Monday, October 13, 2014

No, You Can't Just Do My Job

There is a woman I have known for years via a listserv who is now working as a library page in her local system.

I have never met her, but I know that she is a freelance writer. I know that she is a reader, that her husband is a reader, that her son is a reader.

But I have been wincing for months every time she triumphantly reports on Facebook about her helping people find the books they are looking for. And now, today, she has apparently been rapped by a supervisor who doesn't like her attitude. And my guess is, that her attitude is that even though as far as I know she's never worked as a librarian, she can do the same job because of all her other skills.

Sorry, but that ain't so.

This woman's husband has been through a major, terrifying series of hospitalizations recently, during which I was one of her chief boosters. I know what she went through--been there myself.  However, I don't think that either of our experiences qualified us to be a nurse or a doctor.  And loving to read and knowing books is not all there is to being a librarian.
We get that on applications for all our jobs. Often on the misspelled applications, I might add.

Let's start with something called the "reference interview."  What this means is that when someone comes up and asks for a specific book, fine. You can point out the Jodi Picoult, or the Dan Brown or whatever other piece of crap fine literature they are looking for.

But when someone walks in and asks for a cookbook, you need to say "Are you looking for something in particular?"   When someone asked about "third grade books," there are NO SUCH THING as "third grade books".  I've dealt with third graders that are reading "Harry Potter" and others who can't read "Hop On Pop"!

When a kid asks for an "autobiography", you need to know that they are probably asking for a BIOGRAPHY.  And you need to ask them if they are doing a one paragraph report or a ten page paper, or if they just have to dress up as the character.

When a mom asks for "toilet training" books you need to know if they are for her or the kid.  When they want a book about death, you need to know if it's because a grandparent has died or because they don't get what happened to their puppy.

More often than not, what they are asking you for is NOT what they need. Adults often come in with a vague question. You need to ask them details. Sometimes they ask for something general because they "don't want to bother you,". I love being bothered! One example: I had a lady ask for books about France for her kid's report. Turned out what he needed was French COOKING, and I was able to find her much better books than if I'd just waved her over to the 914.5 section where the books on France live!

I read beyond the best sellers. When a kid asks me for a book, I know what's popular. But I also know other books as well. I read the books reviews, I buy the books--and I read them, all but some of the YA that I've taken to skimming because I'm sick of vampires and dystopias (!)


I've referred people to medical libraries, to embassies, to their family doctor, to the school reading teacher.  I've tried to persuade many a mom that her "advanced" reader is still a little girl who needs to be a little girl, and that just because they CAN read young adult books doesn't mean they SHOULD read stuff in that section.  And that "Harry Potter" is NOT the cure for reluctant boy readers and that sometimes non-fiction is what will turn that child on to reading.

(And I haven't even mentioned catalog searching. Suffice it to say, it's more than doing a Google search--and it teaches you to do a really good Google search in the process....)

I've done this for 30 years. It's been my only career from grad school onward. And that's why I'm good at it. Lots and lots and LOTS of experience.

So if I were the librarian in that librarian where Ms Library Page is working, I'd be pissed too if I saw her trying to do my job.

And I find it damn condescending of her to think that she can, just like that.

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