- The bookish Internet and my library (perhaps most libraries) are separate worlds when it comes to what’s popular. There’s of course a certain degree of overlap, but more and more I realise the importance of not mistaking my online bubble (valuable though it is) for everything that exists out there.
- For example, crime is hugely popular. I feel like I’m always shelving books by the same ten or fifteen authors, most of whom I wasn’t familiar with before. Which leads to the question: are there any contemporary crime/mystery/thriller blogs that you’d like to recommend? I’m fine when it comes to the classics, but not so much the recent stuff, and I’d feel better equipped to deal with possible future queries if I had a more in-depth knowledge of what’s out there. Reading a genre-specific blog or two would definitely help. I know what the big romance or SFF blogs are, but I’m clueless about the crime and mystery ones.
- Knowledge matters: despite what I said above, I’m incredibly grateful for the specialist bookish knowledge I’ve developed over the past few years, in part thanks to book blogging. The other day I got a question about YA set in Sri Lanka, from a father who was going to travel there with his fifteen-year-old daughter later in the year. The book I immediately thought of, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, is not one I’d be likely to be aware of if not for my involvement with the book blogging community. It turns out that we didn’t have it in stock, but this father seemed more interested in getting a recommendation than in taking the book home with him right there and then, and that’s a valuable service too. And sure, you can google the question, but you can’t get a clear answer quickly, and people come to the library because they want to talk to another human being who might be well-informed rather than rely exclusively on search engines. The same goes for the teacher looking for science fiction titles for kids, who quickly realised that just browsing the science fiction or the kid lit sections wasn’t going to be enough and who didn’t know where to start – thankfully there was someone there who could immediately tell him about Patrick Ness, Philip Reeve, or Lois Lowry. I’m really glad I have this knowledge, and I love being able to share it with others.
- The human element of libraries matters: when I was in library school, the head of a large library service whose location I will not disclose gave a talk to my class, and she managed to shock us all into silence by saying that as more and more services are automated or done remotely, she could easily envision a functional, high-quality library service almost entirely free of both costumer-facing and professional staff in about five year’s time. None of us were exactly thrilled to hear this, but it can be hard to separate the immediate emotional response to being told the profession you’re training for will soon be obsolete from the actual cogent reasons why there’s something wrong with this picture. I know there are a lot of complex questions involved in library budgets, and that a lot of people with far more knowledge and experience than me don’t have simple solutions for the challenges raised by constant cuts. I’ve explained above why I think specialist knowledge in staff matters, but this bullet point is supposed to be about something else. The Head of Libraries I mentioned above also said she had no patience for the argument that the automatisation of services is bad because people go to the library for a little human contact. Libraries, she said, are not in the business of making people less lonely, nor should they be expected to be. Again, there are complicated questions involved here, and it’s certainly true that you can’t expect library staff to be everything for everyone all the time while still doing everything else that is involved in keeping a large library running smoothly. However, so far I’ve found the human element of my job very rewarding. I’ve not yet dealt with any really difficult situations that have made my feel out of my depth, but for as long as there’s scope in my work to provide the everyday human contact that some users are clearly seeking, this is something I’ll be very happy to do. And I want to live in a world where doing that on a small scale is not only possible but seen as valuable.
- A well answered reader’s advisory or reference question can be extremely satisfying and is often enough to make my day.
- This happened when I first went to library school and it’s happening again now: Unshelved makes more sense than ever. For example, who knew that this was a thing that actually happens?
- Tidying the library and shelving book returns can make you feel a bit like Sisyphus – turn your back for five minutes once you’re done and you’ll be back at the bottom of the hill. But then again, this means the library is used and loved, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.
- I love my job. I love frontline services. I love the fact that my work doesn’t feel like something that exists apart from my identity or my real life, which is something I couldn’t help but feel with my previous occupations. I really, really liked my museum job, for example, but I didn’t feel the same sense of involvement that I feel now. My professional situation is still not perfect in some ways (I’d love to eventually get more hours), but I feel truly blessed for the fact that going to work is more than just something I do so I can pay rent and afford food at the end of the month. It gives me the chance to contribute to something I believe in, something that would definitely be a part of my ideal world, and I know that’s an increasingly rare thing these days.