in the community, but they don't necessarily see them as a part of a successful life.  And if we librarians don't make the case for how important they are, why should they?

  • libraries have not done a very good job of promoting themselves and their services

When I was younger I used to think that if people knew all of the services and materials that were available for free at the library, they would be beating the door down.  It was just a matter of good PR and we would be beating people off with a stick.  I thought that 40 years ago and still think it's true, but for those 40 years, little has changed. I have come to realize that the library is not the first place people think of when they have a question or problem and no amount of talking about it will change that until they have a personal issue that takes them to the library and they find out for themselves.  Then they are converts!  But until then, the stereotypes remain.

I call that the "ME FACTOR," (and I wrote about that back in 2014). 


  • if public libraries want to be community gathering places, and many do, then the "rules" need to be relaxed.

Food and drink should be available, there should be areas for noise and vitality and areas for quiet study and staff should be welcoming, professional and knowledgeable and be able to deal with members of the public who want the library to be a quiet, old-fashioned place (and yes, there are still some of those).  Some libraries do that very well; others still have restrictive rules.

And by knowledgeable and professional, I mean that a librarian should know as much about "Dancing with the Stars" and Kim Kardashian as she does about Dostoyevsky and Beatrix Potter and treat questions about them as equally important. No one should feel demeaned by their questions or interests.
     

Those are the things that I have learned about being a librarian that have also frustrated me over the years.

I didn't share any of that with the young girl. 

I didn't want to discourage her because the truth is, despite some of the issues, ask any librarian.  Nine times out of ten, when asked how he or she likes being a librarian, that librarian will respond positively. 

Despite my feelings about what libraries could do better, what I have learned from being a librarian is that Librarianship is a noble profession that provides a life of service to our communities. 

Librarians help people every day and librarians and libraries protect Americans' rights to access to information, their right to read what they want without censorship and libraries provide a place to share that information. People need a place they can go to where they can get information on all sides of a question and ask questions without judgment.

We will always need libraries and librarians. 


The Internet has not taken that need away. 

One of the mottos of the American Library Association used to be "The right book for the right person at the right time."  I think that's still true, but we only need to change a couple of words to make it say that much more about libraries: 

"The right information and services for the right person at the right time." 

That's what librarians do every day.  They provide vetted information in a timely manner for people who need it that helps them live a better life and make sense of the world they live in.

As I wrote back in April of 2014 in a post called "Why We Need Librarians," I talked about how often a library customer would come to me looking for help, telling me not to bother looking on the Internet because he or she had already looked there and didn't find the answer to his or her question.  I would quickly do a search and find the information and the customer would say, "How did you do that?" I wanted to say, "This is what I do. I am a Librarian." But I didn't.

If you have been reading my blog, it's no secret that I once wanted to be an actress and trained as one.  I actually was in a play directed by Karl Malden.
I dreamed of one day winning a Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) Award or, dare I say it? - an Oscar.

When I watch the SAG Awards, I always enjoy the opening where actors introduce the show and themselves. 

The camera goes from one actor to another and each does a little intro like this...





and they all end their statements by saying proudly, "I am an actor."


So what have I learned being a librarian?
 
 
 

"I dreamed of being an actor.
But when I didn't become an actor, what could I do?
I became a librarian
And for 40 years I have been helping people make sense of the world they live in (in a most theatrical way)!
 
I am Rosy the Reviewer
And I am (proud to be) a Librarian!"
 

 





Thanks for Reading!

 

See you Friday

 

for my review of the new movie

"Hail, Caesar!"

and 



The Week in Reviews
 (What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

  
 and the latest on
  
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before


 I Die Project."
 
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4 comments :

  1. Great post! I get so emotional about libraries. They have been part of my life since the first time my mom dropped me off in the one room Ocean Street library in SF. I still remember the book I found (about Crazy Horse) and where it was in the shelves. It's that big of a memory for me.

    I cannot tell you how many times a librarian has helped with a variety of problems. The last time was maybe not as big a deal but still important. I left my dental insurance card in a book I returned (bad thing to do) and the librarian caught it right away. Then there was the time I needed help downloading library books to my nook and the reference librarian said "take a seat...this is going to take awhile".

    I attended a workshop on genealogy at the library where another patron was convinced the reference librarian could not provide better resources than the famiy history center at the LDS church. He quickly became quiet once the librarian started reviewing his resources.

    And then there are the times I come in to pick up my holds and become entranced with the children events like singing with your baby and making valentines.

    I LOVE my libraries and my librarians. Drives me crazy when I find someone who does not visit the library.

    sazzy

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    Replies
    1. You made my day, sazzy. You are library supporter extraordinaire! You get it. I wish everyone did.

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  2. OMG...That is my favorite part of the SAG Awards too! We should all take such pride in our careers: "I'm Susan, and I'm proud to say I am (was!) an HR Manager!"

    Librarians are the unsung heroes of our intellectual lives. And now with so much going on-line, people forget that there is a real human behind the desk who can help you way more than a computer! Next time I run into the library to pick up the book club novel I ordered on-line, I'll stop by the desk and smile at that lovely person. (And I'll remember that she may have just unclogged a toilet, and needs a friendly thank you!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you do stop by the reference desk and thank a librarian, you will make his or her day. It doesn't happen that much.

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