Tuesday, February 13, 2007

BOOKS: I Heart Librarians

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but there was a time when I entertained the idea of getting a MLS with an eye toward becoming a children's librarian, even going so far as getting all the literature from various programs and talking with some department heads on the phone.

But then I realized that (a) another masters program would probably kill us financially, and (b) I've grown accustomed to earning more than $20K a year. And so filthy lucre grinds the face of yet another noble plan into the dirt.

When I originally hatched this plan, my visions of a librarian career were misty and sentimental. I pictured myself conducting story times with babies and new mothers. I imagined myself introducing wide-eyed innocents to beautiful classics and seeing their little faces light up with wonder. I saw myself guiding cynical, book-phobic pre-teens unerringly toward the one perfect book that would open up the world of reading to them.

All you librarians out there can stop snickering at me. I can hear you!

From time to time, I have to confess to feeling a small, selfish surge of relief over not following this path, such as when I read articles about the supposedly decreasing interest in reading and idiotic high-school administrators who shut down library book displays and attempted book bannings. I'm just a bit too fragile (read: cranky) to deal with this kind of stuff on a regular basis. And then when God or nature or random fate or whatever force you subscribe to decides to take out a bunch of libraries? Well, that's just adding grievous insult to injury.

So tell me, librarians and other folks who act as literary stewards and facilitators between books and the public... are libraries as beleaguered as they seem? In the battle between good and stupid, is the library at the front lines of literacy? Should we give you guns, or at least some knuckle-rappingly hard rulers? What about your job makes you most nutty? What makes it all worthwhile? It can't just be the fact that you're lusted after by a certain type of gentleman (and some ladies) with a penchant for cardigans and cool specs, can it?


Liz said...

Certainly in the Uk public libraries don't have a lot of money which makes you very creative in your book promoting. I'm a children's librarian and I love visiting schools and nurseries and running storytimes, family reading groups and teenage reading groups. Its great when kids are really engaged and you know you picked the right book to read/promote ! Also I love spending other people's money ob books when we have it to spend and unpacking them when they arrive !

Kari said...

Our community is very supportive, but we could always use more money and more space.

There are definitely things that make me feel like we need guns from time to time, but then we help someone find medical information for a problem they are having, or get a mother a book to help her daughter who has been abused, or teach an older gentleman how to use the internet, or a preteen boy asks for The Lord of the Rings for (you can tell) the first time.

It's not just about books and information - it's also about creating a place where people can read and learn and gather.

And, I have to agree, there's not much that can beat opening a box of brand-new books just waiting to be read.

Megan said...

I love being a librarian! Granted, as a rare book cataloger, I'm not at the front lines of the literacy battle, but it's great being part of a profession committed to issues like intellectual freedom and free speech. My mom is a librarian who has been at the front lines for a long time, but even at the cusp of retirement, still gets a charge out of building collections and serving as matchmaker between person and book.

Tim said...

My own experience is that there are tight budgets, and administrators have to reorganize their spending, but ultimately the books seem to survive the cuts. I'm always pleased to see that.

I'm essentially a reference librarian (albeit in a strange location), and my real satisfaction with the job comes when someone approaches me with a question they can't find an answer to and I dig it up for them. That's really why I got into the profession.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong, I'm very appreciative of the jobs that librarians do - I am. But here's something that transpired with a friend of mine last week:

Kathleen was going to audition for "Once Upon A Mattress" and she went to the Berea Library to check out a copy of the Disney movie version from last year. She went up to the Library counter:

Kathleen - "Yes, I'm looking for a copy of the DVD of 'Once Upon A Mattress'?"

Librarian - "Ma'am! We do NOT keep copies of adult videos here!"

K - "No. Perhaps you didn't hear me. I'm looking for 'Once Upon A Mattress'."

L - "Ma'am! I've already told you we do not keep adult videos here!"

K - "Uh no. This would be a Disney DVD! You know, the musical version of 'The Princess And The Pea'?"

L - Pause.... "Oh.... well.... I've heard of 'The Princess And The Pea'..."


Anonymous said...

My elementary librarian was one of my favorite people, and I used to visit her even in high school.
However, every other librarian I've ever met has been an ignorant and condescending jerk. Maybe it's just Montana librarians, I don't know. My high school librarian is very religious and forbids anything with any kind of drugs, sex, or violence-- which limits the book shelves to Babysitter's Club books, pretty much. Sometimes I think about being a librarian, just to show that there's such a thing as a good one. But yeah, the pay check.

