library life

Public Librarianship – the downlow

I’ve had a mixed reaction from people I’ve known for years when they find out I’m a librarian. Most go, “Oh, that makes sense!”, but I did run into a high school buddy who had assumed I would end up an accountant. Anyway, a Public Librarian is what I am, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. And while most librarians are not of the “shushing old lady with a hairbun” type (and can we PLEASE move away from that already!), I am not of the “dye my hair a funky color, dress steampunk, and have lots of Twitter followers” librarians either. I’m far more middle ground. I’ve been in the profession a solid two years, and have been reflecting on my career expectations. While I am pleased with the position I am currently in (and very lucky to have it), it has occurred to me that my job is quite different from what I had initially anticipated. And while some of it has to do with the kind of library I work it, some of it has to do with the profession at large.

  • I rarely talk books with the public. My library keeps track of the “reader’s advisory” interactions we have at the desk (when we talk books with a patron and hopefully make a good suggestion to them of what to read next), and in the past few months we’re still in single digits for the grand total. Which, seeing as many librarians enter the profession because of a love of reading and books, is super sad. I’ve been proactive about reading ARCs (advance reader copies of books), and spend some of my work hours creating book lists for patrons, and practically BEG patrons to talk books with me, and it almost never happens. A lot of this has to do with the community I’m in, and the size of the library. We’re not big enough to have a specific reader’s advisory department, and though we do have some voracious readers for patrons, they tend to be old ladies who have specific interests for what they read, and they don’t need me to help them out. So I find myself brainstorming about ways I can use this book knowledge I’ve curated, channel it, because IRL I tend to only talk about what I’m reading with my library director.
  • Libraries in general are moving towards a more “community center” kind of mentality, what with the different kinds of programming, MakerSpaces, and things of that nature. But at least in the two communities I’ve worked in thus far, the library is pretty much just the place where harried moms can take their children for a short break, unemployed people can apply for jobs and force me to realize how little they know about computers, and where the odd community organizations will hold some function in our meeting rooms and then maybe one of them will wander into the rest of the building, be impressed, but never set foot in here again. Also, where middle-aged women can get ALL the mystery and romance novels they desire, all by well-known authors or specialty publishers who publish frequently. People in my demographic don’t use the library, and everybody knows that. So many people don’t use the library because they don’t read much, and if they do, they buy the books. Most people don’t even realize they can check out eBooks from the library for free! (This has become my life’s mission, to tell the masses about free eBooks at the library.) In general, college students don’t come here. Professionals don’t come here. My demographic, my people, don’t come here.
  • When I tell people I’m from the library, I usually get a glazed-over look from them. To a lot of people, I have a super boring-sounding job. They don’t know how much work I put into a program that hardly anyone shows up to. They don’t know all the different kinds of books I buy that nobody checks out. They don’t know that I went to grad school to get this job. They don’t know that I am a creative person, looking for ways to have the library help them. The especially annoying interaction will involve the other party saying something along the lines of, “Oh, I never read. I bet you hate me! Har har har!” When I meet someone new and learn their profession, you can bet I’m already thinking about ways to use your skills in a library program. But some people just brush me off because they think my job is boring.

I’ve been thinking that I may want to get back into book retail someday, since that’s where my interests lie. Maybe I’ll change what kind of library I work in. Maybe I’ll go for another degree and end up in a completely different field. I don’t know yet. But I do know that sometimes it’s really hard to be a librarian.

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