Season 4, Episode 5
Behind the Scenes at a Public Library
February 10, 2022
Think you know what it's like to be a librarian? We're giving the tea on our years of experience working at a public library. Book recommendations for young adult and middle grade readers.
Charity 0:01 This is Charity and Jen of Planet Book which is brought to you by the Springfield-Greene County Library. On each episode we discuss our favorite YA middle grade books and anything else having to do with reading. Got a book or topic you'd like to hear us talk about email us at email@example.com. Thanks for joining us. Jen and I have been library staff for a long time now. And we thought it would be fun to talk about what it's really like to work in a library. I know what you think it's like, but really, you have no idea. Are you ready for this conversation, Jen?
Jen 0:34 Yes, yes. And I'll try to mention the nice things instead of like, all of you that think we get to read at our desk. Guess what? We don't. I mean, like, occasionally, you might have to read the back of a book for some reason, like somebody brings it to you and they don't have glasses. But like the most part, yeah, you don't get to read at your desk with this job.
Charity 1:00 Okay, well, maybe let's start with our pet peeves. And I also just want to say that the comments here, what we're saying, these are just our own opinions, and they do not reflect those of the Springfield-Greene County Library District necessarily.
Jen 1:15 No, no.
Charity 1:16 So these are just our own personal opinions, having worked many years in a public library. But let's start with kind of our pet peeves. And then we can end the show with like our favorite things. We'll end up on a good note.
Jen 1:28 So first off, Charity have you worked at this-we are a public library. Charity and I have both been in youth services. I work at a county branch instead of there being compartmentalised stuff, where you're just doing one job, I have to do a little bit of everything. So kind of like jack of all trades, master of none situation. Or, you know, you have to be an expert at it all. I am not an expert at it all, but I try my hardest. I have worked at a public school library. And that was a lot of fun. But you don't have as much freedom, there's way more repetition. And again, you get to do a lot of things. So I was just a para, I catalogued and, and repaired books, and we don't repair books in our system. So it's just each type is a different beast. And I have lots of friends with PhDs that work in university libraries, and they make really good money, and have really good benefits and are more behind the scenes. So like, that's going to lead me to my point, we work with a public right Charity?
Charity 2:39 Yes we do. And typically, those jobs, I call them frontline jobs, where you're working directly with the public, those often are not going to be the jobs that make you the big bucks. So being a librarian is kind of like being a teacher, you're not in it for the money. And if you do want to make real money, you either have to have your sights set on becoming like a library director, where you're going to run an entire library district, or you are going to work in an academic library, like you just said, Jen, that's where the money is.
Jen 3:16 Or the like the higher paying positions are oftentimes, like the management positions where you're not even getting to do as much of what you think of as library work. I mean, you are sometimes with some of the positions. Like our youth services director, Stephanie, she gets to do a lot of hands-on stuff still. But with some of the other branch manager jobs, you're doing a lot of the really hard stuff, you're doing a lot of financing, you're doing when people are mad, you're having to talk to them. So I've always liked just working one on one with the public because I enjoy it. I enjoy doing programs, I enjoy seeing people and talking to people and not being in an office in the back.
Charity 4:06 You know, I kind of feel the same way like I have had those jobs in the past where I was, like sitting in a cubicle. And I don't enjoy those. I always think of myself as an introvert but I guess I'm an extroverted introvert in that I do want to see people. I want to interact with people. And so I know that I've had co-workers in the past, people that have come through the library, and it really stresses them out to have to deal with so many people over the course of a day. And so you really have to be okay with that though, if you're going to work in a public library.
Jen 4:42 Right. So if you're the introvert, bookworm that's like this is going to be my dream job probably you're going to want to be in collection services or somewhere that's behind the scenes. Because I've even worked with people that they are brilliant at the behind the scenes stuff, but unless you can put on that happy customer service face, it's gonna be miserable for you. You're gonna-whereas I love it, but I do go home somewhat depleted because I'm in the middle. I'm not an extrovert. I'm not an introvert.
Charity 5:18 Yeah, sometimes you go home and like it's been, I say, it's been too peopley, like I'm peopled out. But let's talk, let's bust some of the myths about working in a library. And like one of the first ones, and we hear it all the time, people think that you just get to read all day. And let me just clear that up right now. You do not get to read when you are working as a librarian. You better find the time on your own dime, your own time off the clock to read because that is just not something you get to do. Like, the most I get to do is read a picture book when I'm getting ready to do a storytime and so I'll read that.
Jen 6:01 That's what I was gonna say. You do get to read stories out loud. And even over COVID we got to read them while being filmed which was an experience. Unless somebody's complaining about something, and I think even our collections person that handles those, she reads a lot of those, like requests for reclassification kind of things on her own time at home. Like that's even part of their job. And I just think that's the part of the job she would probably take home with her.
