Common Misconceptions About Working In A Library

Tin Man

Next year will mark five years of working in libraries, and I always feel grateful that I found a job I loved in my early twenties.  However, in that time, I’ve realised just how many misconceptions there are about my work.  I thought I would discuss these, and hopefully show a few readers what working in a big, modern public library is like.

“It must be lovely to shelve books all day.”

The most common response to me telling people what I do is: “it must be lovely to shelve books all day”.  HaThat’s what you think I do?  I mean, sure, shelving is a part of my job, but I do so, so much more.  Libraries have been forced to evolve to stay current, and that means that some libraries have become multi-purpose buildings, shared with other organisations, or with cafes and technology labs inside.  If I’m not shelving then I might be having meetings about events, or be giving tours to prospective new clients; some days I barely even touch the shelving trolley.

“How nice to work somewhere quiet and relaxing.”

Quiet?  The only time the library is quiet nowadays is when we are closing the doors.  Public libraries are not as strictly silent as I remember them being as a child.  With puppet shows, sing-a-longs, author signings, and that customer getting angry at the photocopier, it’s a vibrant environment that is ever-changing.  Of course, there are still quiet areas of the library to get some work done, but I rarely have time to visit them.

“But nobody uses the library anymore.”

Although the trends of library use have changed, I still passionately believe that libraries have an important role in the community.  I see this in action every single day, especially when it is clear that so many people require support with accessing the information they need.

“You must get to do so much reading.”

Well, I may be surrounded by thousands of lovely books, but I read a lot more in my last job at the cinema (where I would sneakily read chapters of my latest book below the counter between the films – shh!). As there is always something to do, or a project to check up on, I don’t ever have time to sit and read the books that catch my eye. Sometimes I’ll see an interesting cover and glance over the blurb and opening lines before slipping it to one side to borrow, but otherwise reading happens on my lunch breaks. Trying to catch up with emails is time-consuming enough with a steady flow of customers coming to the desk. I don’t mind though – having a busy work day makes it fly by!

“Only old people use libraries.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Although we do get a lot of elderly visitors, we still have a large number of families, young people and adults coming in too.  Children’s events are run regularly to attract the new generation of library users, and the free Internet access is important to adults for job applications and benefits claims.

Working in a library isn’t actually about shh-ing talking children and kicking back with a nice hardback when things are quiet.  Libraries have evolved, and much of the day is spent trying to keep up with what the modern library user requires – exciting events for young people, access to an ever-growing digital database of information, locating a book recommendation they heard about on Richard and Judy, and requiring assistance on the whereabouts of the “Q” key on a keyboard (true story).

These free information hubs will only survive if you use them, so go and explore your local library today!

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  1. 22nd August 2018 / 4:01 pm

    Haha, I feel like anyone who has responded to the information of you working at a library with those one of those quotes must not have visited a library in a long time. It’s crazy how much goes on in libraries these days – but I think it’s good! I think it’s great that libraries offer so much to their communities. I’d love to volunteer at the local one here but currently their only volunteer positions are for reading books to kids over summer breaks and I’m just not cut out for that kind of work. 😛

    Aw, poor library patron needing help finding the Q on the keyboard. Tbf, it’s not an often used button. I can’t blame them for having trouble.

    • 31st August 2018 / 11:06 pm

      I know, libraries are pretty cool these days! Yeah, I’ve noticed a lot of the volunteer posts are for children’s activities and events here too – you’ll have to ask if you can just do shelving or get stuck into some kind of project instead? I agree, the poor ‘Q’ key hardly gets any notice! Thanks for commenting 😀

  2. 31st August 2018 / 10:44 am

    I LOVE this post! I also work in a library and this is so true! My library is pretty small and can be quiet at times but there is still so much to do. We are paired with the local council so have to deal out recycling products to the locals who visit and we do many events for children and spend a lot of our time dealing with orders, helping people on the computers or catching up on our own emails. It’s never quiet enough to sit and read, and the day always goes super-fast. We also have a lot of customers of all ages visit which is great to see!

    • 31st August 2018 / 9:15 pm

      Nice to meet a fellow member of library staff! Yeah, libraries certainly aren’t the slow, quiet places people always assume them to be, especially as they continue to adapt to keep up with our changing world. I reckon I rush around more in this job than I ever did working in retail!

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