Mindy's Life

This Is What Librarians Do

I’ve talked before about being a librarian, and how misunderstood the job is. No, we don’t sit around and read all day. And I want to say right now that I’ve never shushed anyone. Being a librarian is a pretty unique job because it’s like retail, stocking shelves and being a data analyst all at the same time.

Oh, and some of us are pretty muscular too, because being a librarian sometimes requires heavy lifting.

What? Yeah, it’s true.

This past spring and summer I undertook one of the hardest tasks of my life – and yes, I count being published in that estimation. I reconfigured a K-4 library all by myself. It took over 200 hours, some of them unpaid. And I’m not posting about this so you’ll tell me how awesome I am – I guarantee you there are many librarians that have done – and would do – exactly this many times over.

Without going into the sad, sad business of public school funding too far, I’ll simply say that because of money issues our district lost the full time library position in the elementary building two years ago. The lady whose job this had formerly been was still in the library when classes were in there, but that was the only time. The solution to actually maintaining the library – shelving in particular – was to have high school students do it.

I know anyone reading this who is a librarian is probably cringing right now.

Cringe harder.

At the end of one year of having teenagers manage the shelving the elementary library looked like this.

I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you that Dewey had pretty much gone out the window.
The district librarian and I are located in a different building, so when I went over to this library to do my end of the year report, I ended up saying some very bad words. I said them alone, because that’s the proper thing to do, but I said them loudly. 
And then I proceeded to fix it.
First – discarding. This library hadn’t been properly weeded in years. I ended up getting rid of about 3000 books that were beyond salvaging. Torn books, books whose spines were completely broken, and some books that were actually growing mold. Don’t worry – these weren’t dumpster fodder. These 3000 books went home with the children who picked them off the free book table. Even if they only had one more read left in them, they got the chance to prove it.
Second – re-cataloging. Hundreds of books were quite simply, nowhere near the places they needed to be. For example Attack of the Alien Fire Ants was in non-fiction. No idea what happened there.
Third – genre labeling. As many picture books as possible were put into categories – dinosaurs, dogs, holidays, etc – so that the little kids could actually find books that interested them, rather than rummaging through a colossal mess and hoping they hit something good in their allotted library time.
Fourth – putting all that crap back. Yep. This place was such a wreck that the best solution was to empty every single shelf and start from scratch. Obviously this was done one section at a time, but I made a HUGE mess before things got better. 
And lastly – I showed administration these pictures and explained that a library needs to be maintained, not just manned. And they listened. Even though we don’t have a librarian in that building full time, we do have a staff member assigned there specifically for shelving and item maintenance, and teachers are handling the checkout process for their own classes — which is a lot easier now that they can find books on their own. Ahem.
After Mindy-Monster pictures:

A lot of people have no idea the amount of work that librarians put in on a daily basis just because we want to make sure that people (especially kids) have the books that they want in their hands when they walk out the door.
During the summer when I was working the a/c in this building was turned off. So I’d spend hours covered in sweat and filth, come home sore from moving so many pounds of books around, and still have someone say to me at a party, “Shhhh!!!” when I told them I was a librarian.
And I’m like, “You know what? I think I’m going to punch you in the face.”

13 thoughts on “This Is What Librarians Do

  1. Wow! You did an amazing job. I've volunteered at my library enough to know how determined you'd have to be to even *think* about starting from scratch. Those kids are lucky to have you. 🙂

  2. I have a lot of respect for librarians, especially when you have people like *ahem* me, who 1) once dropped ice cream w/sprinkles in a book and didn't notice until the pages were glued shut (I bought them a new book, don't worry) and 2) sets a book aside and calls to complain that I turned it in when I get a reminder e-mail because I totally imagined myself walking up to the return slot and turning in that particular book (I left them a note of apology).

  3. Haha! I would totally have done the same thing. The only way to go with shelves that messy is to empty everything, organize and categorize like a madwoman, and then move books to their proper places.

    I know you didn't do it for the praise, but bravo anyway! Every little thing that makes it easier for kids to enjoy reading deserves an award.

    Semi-random question: do you ever give in and punch someone?

  4. RC – 🙂 Duh.

    Anon – Yeah, It's an enormous job, but… when I was over in that building at the beginning of the year and I saw the kid's faces… They were so happy to be able to find books!! Such a simple thing!!

    Deb – The imagining you did return a book to the point that you've convinced yourself you did, in fact, return it, is a clinical condition that has stricken many. You are not alone.

    Kel – Agreed! They're so happy when they're able to go right to a shelf with a stuffed cat on it and know there will be cat books there. I have been very close to punching people, but have yet to do it, I figure a public school employee involved in a Dewey brawl would probably get me fired… then who would straighten the shelves?

  5. You rock, Mindy. It looks great! So, question for you–what is the likelihood of getting parent volunteers to help with shelving? I coordinate the library volunteers at my kid's school, and sometimes they are worse than the kids, but all in all I think the librarians are very happy to have them.

  6. Marin – we actually do have a parent volunteer coming in twice a week now. She seems pretty dedicated to keeping this onslaught from ever happening again.

    Derrick – mea culpa

  7. You're a hero! I never really understood or realized just how much librarians do, so thank you for telling us (and sorry for believing in the Shhhh stereotype just a bit).

  8. Until I began volunteering in my kids' elementary school library and became good friends with the librarian who is a goddess like yourself, I had no real concept of the amount of work that goes into that job. But books keep going out and coming back, and kids scrounge the shelves and shove things back where they're not supposed to be and the mess… never… stops. You have to have unending patience and, yes, a touch of OCD to do that job. You have given those kids an amazing gift! 🙂

  9. SC – yeah, “shushing” a librarian is honestly just asking for it. 😉

    Mfant – Exactly. It's cyclical — kind of like housework. You go to work and fix something that you will have to do again next week, then you go home and do laundry that you'll have to do again next week… yeah. It's not for the faint of heart or the easily defeated.

  10. Amen sister. I just started year 14 at in my high school library. This year I am the only person. I lost my assistant 5 years ago and my second librarian in August. With 1100 students and 100+ teachers and no lunch, I fear my shelves are going to look horrible by June. Thankfully I do have two incredible students who serves their study halls with me and LOVE library work.

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