Saturday, June 6, 2009

What Do You Do All Day?

Thanks to Beth, for the lovely blog award, which I've posted on the right side down below. This post is for you, fellow librarian, and anyone else who wonders what exactly we do all day. You may be surprised.

When people find out that I am a librarian, it is always amazing to hear their often outdated and usually incorrect assumptions of what they think a librarian does.
“That’s wonderful! You must get to read all the time!”
(Well, no, I have less time for reading than you think. And if I was found reading at work I’d be in trouble because there is so much actual work to be done.)

“Oh, who is your favorite author?”
(Huh? Apparently most people pick a favorite author and read everything that author writes, and that is all. I’ve been working in reverse all this time- I pick stories or subjects that I might find interesting and then I read those. Regardless of who wrote them.)

“Do people still check out books?”
(In droves. Our book circulation increases every year.)

Believe me, you don’t spend a few years working on an advanced degree so that someone will hire you to read books all day. Truthfully, all modern librarians work far more with computers than they do with books. We understand algorithms, database design, and how to find places on the “deep” web that search engines can’t pick up. In short, we know how to find information. That’s not to say books aren’t important, they are. People come to our library for leisure reading, to become better informed, and to find information that is only available in printed form that you can’t find anywhere else. And then there’s the aspect of dealing with the public. Everyone from people with visible mental shortcomings to parents who openly admit that they “…haven’t been in a library in twenty years” who make requests for the obvious, the colossal, or the plain impossible.
Now that you know what a librarian in a public library might do, let me show you what one actually does! Follow me through a typical day at work, which might begin at 9:30 in the morning, if I am working the day shift…s

9:30 Arrive before library opens, drink coffee at desk, check work e-mail. Send book recommendations that I have written to two local newspapers, to be published in their weekly sections. I actually do work with books somewhat more than the average librarian because I specialize in something called Readers' Advisory. But I also check web page content on my library's website, and edit it to keep it current.

10:00 Quickly fill up large, lighted book display as the doors open and crowds swarm in. Believe it or not, some people have been waiting outside in the rain for us to open!

10:15 Spy outdated and worn book on “New Books” shelf. Remove and check for others.

10:30 A friend in working in another department needs help- can I lend a hand sorting through blankets that were donated for the homeless shelter blanket drive?

11:00 Read professional articles which are e-mailed to me daily to keep current on what is happening in the library world, try new online research tools and databases so I am aware of them and can use them when conducting research.

11:15 A volunteer has arrived, do I have anything she could work on? I give her some printed bibliographies to fold.

12:00 Compile web statistics.

12:30 Return phone call.

12:35 Am accosted by man asking if I work here. I do, but am hesitant to admit it as he is wearing mismatched shoes and has hair sticking up in different directions. He also appears frantic and has a request for something that is both so specific and convoluted; one might be able to easily turn his request into a full scale doctoral project. I direct him to a help desk.

12:45 Check e-mail again.

1:00 Lunch!

1:25 Running into the building so as not to be late for my shift.

1:30-5 My shift on the reference desk. The desk is manned by two librarians, and a third in reserve for back up. The reserve librarian quickly disappears, and you wouldn’t blame her. Three phone lines constantly ring while we handle complaints about computer print jobs not printing out, the change machine stealing money, and various situations where the patron insists that a book listed in our catalog is not on the shelf. All the while, I'm trying to read pre-publication reviews of books that will come out months from now and place orders for them.

There is usually at least one comical request (Do you have the book “How to Kill a Mockingbird?”)

There are various homeschoolers in the library this afternoon, which I love to see. Homeschool kids are often the best behaved, and more impressively, they know how to use the library. There is an old man asleep in a chair, and several of our unemployed regulars who are diligently using the computers for job searches. There is one man using a legal database, and another woman tracing her family history. There is a woman insisting that she needs assistance with the copy machine because she is pushing the “copy” button and nothing is coming out. While trying to help the lady with the copier, a man points at some stairs that visibly lead upstairs and asks, “Do these go up?”

At the same time, both phone lines ring and a line starts to form at the desk. Several people need to use computers, and one man sitting at a computer even has his hand raised as if I am a teacher and should come right over to help him. A man who smells like cigarette smoke needs a car repair manual. The smell of him gives me an allergy attack and I try to show him how to use a database between sneezing fits. I receive one ten minute break, which is accepted with the gratefulness one might express if they were to win a free vacation in Hawaii.

By the time five o’clock arrives, I am so exhausted I can hardly put on my coat- but more than ready for the solace of being in my quiet car for the ride home.


  1. OH....MY....GOSH!!!!!!!!!!! I can't wait to forward this link to my co-workers! You are a hoot! That was so funny - right down to the smoker looking for the car manuals (and yes, they're online now - and how come they all smoke??)...and the homeschoolers...and the people who haven't been there for 20 years...and the NOT being able to read while we're there!! And yet, we do still love it. That was a great post. Have a good weekend ~

  2. Hey, what is that post above mine?? Is that blog spam??

  3. How fascinating - I will forward this to a young man who is planning on majoring in librar science. Can you recommend any good colleges here in Pennsylania?
    I must take this time to thank you for your wonderfull blog. As someone living in Central Pennsylvania, and driving through Lancaster county, I treasure your wondeful, calming, interesting blog. Thanks.