Lisa Jean said...

I was a librarian for 20 odd years and most of my bitching was due to lack of money. But that aside, there is really nothing better than matching the perfect book with the right reader at the perfect time, or finding the exact right answer to a reference question and getting a thank you note in the mail a few days later saying that you really saved his project. It is a good job 99% of the time.

Kaijsa said...

I'm an academic librarian, so I'm pretty far removed from story times, but I love my job. The work I do is so varied that it's hard to get bored. Libraries are truly undervalued in some communities, but colleges and universities would have a problem getting by without us. I'm fortunate to work in a state where the legislature is realizing how underfunded we are and have been using energy surpluses to increase our funding.

I'm a reference and instruction librarian, so I'm always teaching people how to find information for school. That said, one of the most fun parts of my job is making displays and helping students find books for recreation. Kari's comment above is spot-on: to survive, libraries need to be comfortable places for people to gather. I truly believe we can offer the "third place" social theorists like Oldenburg and Putnam think we're losing.

swatcher, polish-ranger said...

The most rewarding part of my job as a library technician at a college here in Vancouver, is knowing that what we do makes a difference. I work in a department that provides course material in alternate formats for college students throughout BC who have print impairments and many times the students have told us that without our service they would have extreme difficulties completing their studies.

I can't speak to the salary of children's librarians but I know that librarians at the college level (at least my college) get paid fairly well as they are counted as faculty.

Anonymous said...

Oooh! I'm not a librarian, but I'm a page (Iike an intern). We're underfunded at the moment (they cut back my hours, but that actually worked for me), but someone left us $1,000,000 in his or her will we'll get when he or she dies.

My best story ever is this time this guy came in and asked me to find mailing addresses for Katie Couric and Brian Williams and then complained about me when I explained to him why, after half an hour of trying, I couldn't. Fortunately, the president is really cool.

Anonymous said...

I've worked with libraries in tiny communities all over the northern half of the province, and some of them are in dire straits indeed. Their town councils cut their budgets, forcing them to cut their hours and services, and there's no one there to stand up and say "this is why we need to support the library!" The library is usually staffed by one person, and they try to be everything, but it's just so overwhelming for them. I worry about these libraries because who's going to want to take over when they're gone, and what's going to happen to those communities who let such a valuable resource slip away?

Currently, I'm working in a library where we look for ways to increase our profile by undertaking projects and fostering relationships with other community organizations, so that we both make the city look good (and they in turn support our schemes because it makes them look good, blah blah blah.) We're still short-staffed, and there aren't enough hours in the day to do all the things I need to do, let alone the exciting things I want to do, so sometimes it feels like a nearly impossible task to keep current and stay relevant.

(I work in the AV and Reference department, so I don't deal so much with books, unless it's reference material. The most disheartening thing to me is when a patron comes in, hands me a perfectly good movie, and chews me out for allowing this "filthy piece of trash" into the collection. Usually, it's a pg-14 movie they've shown to their 8 and 10 year olds, despite the obvious sticker on the box. Le sigh.)

Anonymous said...

I'm a business research librarian who works for a company, so I don't have to deal with the financial issues of the public library world. But Minnapolis - long known for its great community resources, parks, libraries, etc. - just closed 3 of our inner-city libraries due to lack of funding, despite a massive (and I do mean massive) outcry from the community. They just don't have enough funding. However, we *did* seem to be able to come up with enough money to fund several new sports stadiums thoughout the Twin Cities metro area, so that's nice.

Anonymous said...

What drives me nuts? Mostly people who confuse literacy with books. Those who say "it is all on the internet" without realizing the internet has a huge english-language bias that still requires you to be literate in that language. The assumption that searching complex databases is easy, or should be easy. People who are frustrated when they can't find something but don't even think to ask for help. People who assume a librarian is just someone who works in a library and doesn't have any special education.

What do I love about being a librarian? The diversity. You can be a children's librarian in a small public library; you can be a medical librarian, helping doctors find unbiased information to a new drug; you can be a business librarian, conducting competitive intelligence that will give your corporation the edge and on and on and on. There really are no limits.

I currently work as a medical librarian and I get great satisfaction whenever someone says to me: "I didn't know you could do that!"

Anonymous said...

