LifeHacker recently posted an interview with a Associate Director of the Baldwin Public Library in Birmignham, AL.
One of the things I love about my profession is that it is different for everyone, all over, because all libraries, even all public libraries, are run differently. It is also one of the most confusing things because even if you are talking to a fellow Librarian…you spend a LOT of time explaining what you do because it’s different from state to state, county to county, township, street…seriously, it’s confusing.
So I’m going to do the interview with myself! And I urge ALL Librarians to do the same! And if you can think of a cool hashtag so we can share this around the Internetz, let me know!
Introduction: I am currently a Librarian at a very busy community library that is part of a county public library system. I have been a full-time employee of a public library for almost 9 years. I started a a part-time substitute, became a full time Library Associate in 2006, decided I liked the job well enough and got my Masters in Library and Information Science from Drexel University (all online while working full-time) in a little over a year. I worked a year as a Young Adult Librarian, but decided I preferred being a Generalist.
What drove you to choose your career path?
I worked as a Page (shelving books) in my local library all through high school and college. I actually had no intention of making libraries my life. I bounced around a little bit doing odd jobs, but then I realized I really liked helping people find information. I always say my epiphany came while working at a radio station, realizing how badly I wanted listeners to call in and ask me questions about the songs that were playing. It also helped that the staff at my local library were always very nice, very supportive, and have a work environment that made all others pale in comparison. After working in retail and entertainment, I longed to go back to a place where people weren’t getting fired on a daily basis.
How did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?
All of this varies from place to place. One of the great things about the county I work in is that you can get hired full-time as a Library Associate if you have your bachelor’s degree IN ANYTHING. I was young and not ready to commit to a job forever, and it was nice to go full time and see if it was actually what I wanted to do. To move up in the career though, one needs a Masters degree. Most libraries require one if you want to become management of any kind.
Did you need any licenses or certifications?
Not for my library system. You actually get certified later as part of the Library Associate Training Institute, which gives you a sort of Librarian-ing 101 crash course over 6 months and then you qualify for the Teacher’s Pension. Then over the course of the next 5 years, you have to get 90 hours of training. Which really isn’t too hard to do now that there are webinars that you can complete from the comfort of your desk.
What sorts of things do you do beyond what the average person might expect?
We are computer, tablet, and eReader specialists now. Libraries are about Information and we have to know about Information in all of its forms. We help our patrons with their devices, we help them understand how the Internet works, we teach them to navigate databases full of articles. I think a lot of people assume we are just book fanatics, but that is untrue in most cases. We are Information junkies. (though we DO love recommending books, and for some reason people are surprised when we do that!)
What misconceptions do people often have about your job?
That we are volunteers (the pay is low but not THAT low!!!). That we read books all day (some people don’t even read books!). And those of us that are into Readers Advisory (aka book reccommenders) are going to push your child to read a classic — we know full well they will enjoy ‘Captain Underpants’ way more and we are going to give them that because we want to encourage a love of reading, not reading as punishment.
What are your average work hours?
Since my library is open from 9am-9pm Mon-Thurs and 9-5 Fri/Sat, to make it fair we split the nights and weekends among the group. I work two day shifts (8:30-5), two night shifts (12:30-9) and then we alternate weekends. Of course, these hours are filled doing MANY different things.
What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?
First and foremost – be a part of the team, be a positive person, support your coworkers. That may sound like hard work, but you will find life to be a lot easier. I have been very lucky with my coworkers over the years.
Second – while you should respect your manager/their manager/their boss, they are just people. Don’t be afraid to give honest feedback on projects or share you ideas. Complaining to the wall will not get you noticed, gossiping amongst your coworkers will only get you riled up. Talk to management. Heck, even if they say no, you can’t say you didn’t TRY! (and I’ve said that sentence several times to my manager and she’s fine with it).
When it comes to helping people find books, I love GoodReads. I have tons of friends on there who read all the stuff I don’t and it’s a great way to learn about new books. I also skim Library Journal and School Library Journal regularly for booklists and program ideas.
What do you do differently from your coworkers or peers in the same profession?
We are Generalists in my system. We don’t have “adult” or “teen” or “children’s” librarians in our branches. Honestly, I think it’s all because of budget cuts from long ago when positions were cut and they had to make do with the bare minimum. To staff specialists, you end up doubling your staff size, especially in a busy library. Usually, someone steps up and becomes a defacto specialist (you learn your coworkers strengths and turn to them for help). This has pros and cons because it means you get to do EVERYTHING and know ALL THE THINGS but it also means you have to do EVERYTHING and when you are trying to do programs for all ages, you end up getting very tired very quickly.
What’s the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?
The original interview said “bodily fluids” and I would have to agree. You are in a public building and people from all walks of life come in. You have to be prepared to handle different situations. Depending on the location of your library, you may have different issues to deal with, but they all have issues. Again, having a good set of coworkers that you trust makes handling sticky situations easier because you know you can look to them for help and backup. Never go in alone, no matter how little the issue may seem.
Do you have any advice for people who need to enlist your services?
Be specific about what you want. The more information you can give me, the more chance I have of finding you what you need the first time.
Also, you don’t have to apologize for asking me a question, it’s what I do!
What kind of money can one expect to make at your job?
Not a whole lot, unless you become the big boss. But it’s enough to get by and enjoy a comfortable life. I mean, you’re not going to buy a mansion, but you can definitely afford a little home. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a range of about $33,000 to $85,000 per year.
How do you move up in your field?
Work hard, take part in Committees or Taskforces or whatever your library system calls them. If you can speak at Statewide events and get your name out there, then you are far more desirable when it comes to management positions.
What do your patrons under/over value?
They undervalue the information resources available via our website. I try to explain databases and how to search them all the time to parents, but they see me looking at a computer and assume I’m on Wikipedia. They have no idea the wealth of legit information available online that can help them find reputable sources for citing in their research. And I guess on the flipside of that is that they overvalue physical books when better info can be found elsewhere. And they undervalue the Librarian’s ability to find them the best information they can.
I think there’s an undervalue for programming too. We offer a lot of programs for all ages and it’s all free. Libraries are one of the true shared spaces left in a community. We are not owned by any religion or political group. We have events designed to bring people together. Storytime programs that promote early literacy, clubs for teens that give them a safe space to be themselves, and free classes for adults to help them improve their computer skills or investigate new hobbies. Where else could you find these things FREE of cost and without an ulterior motive?
What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?
Because of the economy, the library world has been a scary place recently with budget cuts, furloughs, and other threats to our funding. I know I have been very fortunate, working in a state that values public libraries enough to not cut them completely and working at a branch that is in a very library friendly neighborhood. If you really think you want to work in a library, I would suggest finding some kind of part-time job to get you in to really observe what it’s like. You’ll find that we spend a lot of time using technology so if you are not comfortable playing with computers, tablets, video games, and other electronics, this might not be the place for you.
Though you may still want to stock up on cardigans because who knows what temperature the building will be!