Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Do Librarians Really Do? The Reality Show

Over the course of my 40 years as a librarian, mostly in public libraries, I can't tell you how many times people would ask me, "What do librarians DO exactly?"

My daughter is a newly minted librarian and just recently, someone asked her that same question. 

I also got "I bet you read a lot of books," "You don't look like a librarian," and "Shhhhhh."

Each to which I would reply, "I wish," "What are librarians supposed to look like?" and "Sigh."

The reality of what librarians do is what others do who manage people, projects and buildings, who work with the public and solve problems.

Librarians no longer sport buns with pencils stuck in them, double tread floor gripper shoes and sweater clips, nor do they shush people, because public libraries, these days, are lively places. 

Well some do, but in general, librarians look like anyone else in a professional job - they are young, old and in between.  They are fashionable, usually well-read, hip and knowledgeable about everything from pop culture to the classics.  And they are not reading on the job, especially those dirty books supposedly kept behind the counter.

I have been retired for almost a year, but I still dream I am at work.

It's like watching a reality show.

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo....



I arrive at work looking smashing in my little suit, jaunty hat, snappy red purse, hoop earrings, makeup and designer shoes (that's what a librarian looks like).

I know what you are thinking here.  I look young.  I told you this was a dream.
I am immediately apprised by another staff member that the toilet in the ladies' room is stopped up. I grab the plunger and head for the restroom hoping my Manolo Blahnicks won't get wet (just dreaming again about the Manolos - the reality is librarians don't make enough to afford designer shoes, but, hey, we aren't in this for the money).

Toilet fixed - just needed to be flushed. C'mon, people.   

Head to my office to check email. Check today's schedule to make sure we are covered. Looks good. 
Uh oh.
A staff member calls in sick. Call subs - no one available. 

Redo schedule.

Finish email. 

Start working on some new computer classes I am going to teach - "Job Hunting on the Internet" and "Internet Resources for Changing Careers."  It's the times. Also sending out press releases for next week's programs.

Receive a call from the local newspaper about our basic computer classes.

"You mean there are people who don't know how to use a computer?" she asks. I tell her about the hundreds of students we have helped so far, many of them seniors and people whose native language is not English. So the answer is, yes, there are many people who don't know how to use a computer or, believe it or not, don't own one. 

I meet with a staff member to do some brainstorming on how to deal with the kids who have pizza delivered to the library to eat while they are doing their homework. (We allow food, but having pizza delivered is a bit much and people complain about the smell).

Open the library. 

First question of the day. 

The customer wants a photograph of Mary Magdalene.  He is doing a painting and wants to be sure to get the colors of her clothes right.  I have to gently explain there weren't any cameras back in her day, but I could probably find him an artist's rendering.  He isn't convinced.

Help a customer set up a free email account so he can apply for a job.

Help that same customer send his resume to an employer.

Help that same customer get back onto the computer because he turned it off by mistake.

Help that same customer get back on the computer because he turned it off by mistake again.

 Answer the phone and find phone numbers for local low income housing.

Young girl wants to know how to take care of her pet snail.  She has it with her.


I don't want to ask. I find some information on what snails eat. (decaying plants work).

Any books about fairies or princesses? She jumps up and down when I produce several.
(Fairies and princesses are hot topics, so I keep a list of titles in the drawer at the Information Desk because libraries don't usually have special sections devoted to Princesses and Fairies - probably should).

Children's librarian reminds me she has an appointment at the school. 

Redo the schedule.

A woman wants Prince Harry's phone number and then remarks that she just can't understand why Queen Elizabeth would build Windsor Castle so close to Heathrow Airport. (Huh?)


Had been approached by a teacher from the local community college who wanted me to come to her ESL class to do a presentation about library resources in languages other than English and our ESL and citizenship classes.  So I leave the library to make this lunchtime presentation.

Return from presentation.  Back in my office. Receive call from staff member. Family emergency. Can't make her evening shift. Look for some substitutes.

Redo the schedule.

Alerted by staff that the toilet in the ladies' room is stopped up again. This time it's full of toilet seat covers and someone also has stolen all of the toilet paper. The toilet paper gets stolen repeatedly.  Is there a shortage of toilet paper out there? Leave office to investigate. Grab plunger. (Didn't learn this in library school).

Back in my office. 

Staff reports that a woman is lying on her back in the restroom.  Go to investigate wondering if I am going to have to do CPR. Turns out she is doing back exercises. Told her she was alarming customers so should work on her back outside. She will probably alarm customers outside the library as well.  Her eyes were spinning.

A library customer alerts me to the fact that an elderly gentleman is outside asking how to get home. We bring him in. He tells me he had walked all the way from his home (several miles) and couldn't remember how to get back. I ask him if it's OK for me to call a policeman to take him home. He agrees. An officer arrives and is very kind to the gentleman. 

Wonder if that could be me one day.

Back in office. Shut door.

A customer knocks on my door.  She wants to complain about the drinking fountain.  The water is not shooting up high enough.  She has complained about this before and I have reported it to maintenance.  The answer is that perhaps she is not pushing on the bar hard enough.  We go out to look at it together and I show her that it appears to be working well.  Then she says the water tastes funny.  Sigh.

Make some headway on administrative tasks. 

Back out in the library. Working with the collection - pulling outdated and shabby materials so shelves will look inviting.

A customer asks me what I am doing.  When I explain that we keep track of how many times a book has gone out and remove well-read and well-worn materials, she picks up a book that is literally falling apart and smells of cat pee and says, "You are not going to get rid of this, are you?" 

Thank goodness, I am approached by several young customers looking for homework help so I excuse myself. Find needed materials and tell them about the live Homework Help on our website.

Back on the Information Desk.

A woman approaches looking for a book, can't remember the title or the author, but she knows it has a green cover.  I ask her what it's about.  She can't remember.  She just knows it was really good and had a woman in it. (Reference librarians are good but these kinds of questions are tough - and common!)

A woman comes to the desk and says she needs the name of a song she can't get out of her head.  Can she hum it for me?  I don't have a good feeling about this one.

A regular (he comes in every day) corners me to complain about what another customer is looking at on the computer.  He does this every day and since we have privacy screens on the computers, it takes effort to see what others are looking at.  I want to say "It's a free country so if you are worried about what other people are looking at, don't look," but I don't.  I just nod, acknowledge him and explain that we don't monitor what adults are looking at unless we discover they are doing something illegal.  He leaves.  See you tomorrow.

Another regular customer comes up to me.  She always asks who was kicked off of "Dancing with the Stars" last night and then wants to talk about it (fortunately, being the Reality TV Queen that I am, I know this one off the top of my head).  Lonely people come to the library.  Social work is part of the job.

A group of teens enter the library, laughing and talking and head for the Teen Room.  I want to say "Shhhhh," but I can't promote that stereotype.  Instead,  I smile at the cat ears and pink net tutu one of the teens is wearing with her Doc Martens.  Hope they don't order pizza.

Work on some questions that require some research and get ready to pass the torch to the evening staff.

Is it 5:00 already? 

Forgot to have lunch... Evening shift staff arrives. Everything seems to be running smoothly. Getting ready to head home...

Staff member reports that the toilet... Sigh...

And then I wake up and remember I am retired. 

There are some things I miss about my old reality and some things I don't.

My new reality includes an appointment with the TV for some real reality shows.

Have any library "dreams" to share?

See you Friday for
"A Day in the Life of a TV Addict: 
The Reality Show Continues..."

Thanks for reading!
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