What People Don't Get About Working in a Library


The Librarian #1
"We are not mere cart pushers. This job requires a Masters degree for a reason."

People have made an extremely strong link between librarians, libraries and books. This is only natural, but it really sells short the full value of libraries and the full scope of librarian work. Libraries offer so much more than moldy old books. There's also music, movies, tv shows, video games, and electronic databases that span a whole galaxy of scholarly and practical information unavailable to any level of googling. Additionally, libraries offer free internet access that is utterly vital in many poor and rural communities. As government services migrate online, good citizenship almost requires an internet connection. Libraries also provide a free space for local groups and communities and have been at the forefront of job search training and computer instruction. Coordinating all of this are the humble librarians. We are not mere cart pushers, let me assure you. This job requires a Masters degree for a reason.

The Librarian #2
"I am an aggregator, a citation machine, a curator, a specialist."

I am a librarian.  People do not understand that I do more than check out books.  They do not understand that my job requires a master's degree and optimally, some other post-graduate work. No one understands what I do all day. I do research, I teach classes, I catalog, I develop our collection, I work on our website, I fix computers.  I am an aggregator, a citation machine, a curator, a specialist in whatever it is you want to know about.

The Cataloger
"Even within the library profession my job is very under-appreciated."

I'm a cataloger, and even within the library profession my job is very underappreciated. Many people don't realize that you need a Master's degree for many library positions, or don't quite understand why. Within the library world, many people don't really seem to get that cataloging is not something you can just dump on someone who hasn't been trained or taken classes. Cataloging is not a simple job! For one thing, there's a 3" binder on my desk full of rules for cataloging different items that a library might own (and there's many items that aren't covered by the rules because they didn't exist!) Right now is a transition time for catalogers as we work on a whole new set of rules that will help us get ready for the future - because the days of patrons coming into the library to look at little index cards to find a book are long gone. In the course of my Master's degree (which I am nearing completion of), I've taken 4 cataloging courses and I still feel like there's a ton I haven't learned yet. It makes me sad to see people thinking that cataloging work can be handed off to untrained paraprofessionals with no guidance. Our catalog records are suffering, it makes more work for me, and it makes it harder for patrons and reference librarians alike to find what they're looking for.

The Librarian #3
I am not your doormat. Make your own copies."

I'm a librarian.  I am well informed, and I may get to read headlines while I'm working my shift at the reference desk, but I don't sit around reading novels all day.  I like books, but my job is much more about computers and databases. I use Google, and I like Google, but no, not everything is available on the Web for free. I am a professional researcher: I have a master's in library science as well as a PhD in English; I am not your doormat; Make your own copies.

The Librarian #4
I am not a babysitter for teachers' planning periods."

I am a librarian in a school setting. I am a professional with a Master's degree and am a certified teacher in two states. I teach basic life skills, like how to find information, evaluate it critically, and use it in an ethical and creative way. I help children explore their passions and find out what about their world interests them the most. I am not a babysitter for teachers' planning periods, I am a teacher too and the time children spend with me is valuable. My job cannot be done effectively by volunteers, and managing, cataloging and promoting a library collection both physical and electronic is just as demanding as having your own classroom of children.

We're asking readers to tell us what the public doesn't understand or appreciate about their jobs. Learn about the project here.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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