Sunday, May 1, 2016

4 Things I'll Miss About Working in a Public Library...And One I Won't

I've had the privilege of working in a few different types of libraries over the last 5 years:  an academic library, a tribal library, and a public library.  And I just bid farewell to my very first public library experience.

I'm sad about it.

And I'll miss the job and my co-workers quite a bit.

I know you're just waiting for me to bust out my list, so here we go!

4 Things I'll Miss About Working in a Public Library

1.  The Patrons
I loved the brief, but incredibly full interactions I had throughout the day at the front desk of my small town public library.

I had the pleasure of giving my two cents about my favorite authors, suggesting recommendations based on what book, movie, or magazine the person was checking out at the time, or just having mutual gush-fests about a book or an author we both related to and loved.

What great conversations and impromptu moments that happened almost every day!

Library-types call it Reader's Advisory, but I just call it fun.  What a privilege to be able to connect with so many diverse types of people in such a succinct and fulfilling way.

I'll always remember fondly when one of my regular patrons called me her "sommelier for books."

What a memorable compliment!  And hey, if you can combine books, booze & flattery, I'm all yours!

2. The Books
Kind of an obvious, no-brainer here.  But, it's not just the books.  It's being right on the cutting edge of the dizzying selection of newly published books.

To be able to see first hand what's new in the world of reading?  Yes and yes.  Whether it's an author I'm already hooked on, or one I get to discover because of the sheer volume and variety of books that would pass through my hands every day - I'll miss that front row seat to literature.

3.  The Routines
I know, I know.  The routines?  Whaaaat?  I'm an unrepentant, fastidiously organized nerd, and I love me some routines.  Tweaking procedures to make them more efficient, better, or easier to grasp?  I won't lie.  It gives me the warm fuzzies every time.  The dependability of routine and the natural consequence being order and predictability?  Yep...warm fuzzies again.  Labels, cataloging, stamping books, arranging fiction in alphabetical order?  I love every last one.

4.  The Gratitude
By this I mean the overwhelming gratitude patrons have when I'm able to help them complete what they've come in to the library to do.  Like scan a document and attach it to an email when they're a self-described technology novice.

Or figure out how to complete and submit a PDF fillable-form online to apply for a job when they were intimidated by the process when they walked in the door.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that sometimes the person's eyes would light up and they'd animatedly and profusely thank me for my help.  The fact that the two words I said most every day were "you're welcome" - well, that's pretty remarkable.

And now, to turn the sunshine and lollipops over to that other side of public library work.  The less than fulfilling part.  The reason why I more than likely won't seek out work in a public library again.

How to put it delicately?  Some of the library regulars are folks who are not in a good place in life.  Whether it be homeless, or an addict of some kind, or an untreated and/or un-diagnosed mentally ill person, even your run of the mill derelicts...being a daily witness to decrepitude takes its toll.

Come on, who wants to wake up strangers in a public place? Or be surrounded by the sometimes overwhelming odor of unwashed bodies on a regular basis?  Or see people who are obviously in dire trouble slowly circle the drain and self-destruct?  I sure don't.

It sounds harsh, and maybe even apathetic, but interacting with people who are not experiencing the world in the way a healthy, productive, contributing person does is draining.  I found myself wanting to grab certain people by the collar and shake them saying, "Make better choices!" Or perhaps, "It's within your power to change your life!"

It sapped my energy and depleted my ability to be compassionate incredibly.  I think I've become more detached and less empathetic to others in the process.  And that's not ideal.

I know some people will read this and think negatively about my opinion.  That's okay.  I'm truly thankful that much of what disturbed me is deeply outside the realm of my personal experiences. 

The down side of public library work doesn't outweigh the positives for many people who make a career out of it, and I applaud them for it.  My take away will be fondly remembering those terrific book-ish exchanges with like-minded folks, being a practical resource for whoever walked in the door, and of course can't forget the cataloging & labels!

I'll always love books, reading, and talking about them.  That will never change.  Anyone need a sommelier?

Ta-ta for now. 

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