Almost always when I tell someone that I’m a librarian, the person I am talking to all but swoons. “Ohhh. I’d love to be a librarian. So quiet. So peaceful. And you read all day! I’d love that.”
Here is my internal response:
Let me clear up some very common misconceptions about what it means to be a librarian and tell you more about what I do on a daily basis. Note that I am a public librarian. There are several kinds of librarians with different requirements and duties, but I am referring specifically to my own role as a public librarian. My library is a large one (35,000 square feet) and our town has over 95,000 residents. We’re also part of a consortium and are linked to over 30 other public libraries in the county (and the county has around 750,000 people all of whom can access our library, though we strive to serve our town residents the most). Now that you know the specifics… onward!
Everyone there is a librarian and you’re all volunteers.
No, no, no! Not everyone in a library is a librarian! We have a number of different job titles including: librarian, library clerk, library assistant, page, and so on. Librarians are the ones who are typically at the information desk, and guess what else? It requires a masters degree to be a librarian. I have an MLS degree (Masters of Library Science). There are a lot of little intricacies to the job and you need a specialty degree to learn them all. And the people who check out your books are not librarians, they’re library clerks. Most of these jobs are also civil service, meaning you need to take and pass a county test first. To be a librarian you need your MLS, your civil service test, and your state certification. You also need to take a certain number of hours of continuing ed a year to retain your state certificate.
Lastly, we are not volunteers. While we do have a few volunteers, nearly everyone you see is a paid employee. Fun fact, I’m currently the volunteer supervisor and have also worked as the page supervisor in the past.
Libraries are out of date and no one needs them anymore.
This is laughable, guys. Everyone thinks that since Google exists, no one needs libraries anymore and that we’re out of date. On the contrary, I’d argue that we are more technologically advanced than any other business or organization in the community. My library in particular has a very popular 3D printing program. Do you know anyone else who has 3D printers? My guess is no. Librarians stay very up to date on all the latest technology and are there to aid people with their technology too. I’m well versed in all sorts of tablets and help folks out with their own on a weekly basis. Also, just because the internet is a thing doesn’t mean we’re irrelevant. Not everyone has a computer or internet access. There are times when our computers are all in use, and we have a lot of them. There are also computer-less people who simply call in with their questions and we go and look things up online for them.
Why else do people need and use libraries? For books. For programs (we have all kinds for all ages). For a quiet place to read or study. For a community meeting place (we have knitting groups and writing groups who meet every week). For a million other reasons I don’t have time to name… but you get the gist… right?
We also have a vast amount of “at home” resources including e-books, e-magazines, streaming video, free music downloads, a YouTube channel, online interactive children’s books, and a large number of databases. See, we can help you even when you don’t physically come in!
It’s peaceful and quiet.
While it CAN be peaceful at times, this is not the case entirely. Since we work with the public, we do in fact deal with conflict and stress just as anyone in customer service does. People get irate about fines, for instance, and argue with us about that. And it’s not always quiet. We try to keep it quiet in designated study areas, but we’re a hub of activity and we have a lot of fun. Examples of recent programs include: teen baking competitions, book discussion groups, potty tales, Pokemon Go, wax resist painting, and a million other things. Seriously, check the calendar for your local library and you might be surprised by all of the cool and FREE things they offer.
Librarians read all day.
You guys… no. Just no. I do not get paid to read, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but I don’t read at all as part of my job. Sure, I sometimes read on my lunch break like everyone else (and we have lots of options!), but reading is not in my job description. Which brings me to my next point…
So what do you do all day?
The better question is, what DON’T I do?
Let me tell you more about my official title and all that. Each librarian has their own specialty and job description. My civil service title is Librarian I (kind of an entry level librarian. Titles go all the way up to IV). I work in adult services and specialize in adult fiction which I love, love, love. When I was in library school, I remember telling one of my professors that my goal was to one day order the adult fiction at my library, and here I am!
I also head up marketing and communications which is a lot of fun. I write newsletters and am responsible for our social media which means that I do lots of crazy things to make a good post including lying on the ground while I arrange DVDs and try to get a photo with good lighting… true story. I also nag my coworkers endlessly to let me take their photos as they pose for various projects I’ve come up with. I make fun graphics and just try to show the community what we’re all about.
Let me just tell you also that this field is kind of a competitive one too and that I worked really hard to get where I am today. I started as a desk aide in 2010 while I was still in undergrad, worked up to a library clerk, then a library assistant, and finally a librarian in 2016, though I finished my MLS in 2013. It’s not a walk in the park, and you need to be passionate and experienced.
So now let me tell you a bit more about what I do on a day to day basis.
I’ve often said that being a librarian really just means you’re a million different things on any given day. Typically my day is split between working out front on the information desk and helping the public, and then working in the back at my desk during my “off desk” time.
When I’m on desk, I am answering any and all questions both in person and over the phone. You seriously learn something new every single day as you never know what kind of questions you’ll get. Some sample activities of things you’ll do on the desk include helping people on the computers, placing items on hold or finding your copy in the library, answering research questions, or recommending books based on someone’s reading interests. But again, every day is a new day and we get hit with a huge variety of requests and questions.
So what do I do when I’m off desk? I spend a lot of time working on my collection including selecting new titles to order, checking them in when they arrive, and designating where they’ll go in the collection then passing them on to be processed. Collection development also includes “weeding” or deselection. Sadly, the library is not large enough to hold every book ever ordered, so we have to “weed” the collection and delete some items, many of which get passed on to our Friends of the Library group who will sell them in sales. Deciding which items to delete is a science of its own and looks at things such as condition, age, relevancy, and circulation numbers.
I also do a lot of my marketing work during my off desk time, much of which I described above. It includes planning out social media posts on an editorial calendar, taking photos or designing graphics, and deciding which information is most relevant to share with our patrons and on which platform. I also write and design monthly newsletters which is a lot of fun.
My off desk time also includes other tasks which vary day to day but include things like creating book displays, maintaining a “patron’s favorites” section, researching and labeling “first in series” books, or contacting potential volunteers.
I often get asked how I decide what new fiction to order. Tools I use include catalogs from the companies we order from which highlight new releases, as well as websites such as Amazon and Goodreads. But it’s more of a science than just that! I have to determine how many copies to order of each book, and I need to base my selections on my community. I know my community pretty well since I’ve spent my entire life living in the town I work for, but I also use reports and data to determine what exactly they want, including circulation statistics to see how often certain things go out, and hold reports to see what items people are requesting. It’s extremely important to know and understand the community you work in.
Just last week, I went and did a book talk at a local senior living facility. I showcased five new fiction titles that matched up with their reading interests, and my colleague showcased five new nonfiction titles. One woman’s response at the end? “I want to read every single book you showed us today!” That’s right, all ten books from a variety of genres! Talk about rewarding! This was one of my top favorite activities I’ve done at work. Some other favorites include: running a short-lived writer’s group with a colleague, putting on “blind date with a book” displays, teaching Twitter and blogging classes, and so much more.
So no, my friends. I do not read all day, but I do a million other things and I AM a million different things in my role as a librarian.
I am a researcher. I am an educator. I am a writer. I am a marketer. I am a reader’s advisor. I am sometimes a counselor to a lonely patron who just needs a listening ear. I am a friendly face at a welcoming place. I am compassionate. I am PASSIONATE. I am a book lover. I help people write resumes and find jobs. I help flustered people find trustworthy information. I help readers find their next favorite book. I help that lonely kid discover their new book best friend (mine was Ramona). I am creative. I am innovative.
I am a librarian.