Working at the Library

LibraryI work at a library. I first got this job in December of 2010 they had just lost a worker and needed someone to fill in over the holidays so it worked out pretty well. The first time I ever worked at a library was in college, I worked in the Children’s Department over the summer at a public library, through work-study. The job mostly concerned babysitting all of the kids coming in to participate in the summer programming, but was all-in-all a pretty fun summer job. The next library job I had was in my college’s library, which seemed to be a very different environment. The librarians that work at public libraries, tend(and this is, admittedly, a pretty sweeping generalization) to be, for a lack of a better word, slackers. Most have elected to work as librarians because it tends to be a fairly low pressure environment. What this means is that on the rare occasion that things to become more hectic, they are overwhelmed by the situation and are pretty ineffectual.

College libraries, on the other hand, attract academics, people who have a natural curiosity across many diverse areas of study. People with a passion for learning, and sharing knowledge. Working in a college library was a very different  experience than working in the public system. I really enjoyed working at my college library and was sad about having to leave when I graduated. The next job in that field that I got was a seasonal position working at the local college bookstore, at the start of the fall semester.

I really love working with books, and my job at the bookstore was really great. Everyone I worked with was really nice and I clearly have impressed them, it seemed like every other time I finish a task they are shocked by how fast I did it. Working in a bookstore is great it has the perfect balance of physical labor and intellectual stimulation. Not like some other jobs I’ve had where I could easily be replaced by a sign. On the second day working there my manager offered up his reference for future applications. This was a great experience and I ended up working there during the winter season as well. Which was when I was offered my current position at the library, working in the reference department.

The main duties of a library worker vary depending on which department you work in and how big your library is. The front line of any library is the Circulation Department, these are the folks that check out your books and take care of any issues you might be having with your account (late fees usually). If you are working in a very small library this might be the only department, in which case you will be expected to do everything from checking in returned materials to repairing older items in the collection, if its a really small library this “department” might be one or two people.

The Reference Department is mostly concerned with helping patrons find the materials that you need, whether that is a book you heard about or if you just know that you need “something about Egypt  any decent reference library should be able to point you in the right direction and get you what you’ll need. Another responsibility that sometimes falls to the reference department, but more often is shared by the whole library, is shelve reading. Shelf reading is the practice of walking down the aisle and carefully scanning the call numbers on the spins of the books to make sure that that are all in order. This can be a tedious process, but with the addition of music or a good audiobook can be quite nice, and there nothing like seeing a neat and squared off (that’s when all the books are lined up along the edge of the shelf) aisle of books.

The bigger a library gets the more granular the departments get, there might be a department just for processing new items, a department for repairing old books, a department just to handle audio/visual materials. Whenever possible the library will try to consolidate these departments down, since the overhead for an individual employee is the highest expense that a library is likely to have, barring renovations.

One major perk/downside of working in a library is that you end up finding and reading a lot more then working at a regular store or office. The fact is that you are around books all day, you start to get a sense for what is popular and what people like the most, I say down side because invariably you accumulate more books that you want to read than it is actually possible to read in the time that it take to find yet another new book you want to read. Although, as far as downsides go that is a pretty easy one to deal with, a much more annoying downside is the number of times you interact with a person that clearly does know how to use a library, does know what book they want and very possibly doesn’t even know how to read, or spell their own name. These interactions happen on more than a weekly basis, but this is a feature of most customer service positions and is usually much more severe.

For anyone who is looking to get a job at a library, my best advice is to go down to the library of your choice and start volunteering. Volunteering is a great way to introduce yourself to the staff there and find out how often the hire new people. It also give them an opportunity to see that you are a nice person, and that you care about books. The best part is that most libraries depend on volunteer work to help cover the more menial tasks without adding extra cost to their budget, so you will probably have no problem getting at least a few hours of face time a week.All in all I have really enjoyed working in libraries and bookstores, though as a career I think I prefer to move on to something more creative.

And that’s my take on working at the library.


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