As I’m nearing the end of my MLIS journey, I’ve been thinking more about long-term career goals. I was curious what some of my classmates’ experiences were who also work in a public library, and what their long-term goals are. We came up with questions and gave our thoughts about our work in public libraries. I had a great time learning about my peers and I hope you do as well.
What drew you to public libraries?
Samantha: Honestly, I was at first trying to apply for introductory academic library positions, but when I didn’t get hired, I started applying for any library position in the area. The public library was the first to hire me. I thought I’d start getting my foot in the door within the library world there, but I’ve been having so much fun, I fell in love with working in a public library. Some of the main reasons I’m drawn to continue working in a public library are all the different questions I work with. It’s a bonus to know pop culture to keep up with the collections and I love being able to explore and be a part of different fandoms that all come together in one place for others to also learn about and explore.
Eori: I was drawn to public libraries because of all the children’s books and programs they offered. As an aspiring picture book author and illustrator, I loved having access to all the books and resources. Before pursuing an MLIS, I was accepted to an MSW and an MA/PhD program but neither felt quite right. Eventually, I learned that public libraries were the perfect combination of books, community development, creativity, and research. Although I do feel embarrassed at times that I wasn’t the type of child to be enamored with my local public library, I’m proud to be an advocate for one now as an adult.
Amelia: I love how public libraries are ultimately community hubs, especially in today’s era. They’re no longer places where people go to be quiet and study – they’re now places where people can go to learn new things, meet new people, and build a stronger sense of community. Most people have a good opinion of their local libraries and are happy to support them, even those who don’t visit them often. I haven’t worked in public libraries for long (almost four years now), but so far it has been a very rewarding experience.
Edit: I loved to read books as a child, and so it was an easy decision for me to start volunteering then working as a student-worker in my senior year of high school… and I just never left. Now it has been almost nine years since I was introduced to the world of public libraries, and I fell in love with all of its possibilities. It is a place of books, resources, activities, events, and community gatherings. I have witnessed my own local public library transform and adapt to the needs of its community, and I am excited to see what the future holds and how I can change it.
What do you do for your job?
Samantha: I’m a sub reference librarian at my local public library. I mainly work at the youth reference desk of the main branch in the county, although I do occasionally work at one of the smaller branches. Daily activities include answering reference questions, retrieving materials for patrons, updating book displays, and forwarding patron purchase requests to the proper collection manager. The smaller branch I work at only has one desk in the whole library so I answer any reference collections and perform any circulation duties like checking in books, filling holds, and reshelving.
Eori: I work as a Senior Branch Page for my library district, which means I’m responsible for shelving, checking books out, opening the library, closing the library, cash reconciliation, and reference desk services exclusively for the two branch libraries. There are several of us with the same title so we do a lot of the tasks that librarians do at the main library. I’m also a certified passport agent so I process passports for our patrons.
Amelia: I work as a Library Clerk and Substitute Librarian. The Clerk position is entirely focused on Circulation procedures, which includes working at the front desk, processing fines, checking in and out books, answering phone calls and emails, operating the library drive-up window, and working within my state’s interlibrary loan system. The Librarian position involves working at the Information/Reference Desk in the Adult Services section, which includes answering patron questions, helping them with library computers, printing/copying/faxing, answering phones and emails, holds paging, and assisting with events when necessary.
Edit: I am the Librarian Specialist for the Maker Technologies at the Glendale Library, Arts & Culture. I am responsible for the MakerSpace and its staff and workshop programming. At the MakerSpace we have 3D printers, sewing machines, Cricut machines, art, jewelry, and craft supplies for our patrons. I am tasked with the upkeep, maintenance, scheduling, programming, and other components of the space and my team of 8 part-time workers.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
Samantha: I love that nearly everyday I’m working with new topics. There’s so many different reference questions kids have and it’s exciting to see what their creative minds are coming up with. Most of the time the library has something on the topic of what they’re looking for which is always amazing.
Eori: My favorite part of working in the public library are the kids. Our young readers are so curious about the world and I love being able to work directly with them. This is also the first time that I’ve worked in a community where Japanese is considered a “need,” so I’m happy that I get to speak with patrons in my family’s native language. I’m also a part of our library’s DEI committee, so I enjoy having a monthly space where my coworkers and I can bring up topics, programs, and ideas that work to uplift our underserved communities.
Amelia: I love helping people find what they’re looking for and get them what they need. Meeting patrons and interacting with them can be a very pleasant experience, especially when I meet one who is a fan of the library and appreciates all we do as librarians.
Edit: It’s in the name: To Make! I love crafting, so being in this space allows me to create and encourage other teens and adults to let out their creative sides. Having the freedom to interact with the patrons on a different level is very rewarding.
What do you find most challenging?
Samantha: Similarly with customer service jobs, there are some hostile situations I’ve been in with patrons who weren’t being respectful or understanding of boundaries. It’s not very often but when it does happen it’s really hard not to let it ruin my whole day. However, I have great support from fellow librarians at my library who are all willing to help each other out with de-escalating situations.
Eori: I knew situations like this would happen going in to public libraries, but sometimes I get patrons who think it’s okay to say derogatory comments to me. Luckily I don’t get too many patrons like that and while I do understand that similar situations can arise anywhere, it does hit a sore spot when they try to get at something personal. And since I work at the front desk, I’m constantly on display so it can be hard some days. Thankfully, my coworkers and managers are super supportive and are more than willing to step in.
Amelia: Public service can be a thankless job. It’s hard work, and can often be very frustrating and overwhelming, especially when patrons are demanding and have little respect for what you do.
Edit: Working in a public library:
- Cons: The public
- Pros: The public
You never know who will walk through the doors. One second it could be a famous celebrity looking for a book, the next, it would be a challenging patron who will earn a suspension letter due to staff verbal harassment and threats. It is not always sunshine and roses, but the good outweighs the ugly days.
Do you have any career goals you are working towards?
Samantha: Yes! Once I graduate with the MLIS degree, I would love to work as a full-time youth librarian. I’m ready to do so much more than sit on the reference desk. Our library puts together these beautiful craft and book club kits for kids and teens and I would love to start working on those myself.
Eori: After I graduate with my MLIS, I would absolutely love to continue working for the district where I am at right now. I’m very passionate about youth services and outreach, but I also have so many ideas for adult programs and events! I would love to implement more ideas for how our library can be sustainable and maybe even start a seed library full of plants that are native to the area.
Amelia: I am interested in continuing work in public libraries, but I’ve also expressed interest in special and government libraries as well. If I find work in any of those types of libraries, I will be very satisfied. After I graduate, I’m willing to keep any and all options open, and see what opportunities present themselves to me.
Edit: I recently switched over to my new position at MakerSpace from the library’s Technology Services (IT) department. I want to grow and learn more about managing a separate service point, group of staff, budget, and large and small-scale operations. I want to grow into a lead that others can rely on and turn to, but for now, I want to earn my MLIS degree and just keep swimming.
In conclusion, we all share experiences working in public libraries while preforming different jobs. It has been fun for us to share what we do outside of the MLIS program and give a little more information about our goals and ambitions. If you work in a public library, what thoughts do you have about our questions, or if you’re a library patron, what are your experiences at the library?
~This post was written by Samantha Harteau, the ALASC Blogging Assistant.