Why You Should Worship Your Librarian
It always comes up. The moment you mention that you went to graduate school for a degree in Library Science, someone will ask you, "How hard is it to put a book on a shelf?" That is when you flash your professional smile that says, "How clever you are," and reply, "You would be amazed."
Inside you want to pin the idiot to the nearest wall and shout at the top of your lungs, "I am a master of data systems and human-computer interaction. I can catalog anything from an onion to a dog's ear. I could catalog you! I wield unfathomable power. With a flip of my wrist I can hide your dissertation behind piles of old Field and Stream magazines. I can find data for your term paper that you never knew existed. My knowledge extends beyond mere categories. I cannot be confined to a single discipline. I am all-knowing and all-seeing. I bring order to chaos. I bring wisdom and culture to the masses. I preserve every aspect of human knowledge. And I will kick the crap out of anyone who says otherwise!"
This, of course, is part of the little-known cult known as Why You Should Worship a Librarian. The funny part is, every bit of that is true and we librarians really believe it, too.
We have masses of information at our fingertips and in our mind, so imagine how we feel when a patron comes up and asks for a book with this description:
"There's this book I need to read for school. It's blue. Do you know where I can find it?"
No library that I know of has organized their books by color, yet, amazingly, I was able to find the book. After all, I have been a librarian for 11 years, working in various university libraries and I have my MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science) from University of Illinois, so I should be able to find just about anything.
It's all in the questions. Librarians are like the nice interrogators, prying information, bit by bit, from the prisoner (AKA library patron) before them. We only use water-boarding techniques if there are overdue fines, of course.
But sometimes, even we superhuman fonts of knowledge are stumped. I was attending the reference desk in the business library at Golden Gate University when a student came in and asked for a book showing fruit and vegetable pictures next to computer parts – and done alphabetically, if possible. A librarian knows her collection and often knows right away if the library has a book of a particular type, so without even looking anything up, I replied, "I am sorry, but we don't have a book like that. Is this for a specific project or class?"
"I NEED THE BOOK!" he shouted and began to cry, flopped himself over my desk and began clutching at my sleeve. "Maybe I can find it somewhere else," I suggested/lied. I mean, who makes shiny coffee-table books about vegetable matter and computer parts? "Kale and Keyboards"? "Devil Fruit and Hard Drives"?
I started searching Amazon.com (the librarian's secret card catalog) while periodically peeling the student's fingers from my clothing, removing him from my desk and trying to catch the eye of the security guy outside the door. After a good half an hour of wasted time, I convinced the man to go around the corner to an independent bookstore that might know of a local author who specialized in arcane books. But to my knowledge, there is still no book to meet his request.
But sometimes being a librarian is so satisfying, it almost makes me cry. I was once visiting a library as part of a library conference. We had a break and I went to check out my secret love, the children's section. I prowled the shelves for childhood favorites and wrote down titles of a few books I might want to read. I had not seen the children's librarian in the section, but I did see a little boy sulking in a back corner. Without thinking that this wasn't my library or my job, I asked him, "Do you need help finding a book?'
"Don't wanna read. They're all stupid girl stuff."
I crouched down to get on eye level and said, "Really? I guess you haven't found the secret section then."
He looked at me with suspicious curiosity, "Secret section?"
I nodded. "Do they have books about spaceships?"
I found him several books about space, and saw him run to his mother with a pile of books, shouting, "Mama, they gave me books! Can we come back later next week for more?"
Opening the eyes of a child to a world beyond their world, gently leading them to step onto the road of reading, which can take them anywhere, this is what I became a librarian to do.
The advent of the internet has multiplied the information available to access, changed the basic setup of the library to include a computer area for general use and has increased questions and problems by, say, 259 percent. Plus, it is a commonly known truth among librarians that if a patron is going to look at pornography, the very next patron to use that computer will be a very sweet grandmother trying to email her seven-year-old grandson for the first time. We know it is going to happen. It always does. There is a rustle of paper, a shocked gasp, and – depending on the variety of visual left onscreen – the need to use the portable heart paddles!
Not only do we have to know more than Google, we have to know every in and out of computers, from word processing to secret tricks, 101 ways to recover a lost document, and all the crafty ways to convince the grandmother that the she didn't really see the picture she saw.
Despite the various questions that make librarians doubt their career path or want to jump over the reference desk in a killing fit, we love what we do. We love the thrill of the chase when hunting down that elusive title, we love seeing how a child cradles their first newly borrowed book, and we love the fact that we are the hidden superheros of the information age. Librarians rule!
Some tips to getting a job as a librarian:
- Make the grade. The last four semesters of your undergraduate work are the grades that graduate schools look at when deciding acceptance; and having a master's degree is key to getting the job you want.
- Choose a well-known school for your undergraduate and post-graduate studies, if possible. Top schools do carry weight in the hiring process.
- READ. Read everything you can and in the widest range of subjects possible. It is the odd fact in your head that often helps you find the book or resource the patron needs, and showing potential employers that you are well read is a key part of any aspiring librarian's job interview.
Tricks of the trade
- Usually a job for assistants, shelving books is how you really know what your library has and where it is. Do it as often as you can.
- Wear comfortable shoes. While heels are just so much fun, a librarian's work is up and down and walking all day. Search out the good-looking business shoes often made in Europe. They are pricey, but well worth it by the end of a long day.
- Smile! When a patron can't find something they get testy. The fastest way to calm them down is with a genuine smile of pleasure. Make them feel that answering their question is going to be one of the best things that happens to you today.
- Remember that despite what is said, there really are dumb questions. But the dumb question is just as important as all the others!
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