I’ve loved books since I was a child. My mom used to tell me to put my book down and go play outside and I would just bring the book and hide in the trees and read.
I’ve always loved bookstores and libraries. I loved being around all the books. I loved the quiet. I have fond memories of singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in the children’s program I attended as a three year old. I had a wonderful relationship with the children’s librarian in our town library and she used to order me books about pioneers because she knew I loved them. So, it seemed a natural fit to want to be a librarian.
What You Expect
I thought I would spend my day discussing and recommending books, helping people find the information they needed, purchasing books, cataloging books, creating displays with books and maybe, if I was done with all of my work, I would don a pair of those reading glasses on a chain around a librarian’s neck and read quietly at my desk until another patron needed help.
Yeah, not so much.
Hardly anyone reads books anymore. In the ten years that I have worked at the library, our circulation numbers have steadily declined as more and more people use e-readers. I seldom get to recommend books to patrons anymore, as they are using Amazon for that. One of the reasons I started the bookstagram was to share posts on our library social media pages as a way both to reach patrons and because I had a need to discuss books that was not being met at work.
Everyone uses the Internet. Ten years ago, people would come in looking for information on everything from eating a healthier diet to starting a business to Fodor’s travel guides to how to build a shed to legal documents and forms. Now they no longer come to the library for those things, they look online. The information online many times is much more up to date. There is an abundance of healthy recipe blogs. There is a plethora of information on starting your own business. You can see someone’s reviews of restaurants and hotels and travel excursions on Yelp. You can access the most up to date information on legal documents and download forms from the internet.
We still buy books, but not as many as our budget was cut for many years and has now stabilized, but still there is not as much room in the budget or necessity to buy books when so many patrons use e-readers. We still catalog the books we buy and create displays relevant to monthly events or literary themes (creating displays is one of my favorite parts of my job!)
What You NEVER Expect
Librarians need to be part social worker. Libraries are a free service. Everyone is welcome, which is lovely and we provide a wonderful service. But this means you will deal with a lot of mentally ill and mentally disabled people, which can be rewarding but it can also lead to burnout. You will have to sit closely to someone that has soiled themselves and help them use the computer. You may have to deal with someone who comes to the library in pajamas and slippers and meows at you. You may have to deal with someone who is angry with you for shushing them and so they stick their library card in their mouth, withdraw it slowly and want you to take it and scan their number so they can add money to their account or check out materials. You may have someone throw a small display set of foreign language DVDs across the room because you asked them to refrain from using their cell phone. You may deal with people who think they are in another time period and work with historical figures and if they sense you don’t 100% believe they just got off the phone with JFK or Ronald Reagan, they get very agitated. Patrons may invite you to their birthday parties and confront you about why you didn’t attend. You may have homeless people seeking shelter and begging for food or money from patrons; which puts you in a sad quandary of what to do–you can’t kick them out in the cold, there are few shelters for homeless men; if you give them food or money, they will always ask for it and you may not want to set that precedent. **All of the above has happened to me personally at the library.**
Something that has never happened to me but I see routinely on message boards is that drugs are sold in library bathrooms. I can not tell you how many times I have seen that someone was busted for selling drugs in a library bathroom or that a patron came out of the bathroom and said that they thought there was a drug deal going on in the bathroom. This is not just in inner city areas. I have heard of drugs exchanging hands in bathrooms in suburban and rural libraries, in affluent communities and in middle class communities. And that leads to the whole issue of…will people feel safe coming to the library?
If you work in the Children’s Room, you will be a babysitter. In many towns, after-school care ends in 5th grade, but parents don’t feel comfortable having their 11 year old go home alone after school, so they tell them to go to the library. If they come alone, that’s great. They usually sit quietly and do their homework. I usually have projects waiting that I can ask for their help with if they seem bored (of course, they don’t have to help, but many of them LOVE to help because it gives them a purpose). Many kids, however, will come in a group and they will get rowdy and start talking loudly and causing a scene. If you ask them to leave, they have nowhere else to go since their parents don’t want them home alone. You will more than likely hear from their parents if you ask them to leave. Their parents will not understand that putting Mentos in their Coke on the table at the library was not allowed. Their parents will not understand that they were loud, that you asked them repeatedly to quiet down, to not sit on the tables, to not swing their backpacks and hit other kids, to not run in the library, to not swear loudly, to not throw things, to not push each other, to not eat in the library, to not shout across the library and to not make-out (this is more for kids in 8th grade and up) in the library. ***All of these things have happened to me in the library.***
You will also have parents who drop off kids under the age of 10 (as young as 4) because they don’t have childcare; the kids will hang out in the library, usually with siblings, for hours. You will have parents who don’t pick up from programs. Depending on how long and how frequently this goes on, you have the quandary of whether or not to call Child Protective Services. We have an Unattended Child Policy that is displayed in the library and periodically emailed to all patrons so that we can not be held accountable should these kids get hurt or worse, go missing. But you do worry. ***All of these have happened to me in the library.***
People don’t understand that you can’t get involved with their private information. Librarians can not get involved with people’s private information – their social security numbers, any kind of personal documentation. But people don’t understand that. Some don’t understand how to use a computer, but need to fill out unemployment applications, pension applications, job applications, tax forms, relief aid forms, etc. online and don’t know how to use a computer, so you are put in a situation where you can’t help someone who really needs help or you jeopardize your job in order to help them.
Librarians are NOT tax or legal experts. Almost every single shift I get asked to help with either tax or legal issues. I am neither a tax nor a legal expert. I can’t tell you what forms to fill out or if this is what you need to win a lawsuit. I can’t help, because if I do and things don’t go right, I run the risk of you coming back and blaming me. Same goes for not being able to help your kid with their homework beyond basic help or helping them find a book that might have the answer.
Lonely people love libraries. We have quite a few patrons who are lonely. They are widowed or widowers or live alone and many of them come to the library and are happy to just sit among others and read the newspaper or a book and have a casual chat with the librarian if she is not busy. But some people are not satisfied with that, they want more, they want the librarian to talk to them for hours, they want attention, they want to feel like someone cares. And we do care. But we also have books to catalog, displays to create, programs to organize, people who need assistance on the computer, etc.
Libraries are no longer quiet places of study. Libraries have had to re-invent themselves in a time when people use e-readers rather than checking out books and search the internet as opposed to asking the librarian for help. Libraries have become meeting places. On any given day we can have social workers and medical advisors, attorneys, financial advisors and accountants meeting with patrons at tables. In the afternoons, our tables are filled with tutors meeting with students. It’s not quiet with all of those different voices talking -even at low tones – at the same time.
There are wonderful things about being a librarian – like helping people and possibly finding a book for someone that will make them love reading. But, like any job, there are a lot of difficult things and being a librarian is not for the faint of heart. It takes a certain armor and strength to be a librarian. Every day is different and you never know what will happen until it happens. Burnout rate was not high for librarians years ago, but now that the role of the library has changed, burnout rates are much higher with many librarians not working in libraries after 12 years.