I'm an academic librarian, meaning I get paid on the same scale as faculty members. The money isn't bad.

If you'd told me four years ago that I was destined to be a librarian, I would have thought you were nuts. But here I am. And I love it.

Anonymous said...

I work at a public library, but it's in a medium-sized southern town...so sometimes uber-christians come in and bitch about a science video or something with evolution in it. Which, whatever, I don't care, but c'mon lady, it's a SCIENCE video...no I'm not going to put a sticker on it saying "WARNING: TEACHES EVOLUTION. THE BABY JESUS CRIES WHEN YOU WATCH THIS."
But the thing that makes me cringe the most is when I see high school kids checking out Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. On the one hand, thank God they're reading, but on the other hand, I think we're getting a bit old for The Mystery of the Missing Chums.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a librarian, but I'm a fundraiser at the University of Washington who works with the MLIS program here. One of my favorite parts of the job is learning that there's a culture among librarians, a really deep belief in literacy and intellectual freedom. Yeah, there's not a lot of money in becoming a traditional public librarian, but most of the people I work with make enough to live on and really believe in it. Plus they're very funny (see for example March of the Librarians http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Td922l0NoDQ )

And to the earlier commenter from Montana -- your State Library knows they don't have enough good librarians, and they've found funding to pay for 10-12 Montanans a year to get their MLIS. You should look into it (I think it's called the PEEL program).

Anonymous said...

The one of the best things about being a librarian is hanging out with the other librarians. I know we have a certain public image, but the only other time I've worked with so many creative, fun, and funny people was when I worked at a music store in a college town. And because it's a helping profession, people are generally (there are always exceptions) genuinely caring and friendly.

I like helping people find that answer, figure out that database, or get that book or movie they've been searching for. The best thing is always working with the public. The worst thing is always a small, but irritating part of said public. Scary is when that small anti-intellectual part gains power.

Anonymous said...

Still an information science student at the time of this comment. Salt to taste accordingly.

What works best with me about children's librarianship is working with people who haven't been jaded (too much) on the value of books as reading material, rather than as research material or school work only stuff. Of course, being able to tell stories with funny voices, props, and have the audience pay attention, rather than look at you weird, is pretty nice.

Libraries and librarians are different, too. Some have strong views on what is and isn't acceptable content and enforce it in their collections appropriately. Others have communities that have those strong views that they try to enforce on their libraries. Some of us are a lot better at reference, others in programming. Some have multimillion-dollar budgets, and others survive on a shoestring and a lot of grant-writing. That doesn't stop us from trying to give you the best services and materials we can, but it does mean that some of us can't provide quite as much as we'd like to.

I guess, to use an already well-worn thought, libraries and librarians are like the books and media they take care off - judging them by their covers is not recommended.

reasonably prudent poet said...

i'm not a librarian, but my ex is. we were together while she went through her mls program and we were excited together about all the great things librarians could do. i had no idea! she had great fantasies about being a public librarian or, especially, working on a particular women's studies collection in new york. after she finished her program, she briefly worked in the public library in our city and she loved it. but then, you know, life happens. we broke up, she got together with this rich woman who worked in a pharmaceutical company and, next thing you know, she's a rich pharmaceutical librarian and... well... it just makes me sad to remember how happy she was weeding and building collections and otherwise conducting traffic in our little library. and now... what the hell does a pharmaceutical librarian do? i'm sure it's valueable, but it doesn't quite have the same romance...

Sarah Louise said...

I pictured myself conducting story times with babies and new mothers. I imagined myself introducing wide-eyed innocents to beautiful classics and seeing their little faces light up with wonder. I saw myself guiding cynical, book-phobic pre-teens unerringly toward the one perfect book that would open up the world of reading to them.

This is my life. I work for the children's dept. of a large well funded library (albeit my salary is in the low 20s). I also work in cataloguing, which is task oriented, meaning I can rearrange my schedule and work Tuesday morning instead of Tuesday evening.

However, I am responsible for purchasing CD-ROMs, which I loathe. (I have no problem with kids loving them, I just was never the video games type.)

Life is sweet!

BabelBabe said...

I felt compelled to write an entire post on the subject. I am a ref librarian at a college, though, completely different universe than a public librarian. Thank God.

tuckova said...

This may please you:

"...the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries." - Kurt Vonnegut (2004)

(Our school libraries are another matter entirely, apparently. But I liked this homage, anyway.)