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Friday, October 12, 2012

The Librarian's Plea

If you happen to see the librarian at the reference desk during a quiet moment, please do not
approach her and bellow "Well! YOUR job certainly seems easy!"
The librarian realizes that you're probably kidding around. But every time you accuse her of having an easy job, she feels like what she does all day holds little value.
And what you don't know is that not five minutes before, the librarian had been dealing with something.
That "something" could have been any number of things. She might have:
- helped a patron look up homeless shelters for the winter
- quieted a screaming child by holding an impromptu picture book reading session
- talked to a teenage girl about her school/home/boyfriend troubles
- assisted someone with filling out an application for unemployment benefits
- assisted someone with filling out an application for disability benefits
- assisted someone with faxing a form so that he won't get evicted from his apartment
- gone upstairs and then downstairs and then upstairs again to find that ONE PERFECT BOOK for a kid who needs it
- had a run in with that old, creepy "Ref Desk Romeo" who won't leave her alone
Etc. Etc. Etc. Infinity etc.
So, yes, in that rare quiet moment, the job may look easy. But it's really not easy. And it's not supposed to be easy. The librarian knows this, and she loves it anyway. But sometimes, when she's TOLD that it's easy, she wants to put her head down on the reference desk and weep.
This is easily preventable. Just go up to the desk, smile, say hello, talk about the weather or the ball game or did you see that on TV last night my goodness and then politely ask your question. The librarian will be happy to help you.
This is the librarian's plea. She thanks you.


  1. YES. and she's not just sitting there doing nothing, she's frantically planning two month's worth of storytimes, creating the umpteenth flyer, booking school visits, and creating reading lists. I find elderly men are the worst offenders here. Seriously, I have heard ALL the possible information and "are you working" jokes.

  2. Published this time last year, here is a blog - an *eye-opener* that should settle any queries about what public librarians and library staff do. Please read it: http://laurensmith.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/what-do-public-librarians-and-library-staff-do/

    As dismaying as any member of the public's crass remarks to a member of frontline staff is the mindset of some of the Library Service's senior managers and chief librarians who have bought into the current destructive mindset with alacrity. Their rearguard attack on the posts that are not theirs is not new and it is ongoing. This is inexcusable and *must* be challenged wherever it is evident.

    To the public I'd say: before you make a Librarian weep, visit a so-called library with only automated checkout machines - one that also lacks the professional infrastructure and funding behind the scenes to ensure its quality and smooth running. Contemplate whether your own library is about to teeter on the thin end of a wedge. Without paid staff and a public ethos will user numbers fall, bookstock be impoverished, computers fail and essential maintenance to the bricks and mortar be neglected ? Will the facility you rely on still be present in your community in a few of years' time ?

    The librarian or library assistant is the helpful, expert presence that transforms your library from a soulless room with books in it to a *public library* that meets every user's needs. They are essential. Again I ask that you read Lauren Smith's blog, above, to understand why - and fight for them tooth and nail.

  3. I am so exhausted of people cracking jokes about "putting me to work" because I'm WORKING AT A COMPUTER and not running about at the moment. Clearly I'm just playing a rousing game of Farmville, not reading reviews, ordering music, YA books, and trying to design and create displays while I'm sitting here. How did you know?

  4. I've been in and around libraries my entire career, not as a librarian but as one who provides services to librarians. The amount of new information and new technologies and new everything thrown at them every single week is incredible. And in these times of cutbacks and shrinking staffs, they are busier than ever. Kudos to you for taking the time to encourage a little kindness to them!