A post for you librarians and other library workers.
When the Internet fails the Salt Lake City public library, what follows is illuminating. This happened yesterday in the early evening. Suddenly my computer would not work as I searched for a book for a patron. A collective groan arose from everywhere. The public computers weren’t working either.
Patrons tilted their chairs back, sighed loudly, and then again. They glared in our direction.
An hour later the building felt empty. The structure can easily accommodate 1,000 people. I’d be surprised if there were more than 20 on our floor.
The computers are easily our library’s most popular feature. When they fail you don’t hear patrons saying “Oh dear! Now you librarians can’t help us quite as well with our reference questions! And that is what we need you for!”
What you see is a bunch of librarians looking at each other wondering (or pretending to wonder) why nobody needs their help with anything.
There is a tendency in many librarians to pretend that people want from us what we want them to want. Reference service, expertise in filtering through information to determine its accuracy, etc.
It isn’t the case in my library. I’m not saying these things don’t happen while I’m at work, but they are rare. Truly fascinating, challenging questions are rare. I would guess that what I call “traditional library work” accounts for less than 5% of my duties.
A question: if a reference librarian does not perform a task like reference as often as they direct people to the restrooms, or as often as they teach them how to log in to the computers, can they aver that reference is actually their job, no matter what their title is?
Or is their job whatever the public says it is, based on what they want or expect from librarians?
Without bitterness or regret I can tell you that if you can read this, you could adequately perform the majority of my job. That does not necessarily mean that we have the same skills, only that my job does not often require skill.
I accept this because I am part of something that matters to me. I am willing to work on behalf of libraries without whining about what I wish I was doing. And if I want something to change badly enough in my job, I do whatever I can to change it.
If I am doing librarian work, it is a faint shadow of the work that the Library School recruiters spout when they are recruiting.