If You Only Knew…

I have been seeing a lot of posts on librarian social media recently that make me cringe. Posts in which librarians give other librarians seriously faulty professional advice. These aren’t just differences in opinion. I can totally handle those. These are tips and tricks given that completely contradict actual evidence based practices.

Like many non-library people, I used to revere librarians. I saw them as the smartest people out there. This is thanks in no small part to one of my high school English teachers who told me “The smartest people aren’t the people who know everything; they’re the people who know how to find the answer to anything.” Who knows how to find all of the answers? LIBRARIANS!

Alas, it turns out that librarians, like anyone else, are just people. We’re not all well educated. We have personal biases that get in our way. We aren’t all good at our jobs and a startling amount of us don’t even seem to be trying. In some ways, I wish I’d had a more realistic view of librarians before I became one. That idea prompted me to make a handy-dandy list in which I tell you 5 of the things I wish I’d known before I became a librarian:

  1. Not all librarians are nice. Maybe I was just lucky with the librarians I knew before actually becoming one. With the exception of two of my MLIS professors, all of the librarians I knew before I got my degree were genuinely nice people. I very, very rarely experienced any kind of workplace tension. That said, several of the first librarians (or people who claim the title but aren’t) that I worked with were not just bad librarians but actual bad people. I’ve had co-workers get in my face, spend the whole day at their desk watching Netflix and then complain when I don’t provide programming to their age group as well as mine, and literally throw office furniture at me. So, yeah, we are not a profession made of saints. But there are a lot of good people here.
  2. You may not work with books very much. Notice I do not say all day. I knew coming into this job that being a librarian wasn’t all about the books. If I wanted to be alone with text all day, I would have become an archivist and not a public librarian. That said, the entire first year of my librarian career I had 3 readers’ advisory questions and 2 reference questions involving physical collections. My new position is much more book-focused but sometimes I do a ton of programming that has absolutely nothing to do with books (literacy, yes, but not books) and I’ll think to myself yeah, maybe I should try to tie that in.
  3. Patrons might treat you like shit. When I was in college, I lasted exactly 6 months working at Wal-Mart before I quit. The reason? Customers treated me worse than a dog and management did absolutely nothing about it. I spent my last day being followed around and sexually harassed by a customer. Working in a library isn’t that much different. I’ve had people yell lewd things at me, tell me they were going to kill me, and even brandish at actual weapon at me. The upside is that my library management teams have always been more responsive than my managers when I was working in retail.
  4. This pays basically nothing. Honestly, even if I’d known quite how crappy the pay is, I still probably would have become a librarian because I love what I do. But I might have been swayed if you told me that I’d be making a cool 20-30k less than even a public school teacher and that I’d need a second income in addition to my professional work if I had a prayer of, say, ever owning a home. Like, ever.
  5. Your job will be on the chopping block every year. As much as I now know to anticipate the standard budget cuts and “staff reductions” aka layoffs, it never gets any easier knowing that I may not have a job next year. Particularly when you consider the fact that I make such a low salary in a high cost of living area and I’m the family breadwinner. If having zero job security is something that’s going to make you tear your hair out, I recommend choosing another career. If you can learn to enjoy the work because it may be gone tomorrow, come on down!
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