Charity 6:31 Yeah, it's such kind of a funny, I think, myth that, oh, you'll get to read a lot if you work in a library. You do have to like reading, you do have to like working with books and be really knowledgeable about all kinds of different genres and types of books and all of that. But as far as getting to read on the job, like that just does not happen except on your break. You take your lunch break. We all read on our lunch break. And that's it. There just isn't time.
Jen 7:01 Or listen to audiobooks.
Charity 7:03 Exactly. But you do not get to read on the job. Sadly, I've only I could have that job or someone would pay me just to read.
Jen 7:14 I don't think I would even want that to tell you the truth. Because I did get a taste of grading papers. And I don't want to read what people want me to read.
Charity 7:25 Well, right.
Jen 7:26 I want to read what I want to read. So I don't write, there's too many jobs out there where you get to read what you want.
Charity 7:29 True, true.
Jen 7:30 You read what you have to read. But I think you made a good point. I always say I'm a public servant. And I've had a lot of public service jobs. This is my favorite public service job. Because it takes what I love reading, and we are allowed to promote that. And we get to promote that in a lot of fun ways, right? And encourage it, encourage it in any demographic, you could think of like, children, people that are home and can't leave their house. It's just so cool to be able to get information to people. And that's another thing. It's not just about reading. It's about providing people with information, they might call up and just want to know, when's voting day? Where do I vote? And you have to say, well, I'm looking on the Attorney General's website here, if you want to give me your address, I can look it up for you or you can do that. You get to give them the information to be self-sufficient or you can help them if they, you know, a lot of people don't have computers at home. But that's a pretty cool part of your job.
Charity 8:37 For sure, like you are helping people in those ways every day. And you know, we both have worked with kids and families a lot. And getting to help kids on their journey to literacy and loving books is a really rewarding part of the job for me. And having those parents come back and say, oh, I know, my kid is a great reader. They love reading, and that is because they came to your storytimes and you showed them. You know, like, that is a wonderful part of the job.
Jen 9:12 Oh yeah. And like, I feel loved by some of those experiences. Like some of the experiences I have it's just like you get to be-and I think that is one of the things that separate it from, say a school librarian position is that I got to do STEAM programming. And they were like, and everything was open ended. Like the whole point is to be able to get kids to be able to think because like when you get into the world, generally most jobs don't tell you what to do. Like you kind of have to figure out well this needs to be done. This is how I'm going to do it. You kind of get a rough guideline but like the kids that were just able to come and create without having a template. Oh my gosh, then the parents would be like this is this is the only thing they have to do every week like they will skip Silver Dollar City for this chance. And just to be around the other kids excited about that, too. It's not even me as much as just giving them the place to do what they want to do and the freedom to be who they want to be without any constraints. I think that's the other thing, we are the safe place for all.
Charity 10:24 Yes, that is one of the things I always say about libraries, it is really one of the last places in the community, that the doors are open literally to every person. You can come in, you can spend all day here and never have to spend a dime, no one's gonna hassle you, as long as you're following the rules, the policies. But you know, we're going to help everyone, we're going to treat everyone with respect when they come through the doors. And there just aren't, I really, I can't think of any other place in a community that's like that, where you can come and just be and it doesn't matter who you are, or you know what your story is. We're here for everybody.
Jen 11:02 Even people that you would be surprised that you're there for like, I had a person that I'd worked with at a different job was a supervisor who was needing help with a resume. And then they came back in and they're like, I got this job, it's a really good job too. So to just like help someone with that part of their journey. Other people, we have friends, I think we share a friend who used Udemy to learn actual concepts that helped him promote himself and his music career and help develop his music career.
Charity 11:38 Yeah, I mean, you really are making a difference in people's lives in that way. So I mean, that's a pretty cool thing to get to do. Let's bust another myth, though. So one of the myths that I think is out there, and I've had people say this to me once in a while, like, oh, you work here? I thought you were a volunteer. What do you--have you heard that one?
Jen 11:59 Yeah, let's clear it up. Now, we do have volunteers through the Friends of the Library. A lot of them have retired from positions. They're like, generally, over 65. We're nowhere near that age. Like you said, we're here every day. I wish I could volunteer, say in a no kill shelter every day.
Charity 12:25 Oh, right.
Jen 12:26 And be able to pay my bills and eat. Sadly-
Charity 12:33 Right? Oh, if only I could volunteer full time and still pay my bills. Yeah, the people behind the desk at the public library. Those are not going to be volunteers. Those people are our employees.
Jen 12:46 And not to mention, I just want to say like, even if you deal with these librarians checking you out, like basically they you're thinking of them as a video clerk or book clerk. Those people have masters and PhDs. Some of them it's just they don't have a library science masters or PhD. And so maybe they moved from this great big city that had their job. And now they're just wanting something that they can somewhat pay bills with. So it's just like, I always say my coworkers are the greatest. Like, I learned-they are the smartest people I've ever met.
