Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Everyone knows what a library is and they know that librarians work there... but do you know what your librarians really do all day? (Here's a hint: we don't sit around reading all the time.) A recent discussion among an online group of public librarians revealed some of the most common misconceptions and myths that people have about the library profession. Even my own family and friends- who hear my tales of woe and wonder- still cling to some of these ideas. It got me to thinking that maybe I need to do my part to give you, dear reader, a better picture of what we are all about and perhaps clarify some of these myths.
Myth #1: EVERYONE WHO WORKS IN A LIBRARY IS A LIBRARIAN.
Not quite. Technically, a librarian is someone who has earned a Master's Degree in Library or Information Science. There are many different levels of work that library employees do and all of them are vital to the smooth functioning of the library. Pages (yes, that's a job title- I'm not talking about paper in books) do most of the shelving in each branch. Library Aides spend most of their time processing holds; that is, finding the books that customers from other branches want and then preparing the hold slip and sending it out to the other branch. Circulation staff direct the flow of materials through the branches: checking items in and out, sorting them for faster shelving, handling questions about accounts and helping to solve problems with the materials (like contacting a customer who forgets to put the DVD back in the case before returning it to the library). Information staff (which includes the "official" librarians) are the ones who do their best to answer any question you have, from "Where is the bathroom?" to "How do they put the last stitch in a soccer ball?" And that's just in the branches! In a library system the size of MCPL, there are a lot of other positions needed to keep things running smoothly- the virtual services team who manages the website, the online databases and provides online reference help; selectors who determine what materials to buy; catalogers who get the materials coded so you can find them in the catalog; drivers who spend their days on the roads of Montgomery County moving thousands of items between branches; and administrators who support the work of the branches and plan for the future of the system. Plus the volunteers- can't forget them! We have lots of students and adults who volunteer to do everything from preparing story time materials for librarians to mending books to fundraising for the Friends of the Library chapters in support of their local branches.
Myth #2: LIBRARIANS GET TO READ ALL DAY, WHEN THEY AREN'T BUSY STAMPING DUE DATES IN THE BOOKS.
HA! The only time I manage to grab a few minutes to read at work is during my meal break. I certainly do not have the time to read while sitting at the information desk because the steady stream of questions I answer leaves no time for reading. And the due dates... well, if you come to the library then you know we don't stamp these anymore. (Miss them? Get the T-shirt.)
Myth #3: LIBRARIANS HAVE READ EVERY BOOK IN THE LIBRARY AND ARE REALLY SMART.
Seriously? There are well over 2 million items in the entire MCPL collection. No way does anyone have time to read them all. As for being really smart... well, it is well known that librarians are great folks to have on your Trivial Pursuit or quiz bowl team. We spend our days finding answers to questions about everything, so some of it is bound to stick in our heads.
Myth #4: PUBLISHERS GIVE LIBRARIES ALL THEIR BOOKS FOR FREE.
Ummmm... NO! We have to pay for books just like everyone else does. Occasionally, an author or patron will donate copies of a book we can add to the collection. Many people noticed that MCPL did not have as many new books on the shelves over the last year and that some of our online resources were no longer available, which is a direct result of recent budget cuts.
Myth #5: THE LIBRARY IS A QUIET PLACE TO WORK.
Have you ever been in the children's section of the library after storytime on a busy morning? If you believe myth #5, then probably not. While the library is mostly quiet, there are teen events for gaming (not quiet, especially with Guitar Hero) and storytimes with songs and games for children and programs like the Chinese Lion Dance that move through the library (banging drums and all). Even our book discussions can get pretty lively sometimes! People gather in the library, so there are (relatively) quiet conversations happening in the lobby, at the check-out and information desks, among the stacks and at the tables and seating areas. The library is full of the vibrant hum of life. If it is too quiet, that means no one is there... and we certainly don't want that.