Sunday, January 25, 2015

Things I've Learned at the Library

I dreamed of working at the library for years. It always seemed like a fantastic blend of things I love: books, atmosphere, and organization. And it turns out, a lot of other people want the job, too. When I took my shelving test, there were 40 others in the room, and at least 4 more testing sessions were scheduled. What the libraries in Salt Lake do is take the highest scorers (45/45 in my case) and form a pool that they pull from whenever a slot opens up. Even with my score, I still interviewed several times before someone wanted me. It turns out I am really good at my job, but after a year of working here, I have learned a great deal more than I would have ever expected.

Nora Roberts. Not really my style, but apparently
I don't take very many pictures of my workplace.

Everything is Important

When you work for a library, literally everything you have ever learned about everything might at some point become relevant. It should be obvious that reading a lot of books helps you recommend good ones to patrons, and the actual librarians, with their Master's in Library Science, know a heck of a lot more than the rest of us. Knowing how the computers and copy machine and printer work is good, too. But one day you might be asked something like, "How do snails see?" Or "I heard Elvis was actually gay; is that true?" (Answers: Snails have eyes on their top tentacles, and Elvis may have been bi.) I can always direct patrons to a book if I can't answer, but every bit of knowledge helps.

The Dewey Decimal System is Awful/Awesome

It depends on what you want. Really. If you want ALL the wolf books, 599.77 is the section for you. If you want ALL the fairy tales, try 398. But if you want the fact check companions to the Magic Tree House series, or the popular "You Wouldn't Want..." history books, or you're planning a trip to China, good luck. They're all over the place. For that last one, books about China as a country are in 951, travel guides are 910-919, and foreign language is in the 400s. Depending on the library, the dictionaries might be separated from the language learning courses, too.

The Customer Is Not Always Right

I set books up like this when trying to keep
people from stealing the holds I'm pulling.
Doesn't work with the DVDs, though...
I'd need an image of circling sharks for that.
Most patrons are kind and wonderful people, but I've been yelled at for protecting magazines from destructive children, not having someone's favorite book on the shelf, and listening to music (I wear one ear bud while I work, as does everyone else). I can generally avoid unpleasant people, however, as I'm always  walking around and not confined to a desk like those at the account management and information desks are. They are sometimes expected to waive fines right and left, but it's not our fault that guy checked out 50 DVDs at once and brought them all back 2 days late. And it's also not our fault that girl's holds were pulled and checked out to someone else because she came in a full week after the holds expired. But that's nothing. The real problem with patrons is...

Harassment Is Unfortunately Common

Our workplace is 90% female, and it's sort of our job to be kind and helpful. Again, I can usually sort of avoid the problematic ones, as I'm always walking around, but I have received my fair share of unwelcome comments. It usually comes from waaay older men. A few are well-meaning and don't realize they're being creepy, but one time this rank cigar-stinking man came up and said, "You're so cute, why don't you come home with me?" And when I said, "Nope," he sat in a nearby chair and stared at me, so I moved my cart to be out of his view. There was another case where a boy who looked 18 complimented me every time I passed him on Thursdays, starting from a simple, "I like your shirt," but getting to an uncomfortable degree with "cute back pockets" and whispery "so beautiful"s after about a month--I would have gone to my supervisor at this point, but when I mentioned my husband in the boy's presence he never talked to me again. (As if he'd never noticed the ring on my finger before.)

Librarians are Noisy

We even provide toys now. Adorable, germ-soaked toys.
You know that caricature of a crusty old spectacled librarian, shushing anyone who makes noise for any reason? Completely and totally false. Libraries are evolving. Children are given designated learning and play spaces, and while we aren't encouraging screaming, we don't interfere with noisy people very often. And when the library hasn't opened yet, our librarians talk louder than most. "Hey, Rachel! Are you in here?!" "Yeah?" "Could you come help me with this?!" The other day I was in a back corner pulling holds, about an hour before we opened, when I sneezed--my sneezes make this dainty little "achiew"--and I immediately heard one of the librarians yell, "...CUTEST! ...SNEEZE! ...EVER!"

I've come to feel like the library is home--a busy one, with lots of visitors, but a home nonetheless. It's a safe space for everyone as long as you're not causing trouble or creeping on my co-workers, and we're cool if your tastes are considered strange anywhere else. It's a judgment-free zone.


Unless you're checking out Fifty Shades of Grey. Then I'm totally judging you. ;)



  1. I have many memories of taking kids to the library. It was hard some days--I always felt conspicuous at the Park Library (overly quiet) so I often went to the West Valley one. It really only takes one snooty librarian to scare me off it seems. I'm glad you are a nice one, Rachel. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  2. Wow, it saddens me to see how much harassment can happen at a library. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, given the world we live in, but still... :/

    Anyway, glad the library has been a great experience for you, otherwise! It's nice when a place is able to feel like a second home...