Charity 13:23 Really, it is the most educated group of people that you could want to meet. I mean, libraries just attract those kinds of people. So yeah, even the people, the pages, the ones who are reshelving books, like almost all of those, those are people with degrees, or they are college students working towards their degree. Like these are all educated, hard working people.
Jen 13:44 And even if they're not, like, formally, like I'm working on a bachelor's or I'm working-they're people that in their private life really mastered something. Maybe they're like one of the people that people go see play in town, like play music.
Charity 14:03 Yeah, they're accomplished artists or gardeners or writers or, you know. So don't underestimate the people that you will see working in a library. I'm gonna bust another myth. And this is probably one of the ones that I hear the most. I was out somewhere recently, and someone found out and oh what do you do? I work in a library. Oh, I would like that, just to work in a place that's so quiet. And I always have to just laugh inside.
Jen 14:29 Oh, yeah.
Charity 14:30 I know that person has not been in a library in a long time because libraries are not like those old libraries of like the 50s where you know, you've got a librarian sitting behind the desk shushing everyone. Libraries are lively, vibrant places.
Jen 14:45 Not just that, but I would love for that person to come work library con. Yeah, we basically have a mini book-centered Comic Con with like, 1000s of people. Yeah, it's super quiet.
Charity 15:00 Yeah or come on a story time day or any day where we have a big program going on. Libraries are not-
Jen 15:07 Just the fact that they think it's calm. Like, look, we work with the public and look, I work at a small branch. I've literally had to clean up all the different types of human fluids. Like, do you think that sounds fun? I mean, and I'm not a nurse. No.
Charity 15:22 Right.
Jen 15:23 You know, but when you're a library worker, you may be asked, especially if you work in one of these littler towns. You're the janitor. You're the everything.
Charity 15:33 Yeah,that's a really good point. Like you-well, even in my branch, I work in one of the smaller city branches but like, yeah, you, you are the janitor, you are the security guard.
Jen 15:47 And unlike those people, they're in work attire. We're in business casual.
Charity 15:49 Right.
Jen 15:50 If you think cleaning up in the bathroom, in flats is fun. Like, you have to put these little, little clear footies on to protect yourself.
Charity 16:01 Just the other day, we had a dog, a loose dog in the neighborhood that found his way into the building. And so like we had to, we had to corral him and like, get him out of the building. Like you just never know, like, what you're gonna be called on to do on any given day. So it's not even like I think people think that we're just sitting here at the desk and waiting for people to come up. It's like every day is different. You never know what situation you're going to have to address. Sometimes serious, sometimes funny, but like, you know, you just, you just never know.
Jen 16:36 And I just want to say that like, for those of you out there listening that are like, I do want to work in a public library. The thought of just being able to be part of making a library con happen, to be that storytime person, I love it. I also say, well watch The Public. Watch the movie, The Public.
Charity 16:53 Yes.
Jen 16:54 And kind of put yourself in perspective, because, again, it's not all reading books. It's even when you work with kids, like a kid could blow their nose in their hand and then try to touch you with it. That's just children. You're working with children and be prepared.
Charity 17:14 Yeah. All right. I'm gonna bust one more myth, because I've experienced this. And again, I'm sure you probably have too, Jen. When people find out you work in a library or even when they come into the library, sometimes I think they assume that we have read everything. And I had a patron one time, they asked me about some books. Oh, have you read those? And I said no. And they just looked at me like, oh my god. Do you know how many books are out there? I can't possibly have read them all. I can't know all the books. Like from now until the end of my life if I did nothing else but read I still wouldn't have read all the books. We read a lot.
Jen 17:52 There is this special training that we go through called readers advisory because people do walk up to us and they're like, I know, it's a meme but it's like that red book. But like, seriously, just within the past month, I had a teenager come up to me. I read a book, it had a white cover, and the girl had red hair. And do you know what? We found that book. I can't tell you the title right now. But like, they expect you to know not just every book, but like what the front cover of every book looks like.
Charity 18:31 Well, or even if they just describe the plot to you, depending on what it is like, it could sound like a million books. Like, but they expect you to know what that book is. That book with a dragon and the boy slays the dragon. I'm gonna need you to narrow that down a little bit. That could be anything.
Jen 18:47 Just this past year alone I hate to think of how many of those books were published.
Charity 18:54 Yes, you know, most of the time I can find we call those stumpers when someone comes in that blue book with a dog on the cover. We call those stumpers. Often I'm able to find those. Alright, what about you?