  4. Anonymous- Thank you for your kind words. When looking for a library science program, you want one that is ALA accredited. Drexel, Pittsburgh U., an Clarion all fit the bill.

  5. That was strange. In the middle of typing he-uh and my browser closes. HELP!!! Librarian!!!

    You do run into some funny people. I thought they saved it all for the retail employees. I suppose if there were blogs back in 1995, some librarian would have written in it about some crazy twenty something wandering aimlessly about the library trying to find the card catalogue. That was me. I had not been to a library since highschool.

    About books not being on the shelf, I ran into so many of those when going to the library with my sons, I just about gave up. :P I know how to use Dewey, but apparently someone else didn't. LOL

    This was very interesting reading. My headache is now minimal. I took a nap with a black sock over my eyes. I don't have one of them sleep mask thing, so I just grabbed a clean sock from the pile.

    You are probably wondering what a "he-uh" is. Have you ever heard a black preacher? They have a way of turning one syllable words into two. Baby G says, Here, like that. It is so funny.

  6. My browser likes to close on me, too. Sometimes it decides to cut me off and start installing updates right when I'm doing something important. You can't even reason with it.

    And working in a library is A LOT like working in a store. Except, for some reason, people expect librarians to spin gold from straw and solve all their problems. I try to keep an "Out of Order" sign on the spinning wheel.

    word verification: pygout

  7. Great word verification! I had a good one when I was typing up the first comment before my browser shut down.

    The current word verification is unmophor

  8. Hi Monica I'm all tired out just reading what u do in a day.. Wow you even work a night shift? How often do you get a weekend off?
    Take a deep breath and relax..
    Blessings Sister Brenda/haflinger

  9. Don't worry Brenda, I get most weekends off and two mornings a week, also.

  10. I can so identify. I haven't worked in the field for three years, but I was director of a small new library for six years previously; there was never enough time to get all the things done.

    Reading - ha, that's a laugh. Once in awhile I would skim through a book, but really it was get them on the shelf.

    I did love library work and would love to go back, but my job was so stressful that I couldn't handle it right now.

  11. I enjoyed reading about your day. The library has always been an important part of my life, instilled in me by my mother, and my kids love them as well. When all four kids were at home, and probably about the ages of 2-10 a good evening for our family was to all go to the library. With the introduction of a VCR and a computer into our home that changed a bit, and it made me a bit sad. But I would still rather read a good book than watch a movie. Love reading, when I have time.

  12. "“That’s wonderful! You must get to read all the time!”"

    Working in a country library and a country college library, meant I had plenty of time to read, especially on sunny days.

  13. This is very funny but I was thrilled in the midst of the funny, that you stopped to praise Home Schoolers. I know there are Moms out there that have to work and do not have the opportunity to home school. Let me say-myhusband is in school right now and we have made huge sacrifices to continue home schooling-so I know that it can be difficult but for us it is a priority-these are our kids and we want to give them OUR best.
    SO Why do we home school? Because we want to be the driving influence in our children's lives not other children teaching them their new "tricks" or a teacher pouring her life into their lives as well as 20 other children that she is not personally invested in. We are constantly told how well behaved our children are and how well they converse with adults on adult topics. People are truly AMAZED. I want my children to know how to "get it" and for it to stick with them-not just until the test, I can teach them the ways I learned it but then other and better ways to do it, or how it clicked for me. When kids are in school they are so concerned about what everyone is wearing and the social game going on and where they stand in that hierarchy game of life. They are many times scared to raise their hand and ask a question out of fear that someone will think they are dumb or that their question is silly-when you home school they have no fear, in the safety of their own home, to ask a question and probe and then possibliy do some research on a topic. I can pour more of my life into my children, teaching them so many valuable lessons. I can take a simple school lesson and teach my children a very valuable life lesson. Each child learns in a different way, a teacher can not reach out and teach every child in a different way-it is physically IMPOSSIBLE. As soon as I see that someone isn't "getting it" we can stop and work on that area until they GET IT a teacher can't do that-they have a schedule to stay on. Schools are designed for the medium child, if a child has difficulties they try to deal with learning problems-but then you have the effects of the social issues that go with that TATOO. If a child is "bright" they can try to give them extra work or advance classes, but then there are issues there also. You want no child left behind-try home schooling. It is a busy life around here-do I sit and just do anything for me-RARELY but I cherish the time I have with my children-one day-too soon- they will be gone. I love working on a project and being able to teach my children HOW to do something, or cooking a meal and teaching them the best way to cook something or WHY you do it in this order.

    My 2 oldest boys have been asked, by a neighbor to walk her dogs both in our previous home and here. The other day another lady stopped our boys (and had already discussed with the dogs owners our boys responsibility level) and wanted to hire our boys to walk her dog as well and said she knew someone else that would probably hire them to walk their dog. They also cut grass, edge weed and trim a yard-weekly. Our boys have not even turned into teenagers yet and are making about $200 a month. We have been able to teach them all kinds of lessons on money management, saving, giving, discount shopping, coupons, credit, investing-things a teacher would not have time to teach my children and this is an area I want to pour myself into my kids. My kids wouldn't have the time to make this kind of money, if they were in school.


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