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Oct 10, 2014 — John Beemer
“Why would you want to be a librarian? Sitting around reading all day—that sounds like the most boring job. Aren’t libraries dying, anyway? And don’t you want a career that pays better?”
I’m sure most library workers have heard these questions dozens of times. I know I have. About midway through a master’s in library science, I’ve almost gotten used to the quizzical looks and smirks that accompany questions like, “What on Earth do the words ‘library’ and ‘science’ have to do with each other? What exactly do you do?—learn about the best books and how to shelve them?” My usual response: “I guess that’s part of it.” Sometimes I’ll give in and wax poetic about metadata, the different types of libraries, and our goal of bridging the gap between patron and information. Usually, this just gets me more strange looks and sometimes an unconvincing, “Oh—okay.”
Not that I blame their confusion. Learning the lingo of the library world can be daunting. Everything occurring behind the scenes at even a small library can seem incomprehensible. The science of running a library as we know it is a relatively new discipline—an evolving, thriving field sure to become more important in our information-saturated world. Working in a public library has given me a chance to examine some of the things I’ve been learning—to test myself—to see how people look for information, day to day, and how I can help them.
Starting as a new staff member of DCPL beginning in September, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was intimidated by a new workplace with new faces and new patrons. I knew it would take time to familiarize myself with all of the unknown. At first, I felt totally inept—like I couldn’t help anyone. (Halfway to my MLS and I mis-alphabetized a set of magazines. Way to go, John.) But I’m gradually falling into the groove of things, and I look forward to going to work. It doesn’t hurt when I’ve yet to encounter an unfriendly face or unhelping hand among my coworkers.
Coming from a small academic library, the most obvious difference I’ve encountered is the number of people I come into contact with daily. Although foot traffic ebbs and flows, once our doors open, patrons of every demographic and background come to us for their various needs. Some people want books or movies or CD’s. Some visit for a special program or for genealogy research. And some just want a comfortable place to sit and spend time. Nothing’s wrong with any of those. And here’s a difference between academic and public libraries I’ve noticed: an academic librarian usually deals only with the students, faculty, and staff of his or her institution; a public librarian should expect to interact with everyone and anyone and, in fact, has a responsibility to serve every person who comes through the door. That’s one of the most attractive and powerful sentiments about the public library’s role—that everyone is worthy of equal service and information access, regardless of status, education, or income (of course, actually following this aspiration is sometimes easier said than done).
Serving the entire public in the reference department comes with its own challenges. I never know what question I’ll be asked or which subject I’ll need to dive into. Library science is truly multidisciplinary—librarians have to be able to interact with the entirety of humanity’s information. In a given day, I’ve been asked for information about pumpkin carving, diabetes, car repair, and crockpot recipes. I don’t have to be an expert on it, but I need to know where and how to find it. This not only keeps me on my toes, but it’s also the main reason I want to be a librarian: I enjoy helping people. I’m not working at a library to make money or sit around reading. I work there to help you find what you need—what you’re looking for. And I think all of my coworkers would say the same.