Today my former roommate from library school, Lydia of the not-so-often updated blog, Metadata Maven, joins me in the last guest post of my series, The Life and Times of a New Librarian. Lydia and I graduated SLIS in December and Lydia was able to find a job much faster than I, although her job path took her to the public library sphere, rather than to an academic library like she would have preferred. Lydia is here today to share her experiences (the good and the bad), as a new public reference librarian at a small library.
I recently began my job as a reference librarian at a small, southern public library. While I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a reference librarian, I did know that the academic world was for me. Having only ever worked in the academic library setting, adjusting to this new world was difficult and enlightening. While in school, I never really pictured myself working at a public library because I did not think that the work would be able to hold my attention. I also believed that I would spend most of my time answering basic questions rather than helping with in-depth research.
And I was totally right. Instead of spending my day helping students to complete their education, I find myself answering the phone and signing people up to use public access computers. Sometimes I wonder why I even bothered going to grad school. While I do sometimes have reference questions that require more work than a basic Google search, more often than not, my day is spent finding phone numbers and telling people how to create email addresses. While I know these are necessary, I sometimes feel as if my job could be done by a competent high school student.
Even when I do have someone in need of real reference help, I find myself becoming frustrated because they do not put in the effort needed to do any type of real research. At least once a week I have a patron come in asking for journal articles they need for a paper. After showing the patron how to access the databases and how to use them effectively, I leave them to their research. Almost every time they leave within 30 minutes having given up on their search because I did not do it for them. The general public does not seem to realize how difficult research can be. I find my patience growing shorter and shorter as more and more people expect me to do their work for them. While I am sure this same frustration is felt in the academic world, I believe that it would not be as bad because academic librarians are working with people who clearly care about their education, or they would not be in college.
Collection development is my favorite part of my job, but even that has had to undergo a change as I became more aware of the, dare I say, simple needs of my patrons. Rather than being able to let my history and literature loving heart run wild through the book catalogs, ordering all kinds of specialized, specific, non-fiction materials, I have to spend my time looking for sappy romance novels about cowboys and vampires finding love. While I accept that these kinds of books have their place and that they do have value for some people, it’s totally lost on me. Even when reviewing reference materials I have had to totally change my expectation of what the materials should provide for my patrons. The first reference catalog I looked at I thought there was nothing of value because every item was listed as either middle school and up or 9th grade and up. I thought to myself that these books would never work for me because I’m an adult services librarian. Well, as I spent more time at the reference desk and interacting with the patrons, I learned that maybe middle school materials were at the correct level for majority of people that come into the library, which is actually a very depressing thought.
The public library world isn’t all doom and gloom. There are some bright moments when I believe that I really am making a difference. Anytime I have a patron that actually stays and does research after I have helped them to get started makes my day wonderful. Hopefully, as I continue to work in the public library, I will become accustom to the needs of the general public and will stop comparing this totally different world to the academic library world.
Do you have any advice or suggestions for Lydia? What can she do to better adjust to life in a public library?