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”. Ha! That’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!