Sweat the small stuff: the other side of librarianship

I’ve no doubt that we have all been attracted to librarianship because of its glamorous, exciting image. However, there is another side to working in a library which may well not be covered in your postgraduate study. This side of library work may come up in any job, but particularly paraprofessional or sole librarian roles. It’s all the stuff that needs to be done in a library that’s not necessarily “librarian” work, but still it needs to be done.


1. Lost property: People can leave a lot of stuff in libraries. All kinds of stuff. e.g. coats, hats, scarves, dental instruments, medicine, laptops, all their keys. This all has to be dealt with somehow, organized, reunion attempted.


2. Emergencies: A leaky roof, rubbish bin on fire, flooding toilet, injured or ill person. You might have all at once, and you’ll need to be prepared to deal with it. Have a well prepared emergency contacts list.


3. People: People have all kinds of issues, questions, and needs. Be aware of people’s differences and treat everyone with respect. There can be a significant pastoral role depending on the type of library you work in, so you might need to be prepared to help people who are under stress or requiring emotional support and know where to direct them for help. You may have cough drops spat out at you. And questions – you’re going to get questions – check out this lot from the New York Public Library for examples.


4. Cleaning: Be prepared to deal with cleaning emergencies, think children’s story time and be ready to mop or scrub up “accidents”.


5. The outside coming inside: I’ve seen squirrels, cats, and a partridge inside library buildings. These all need to go and you may have to make them leave.


6. Technology: This could come under the ’emergencies’ section as well as the ‘people’ section. You might be troubleshooting, advising, or fiddling with cables and equipment to get things working.


7. Arts ‘n’ crafts ‘n’ drama: You can go to town with this one, making posters, putting up displays, dressing up for story time.


8. Books: Despite popular opinion, many libraries do still have books. These need to be maintained, be that carrying out book repairs or keeping the shelves tidy and in good order. Some books, regrettably, also return to the library in a sorry state with unidentified damp stains or encrusted debris. Keep some gloves and book cleaner handy, particularly at the area books are returned to.


I like to keep this in mind when I’m studying. I want to remember that all the jobs in the library are important in contributing to an effective library service, whether covered in a librarianship degree or not. Do you agree, or do you think you shouldn’t have to ‘get your hands dirty’ once you’ve qualified?


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