Happy National Library Week!
I’ve been a librarian for 502 days now (yeah, I checked one of those “countup” things), and even though it’s nowhere near the time most of my co-workers have put in, I’d like to think I’m fairly seasoned now. Sort of. Pretty much. Things that once made me feel grown-up and awed, like monthly reports, are just another chore. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned in the past 502 days:
-The items that get stolen the most, as far as I can tell, are not just the ones you’d think. Yes, we lose a lot of sex manuals and horror movies and urban fiction (you racist), but after that? Christian books. Yeah, you heard me. Christians steal a lot. The book I’ve seen reordered several times because it’s never returned? The ASVAB study guide. Yup, the guide to passing the test to become a member of our military never seems to get returned. These young people may want to serve our country, but they sure don’t remember to return their library books, like, ever. Do you find that a bit worrying? I do.
-Working in a library is like working a retail job, except that we have much, much better benefits. But primarily? It’s service, like a retail job. This isn’t necessarily true across the board. I work in a smaller branch of a system, and at the larger branches, librarians don’t work the circ desk. I, on the other hand, tend to do 2-4 hours a day on the desk, depending on which day it is, whether someone’s called out, etc. The other day, when we had people sick AND on vacation (one at the same time, I think; poor thing), I spent the entire day on the desk. This generally means I’m not able to focus on my own stuff. I do not work the reference desk like other librarians, because we don’t have one. It LOOKS like we have a reference desk, because there’s a desk out in the middle of the J area, but that’s just where our tween/teen librarian works. I am ALWAYS on reference duty, unless I’m in the meeting room with a program.
-It seems to me that only people who are comfortable enough to afford a computer at home and a few trips to B&N a month sit around and write or talk about the relevance of libraries. In other words, I’ve never met someone from a lower-middle class economic background who’s said “Libraries? We don’t need libraries anymore!” It’s easy to remember there’s a recession on when you work in a library. At any given time, at least 50% of our adult computer users are on employment-seeking websites. Yes, there’s a lot of Facebooking too, but by people who can’t afford to have computers at home. People thank us every day for having computers and, especially, printers available. I don’t know how our prices stack up to Staples or Office Max, but we’re a five-minute drive for most people in town, and when they run out of ink and are in a crunch, they come to us. “Wow, you guys have movies now?” Heh. We’ve had movies for years.
-It isn’t easy dealing with ignorance. Note that I say ignorance, not stupidity, although that’s difficult too. See above, that paragraph about people out of work and people from low socio-economic backgrounds? People are frustrated. They’re embarrassed. And they have to come to us to ask for help. They take it out on us. A lot. We get yelled at, cussed out, primarily by people who are feeling defensive. We get constant questions from people unfamiliar with modern technology, until we–feeling terrible about it, of course–have to tell them that we only have so much time to give, especially since, as a smaller branch, we have no IT, no computer classes, like the larger branches do. It’s draining, but…
-It’s incredibly rewarding to help people. This one should be a given, but it’s something you have to relearn after a long day of being yelled at. We used to have this patron that we called Mr. Internet, because the computer was such a new thing for him. He was a manager at a chain restaurant that closed, and he’d been there so long he’d probably used a typewriter to type up the last resume he needed. For weeks, even months, he begged for help at least once a half-hour, often several times right in a row, until we had to pass him off to one another just to get a break from his questions. We suggested the classes at the other branches, but I’m guessing he didn’t even have the money to make that drive at the time. He had to downgrade to a cheaper apartment in his building. After a while, he got severely depressed. You could see it–he wasn’t taking care of himself. He grew a beard. His clothes began to look unkempt. It was really disheartening.
But, after a while, he began to retain the things we were telling him–not by habit but on purpose. He saw how we were treated, and he realized how much we’d done for him, and he started to tell us how much he appreciated us. He stood up for us when we were having problems with other patrons. He comforted us when things went wrong. Even if he just said “What a jerk,” we appreciated his anger. He cleaned up, got a job, lost it, and started hunting again, but you could tell he wasn’t going to go down as deeply this time. He regrew “the unemployment beard,” but now we were friendly enough to tell him, “Hey, not a good look.” (He shaved this week. Hurrah!) We refer to him by his first name now. No more “Mr. Internet.” He’s part of the extended library family, basically, and we root for him.
We root for a lot of people. They’re our regulars, and some of them are our friends. It works like that. We give them access, and information. We give them chit-chat, or book recommendations. We get a lot of types of people at the library, and some of them are exciting people who we love to help, and some are sick and lonely and we help them too. Guess which help is ultimately more rewarding? But all help is rewarding, and it feels good to help.
-I am living the dream.
I saw a poll today on a website. It said, “Do you have a dream job or career?” and the answers were like No, Yes, and I am living the dream. I am living the dream. I wanted to be a librarian when I was a kid. I got derailed from that dream in high school (bad student assistant experience), and then, when I went back to college when my daughter entered elementary school, I slowly but surely realized that I didn’t have to give up my dream due to one bad experience. The reality of being a librarian is even better–although often more frustrating–than I ever dreamed, and I am pleased to
-get paid to play the X-Box
-hear when someone loved a book I recommended
-be honing my crafting skills
-be creating a relevant collection for my kids
-get hugs at the end of a program
-see my little patrons grow and progress through my pseudo-system (more on that some other time)
-help anyone and everyone who comes in here
(Even when they put up obstacles to their own help. Because I’ve been there, too, even if not in the same ways. I LOATHE being embarrassed.)
I am an Action Librarian, and I am living the dream.