I was interviewed not long ago for the Books badge by a Junior Girl Scout. I thought others might find my answers of interest.
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I am working on the Books badge. One requirement is to learn about careers for people who like books. Would you be willing to answer the following questions?
– How did you decide to work with books?
I’ve always been a lover of books. In my home, growing up, I had a great many books everywhere, shelves and shelves of them because almost everyone in my family did a lot of reading. I also did the Summer Reading Program at the library when I was young, because even though I had a lot of books available to me in the house, there was always something else that we didn’t have. I always have books around me — so working with them professionally just seemed logical.
– What did you study in college to prepare you?
I truly liked all topics of study and that has helped me in my work: history, prehistory, zoology, art, literature, sports, religion, geography, mathematics — I have found a use for it all. I’m not just saying that, I really have! My writing and my illustration is as good as it is because I know something about all these things. As far as being a librarian, though, I had to get my Bachelor’s degree first — I got it in Anthropology with a minor in Zoology — and then I had to get a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science.
– What is your favorite part of your job?
I do a lot of different jobs, and THAT is my favorite part of my work! I may be recommending a fun or useful book to someone, or helping someone track down a long lost relative, or help them on the computer to make a resume so they can go back to work after being laid off. I might be out in the community talking to people at the County Fair, telling them how great the library is, or I might be setting up a RockBand tournament for Game Night @ the Library. It’s always different and that makes me very happy.
– What is your least favorite part of your job?
When I can’t help someone who has asked for my help. Maybe they need a book we don’t have on the shelf, or they need to get on a computer when we don’t have one available. I don’t feel as sorry for those who say “I have a report due tomorrow, can you help me?” when they come in five minutes before the library is about to close. I wish people would plan ahead, sometimes, or think about what they really want so they can ask a clear question. People think librarians are nosy, sometimes, because sometimes we have to ask a bunch of questions to be sure we’re giving someone the answer they actually need.
– Is the library you work in big or small?
One thing people don’t understand about libraries is that there is not usually “a library” … you might have your library, the one you always go to, but if you’re in a town that’s even a little bit big, then there are many libraries who are all part of the same library system.
I work in Tucson Arizona, and our library system serves all of Pima County. We have two dozen different branches, including ones in the Juvenile Detention Center, one in the rich foothills part of town, and one in the Spanish-speaking areas of south Tucson. The one I work in is about mid-sized and pretty ordinary. We do get a lot of people come to the library who speak Spanish. I can help them because I also speak some Spanish. But we also have people come who speak Russian, or Thai, or a lot of other languages I don’t even recognize. I talked in French a little bit with someone one day — I took French in high school. I don’t remember it very well now.
We have about a dozen people who work in the branch, although only four are actually “Librarians.” The other people are Pages, Clerks, and Library Assistants. I’m a Library Assistant, even though I have my Master’s degree. Pages put books away after they’ve been checked out, and Clerks do things like make people’s library cards. I make library cards for people too — we can all do that — but Clerks do a lot of the hard work that keeps the library going behind the scenes.
– Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Libraries are awesome places. People think we are just about books, and we ARE about books — but we are so much more, too. I’m sure you know a library as being about reading and homework, but did you know most libraries around the country offer game programs too? It’s because studies show gaming can increase literacy and develop leadership.
Also, every day we help people in the community with big problems in their lives — maybe they need to find out how to get a good job, or reliable medical books to answer health questions. Maybe they want to fix their toilet or build a deck or learn to make mosaics. Maybe a grandparent wants to learn to use our computers so she can stay in touch with the grandkids on the other side of the of the country via email. People are sometimes surprised to find out we have movies to check out, which saves money instead of paying for Netflix or going to Blockbuster. We have graphic novels and manga, and show movies.
What’s best of all, everything about a library is free because access to knowledge is too important to be limited only to those who have lots of money. (If you forget to bring a book back on time, you get a fine — but that’s because you’re keeping someone else from being able to read the book who might want to!) Sometimes people take their libraries for granted but we are really important for a healthy community.
I don’t know how old you are, but a lot of people start to think libraries stop being cool around the time they reach their mid-teens. I hope you won’t be one of them, or that you’ll remember that libraries have something for everyone for the rest of your life. Tell your friends!