"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

Jun 27, 2009

I do say I like public librarianship because of the variety...

This... was quite a week on the reference desk. In no particular order, here are some of the various encounters I had/events I observed:
  • Patron put on criminal trespass notice (not for anything safety-threatening, more for repeated public disturbance kinds of things, but the police had to come to serve the notice nevertheless)
  • A patron who came up to me and said, "I'm looking for a book, I can't remember the name or the title, but it was narrated by a dog." (Yes, I found it. The Art of Racing in the Rain, if I remember correctly.)
  • Patron who came up to the desk as I was wrapping up, after the announcement saying the library was closed, to ask about a book he'd put on hold
  • Report of a patron screaming at other women in the bathroom about invading her privacy, when apparently they weren't actually doing anything
  • Patron who called to ask a question and, while I was looking up the answer, kept saying things like "You don't like me? You want to take advantage of me?", apparently to herself
  • Patron who I spent the better part of an hour intermittently helping to find books with good photos of places in Africa and the Middle East; he essentially asked me to come to his house for dinner where he "could show [me] things [I'd] never seen before" (erm... no thank you)
  • Patron who I ran into while walking around the library, who for no apparent reason just wanted to tell me a joke
  • Kids on a scavenger hunt who needed to find a book by a particular author
  • A man who came up to the reference desk on my shift after I had just finished sorting all of the donated books upstairs -- "I have some books to donate; where should I leave them?" -- "Well, how many books do you have?" -- "About four boxes." -- *mental headdesk* (I love sorting donated books, but some days it really feels like an exercise in futility)
  • A woman who had somehow managed to get two library cards, with two separate patron records, without being aware of it (though I wonder if she really wasn't, because the one she didn't have anything checked out on had a fine on it)

And those are just the most interesting ones... It was pretty nonstop for most of my shifts. Still fun, but suddenly I understand why everyone says that you really need to take breaks from being on desk!

Jun 22, 2009

What is a librarian?

I was going to post a response to something from American Libraries. And then just before I started to write, I was reading a thread called "The Word 'Librarian'" on LibraryThing. The thread opens with the question that I think many of us ask -- do people without the ML(I)S degree count as "librarians?"

It's a question that brings up all sorts of issues: issues of professionalism, of respect, of our ability to promote ourselves in our field... etc., etc., etc. But I think one poster made a very astute comment:

I think that some people automatically assume that working in a library makes them a librarian. I also think that some people think having a fancy piece of paper makes them one too. I really think that being a librarian is something above and beyond both of those things. When I was in law school, a professor always used to tell us that graduating from law school doesn't make you a lawyer. It just means you have a degree in law. I feel the same way about librarians. I know some librarians with MLS degrees that I don't think have any right to call themselves librarians. On the other hand, I know a lady who has no MLS, but is the most amazing librarian I have ever met, and I would not be upset if she called herself a librarian (which she won't).
I think this comment cuts right to the heart of the matter. People dither about what a degree means, when really the degree shouldn't be an end in itself but a means to an end. I'm certain that ML(I)S programs are turning out some graduates who aren't really going to be good library professionals. (There are even one or two people in my own program about whom I often wonder why, precisely, they're putting themselves through all this (and other SI folk who read this blog, let's keep speculation of/discussion about precisely who and why out of the comments here, because it's not really the point of this post. ;) ) ) The point of the program is not (or should not be) just for you to get the fancy piece of paper. The point of the program, as it should be with all education, is to give you skills and knowledge, to make you a more effective and learned person, in hopes that doing so will change how you live your life/perform your job/etc.

The degree doesn't make you a librarian. The ability to perform the work intelligently, conscientiously, and effectively does. The degree is supposed to help you do that, but it is not always necessary or sufficient. It's (sadly) very easy to get through two years of school and not really pick up anything useful. It's also possible for someone who is sufficiently driven and self-guided to pick up everything s/he needs to know without going to school.

Of course, that's my own perspective, which is probably biased by my humanistic educational background. And in reality, when making employment decisions, degree holders
should generally get preference over non-degree holders -- simply because you are more likely to have the skills, knowledge, and ability to think necessary to be a good librarian if you have been given one to two years to learn, to practice, and to consider the important issues of the field. But I do believe that many people who work in libraries are not really librarians, no matter what their job title says.

The next question, of course, is: What makes a librarian, if it isn't the degree? That is perhaps one to take up next time... or in the comments. I'd be very interested in hearing what other people think about all this.

Jun 11, 2009

Renewed faith in humanity ;)

I've been thinking about the people I'm interacting with on the reference desk. I subscribe to a number of librarian boards and mailing lists, and as a result I read a lot of horror stories/venting about "bad" patrons. I recognized that these stories were not representative of the vast majority of library patrons (among other things, I subscribe to the library_mofo LiveJournal community, which really skews the sample ;) ), but I still came into this internship a little nervous about having to deal with people who were rude, angry, or indifferent.

I have been so wonderfully surprised. I certainly didn't expect people to be consistently awful, but neither did I expect so much gratitude. Nearly every shift, I am profusely thanked for doing something that's really quite simple and part of my job. People smile, they are polite, they seem to generally appreciate what I do (which goes against all the angsty library scholarship I've been reading recently...). The woman who tried to quibble over her inability to renew two magazines was more than counterbalanced by the woman who calmly and politely accepted that she couldn't put something on hold because she had $30 in fines and said she'd pay them as soon as she could.

I definitely think much more highly of people in general because of this job!

Jun 3, 2009

Today I realized...

...that if two hours on the reference desk is sufficient to make my day wonderful when I've been in a real funk for 18 hours, then I'm probably heading in the right direction with my life.