Jen 19:06 Yeah, by asking, we end up having to ask a lot of questions. But yeah, we tend to find them. And if we don't we send a district wide email out like because we are a library, we do work at a library we want to know the answer. Like that's the other thing, generally, if you ask a question, you're going to get an answer unless it involves you having to know your password. I mean, I can know a lot of things. But I can not get you into your bank account, your email, any of that without you knowing your password.
Charity 19:41 Well, and that brings up another good point too, that when you're a librarian, you do have to be a little bit of a detective because sometimes people come in and yeah, they do want to find that book and they don't remember the title or author. And so then you have to know how to get that information out of them that is going to help you find that book or maybe they're wanting to do some research on the topic. And you kind of have to help guide that research, find out exactly what it is or wanting to know the best place to go and find that information. So it's not that librarians know everything, but you do have to know where to go to find the information that people are wanting.
Jen 20:17 Yeah, which database?
Charity 20:18 Let's talk about our favorite things about working at a library. What are the perks? What are the pluses? I like that I get to see the new books before the patrons get to see them. I enjoy that.
Jen 20:32 I know you're not going to brag on yourself. So I'm going to brag on you. Sometimes with supervisory approval, now granted, just about anything we do does have to get approved by a supervisor. Charity is going to work on an awards-wait can we say that?
Charity 20:50 Well, you can. I am.
Jen 20:53 I won't say which one.
Charity 20:56 Yeah, let's not say which one. But I am on an awards committee. And so that's one of the cool things that you get to do when you work in a library. You get to judge books for major awards.
Jen 21:07 And we have like throughout the years our coworkers, you, just the people we work with are a big part of that and that's really cool. Like to hear everything that goes into that, because it feels really like one of the perks to working in a library is when you read a book and you love it, you get to have that in your list of things you could potentially promote to people. Now if I read a book, and I love it, I'm not just gonna randomly promote it to people. But if somebody like we do get that a lot, like can you give me a good mystery, you know, or whatever, or just any book they asked for like my fourth grader likes Wimpy Kid, what else can I read?
Charity 21:48 Don't you think that's another great thing about the library is that you have a built-in group of people that you can talk about books with? Outside of my library coworkers, I don't know a lot of people that I could talk about books with and like we have great conversations every day like oh my gosh, did you read that one? Oh, I did. What did you think of that part? I love that about the library.
Jen 22:10 Oh, yeah. And especially if you have like a little left of center reading habits. It's like, this is the first place other than college, that I've met people that read what I read. Because that just goes back to my favorite part of this job is my coworkers. I mean, even probably more than the public like. I legitimately like the public and helping the public. But I like my coworkers better. Sorry, guys. A lot of you though, start out as the public and become my coworkers, but yeah, we recruit people.
Charity 22:49 I would cosign on that. Yeah, especially over these last couple of years dealing with the pandemic. Like my coworkers, man, they have been wonderful. They've been a great support. We've all said that to each other that like we helped each other get through this, like, thank goodness we had such good co-workers.
Jen 23:10 It's the strangest thing, because like, sometimes it can be wow, you've just met your group of people that have a lot in common. But even the amazing thing is when you work with somebody who's totally opposite you, the fact like there's so much respect built in, like, generally, if you've gotten a job here, I have an immediate respect, because I'm going to be able to learn from you. Maybe I don't agree with everything, but everybody, there's a respect you give each other and if you've worked anywhere else, it's not something you find everywhere else.
Charity 23:43 That's true. When I first started at the library, a long time ago, we won't say how long but someone said to me, you know, these are going to be some of the nicest people that you'll meet. And I can honestly say that that is true. Some of the nicest, coolest, most creative, funniest people and the people that have inspired me have been my co workers, other librarians.
Jen 24:13 And then the people like, I had mentioned before, there's so many talented people. But then there's so many compassionate people we work with. I have coworkers that just are doing so much volunteering in various ways in their own time. It's inspiring, like, at least people that you work with are inspiring, and that's special.
Charity 24:36 It is. It really is. That part you won't find anywhere. We hope that we have maybe piqued your interest in working for a library. It is a great place to work. Well, this has been great. I have loved talking about what it's really like to work in a library with you, Jen.
Jen 24:54 Yes, yes. And for those of you that don't think that sounds like your jam, but you do want to work in a library? Just know, there are so many different types of libraries. There are law libraries, there are museum libraries.
Charity 25:08 Well, and there are lots of different jobs within a library. So even if you don't want to be a librarian, but you think that environment sounds like something, you know, they need IT people. They need-
Jen 25:19 They need buildings and grounds people. We love our buildings and grounds people.
Charity 25:23 Yeah, they need all kinds of different people. So, you know, keep it in mind. Libraries need good people. Well, thanks for joining us for another episode, send your book and show suggestions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you. Check out the library's website at thelibrary.org for these and other great book recommendations. Follow us on Facebook for the latest news and events. This has been a production of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thanks for listening.