Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of patrons who sit down at the reference desk to ask a question and while I’m searching for the material they have requested, their small talk begins delving in to my personal life.
“Are you in school?”, they’ll ask.
“No – I am out of college and have my Master’s Degree.”
“What’s your degree in?”
“You have to have a degree for that??” or “I didn’t even know that was something you went to school for!” are the most common responses I get. Then there are the people who ask me if I’m working at the library while I’m finishing high school or college. (Yes, I still get people who think I’m in high school.)
Nope, this is my chosen career path, person who wants the book with the blue cover but can’t remember the author or title. Believe it or not, this is a professional career, not just something people do who are drifting along with no clear goal of what they’d like to do for the rest of their life.
By now, you may be asking “So what exactly do librarians do?” (Hint: the answer is not “read books all day!”)
For starters, it really depends on the kind of librarian you are that determines your role at the library. My position is an Adult/Teen Services Librarian, so that means I work with adults and teens. Sometimes I fill in at the Children’s Desk when they are short staffed, but I’ve never wanted to be a children’s librarian.
Every day tasks include staffing the adult reference desk where I answer in person, phone, e-mail and chat reference questions. People will ask anything. Trust me on this. Even though the Dewey Decimal System has been in place for 139 years, it still seems to be confusing for people who want sections of books and not subject classification. Sadly, most people don’t understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction either. So while I’m trying to find a book on “How to write a complaint letter to a CEO of a company” or a book by an author (that they can’t remember) who wrote a bunch of novels thirty years ago about all the US states, I’m using very specific search terms called a booleen search to return the best hits on whatever source I’m searching on.
We help a lot of people print, copy and scan and I will admit, that is not my favorite thing to do and it’s probably what I do the most of on a normal day. Our printing system can be confusing and I usually feel like a broken record having to explain exactly what to do all the time but it’s a necessary part of the job.
My job also includes programming, which I love! I bring in outside speakers and presenters and do some programs myself. Librarians are big fans of life-long learning, so any kind of program that opens them up to something new is viewed as a valuable service we offer to the community. Some of my favorite programs that I’ve done over the past 4 years have been our annual Project Prom where we collect used dresses/tuxes then have them at the library for girls and guys in need, the unique craft programs I adapt from Pinterest and our bowmaking program where the man who made the bows for the Hunger Games movie did a demonstration.
We also teach basic computer skills, help people with job applications, resumes, cover letters, setting up e-mail accounts, and help with Microsoft Word and Excel. We even help people transfer photos from their cameras or phones to their laptops and I’ve done several one-on-one sessions just generally helping people learn about their smartphones or tablets.
During tax time, we’re slammed with tax questions – most of which we’re not able to answer but we will help people find the correct form they need and direct them to someone who can help them with their problems. We also make tax appointments for seniors and low income filers who come in to have their taxes done by our AARP volunteers during the months of February – April.
And the courthouse is constantly sending people over to get forms from our Legal Forms database. Of course they never tell them what for they need, so we usually have to help them figure that out when they get here, but basically the library is the place all other government agencies send people when they don’t have the resources to help them.
There are lots of internal duties too that don’t necessarily involve the public but when completed, make the library better for our users. We’re constantly serving on committees and task forces that determine what new services we can offer our community. Did you know that you can go to your library and take free, online courses on a variety of subjects ranging from learning a new language to medical coding and terminology? And many of those courses count for credits needed for re-certification. Our task forces have also selected ebook vendors, streaming music/video providers and our chat reference module which allows people to ask questions from home via text or instant messaging.
We make homebound deliveries to people who are ill or elderly and aren’t able to leave the house to come to the library. My department visits a nursing home each month and reads to the residents for an hour each time.
Sometimes we even take our programs on the road and do crafts, story times or computer classes for Girl Scout Groups, active adult centers and nursing homes. Book discussions are regularly held at the juvenile detention center and we’re exploring working with the jail to extend outreach services to them.
Dealing with the public can be challenging – I’ve been yelled at more times than I can count and usually for things that I have no control over. And as a younger female, I also have to deal with creepers who think it’s funny to make inappropriate comments to me or repeatedly look at pornography on the public computers.
I could keep going, but I think you’ve got the idea by now: librarians do so much more than just read books! We are professionally trained by an accredited program to help YOU do more than just use Google. We come from all different backgrounds and experiences but have one common goal: improve the quality of life for everyone, promote lifelong learning and give people access to a wide variety of services and information.
So the next time you hear someone say that no one reads anymore or libraries are becoming obsolete, you’ve been given the knowledge to empower them on what we really do! Libraries and librarians are so important and I hope I’ve been able to give you a tiny glimpse into just how valuable of a resource they can be.