The past two years has gone by in a blur, but I have spent most of my waking hours in one public library or another. Have I learned a thing or two? I’ve learned that a library is an organization that has an administrative hierarchy and that hierarchy pretty much calls the shots. As a librarian, I am committed to the free exchange of ideas and information, which are the basis of most mission statements.
But many library decisions are made at the city council level, and the majority of library missions have morphed into some blend of social-services and community oasis. While the budgets of one library allow for truly cool paid programming, another relies on a central programming model that routes preplanned programs in boxes through the system of a couple dozen branches. Some programs rely upon volunteers and others are hosted by library partners, which are mostly other service agencies.
Programming has become an important part of library services and patrons rely on these calendared items to remain fairly unchangeable. Outreach is another new buzzword in library services that I have not embraced entirely. According to the latest Pew Research Center’s report, ” A New Way of Looking at Public Library Engagement in America,” only 14% of the population is completely nonengaged from the library. The library as an educational institution is there to support all aspects of formal education, from preschool to graduate school. Our main value is in providing resources for those who are seeking opportunities, career or personal. Those who cannot make it to the building are able to access us online.
The collection itself requires constant monitoring, weeding, and replacing. These duties are rarely seen as having the importance of programming and outreach, but I believe that books are the reason most people use the library and I am convinced that Steve Coffman’s blog “Betting on the Book” has some major and valid points.
The kind of part-time librarian positions that I have been working since I graduated in 2012 have left my talents underutilized. I have been mostly on the outskirts of decision-making and policy discussions, and have often been assigned to a desk. But the benefits have been an increased affinity for the library user and an understanding of the importance of customer service in public librarianship. Our customers want us to help them navigate the world of information, technology, and upward social movement. They want us to provide intellectual stimulation as well as entertainment. They want to understand how to find and obtain materials, how to reserve computers and study rooms and how to use the library. We are their friendly guides and helpers.