Thursday, February 14, 2013

You Are Paid in Smiles, by Ryan Claringbole


So you are a new public librarian. Congratulations. Here’s a bit of clarification about what’s to come for you. That ticker tape parade? Not going to happen. Making it rain when you treat your friends to a night out after getting that huge bonus? Nope. Fame? Glory? No and no. Now is the time to ask yourself why you have chosen to enter into this profession. Actually, that questions should have been asked before you entered it, but better late than never. 

Sure, you literally get paid in dollars, and while it is not a large amount (especially considering the amount of education needed to land the job) it is usually enough to live on. But in reality, this is a profession where you are paid in smiles. And nods. Mumbled thank you-s. And those are from the people that will actually acknowledge what you’ve done. This is not taking into account the people that do not say thank you, that curse the heavens that you dare charge them a $.35 late fee for that item and ask when did the library begin having a policy that charges for items not returned on time. The grumps. The frumps. Screaming children, neglectful parents, people that smell, people that revel in your suffering (so it seems). This is, after all, public service. 

Is it worth it? 

Oh, yes. Yes indeed. 

You now have the opportunity to help everyone that walks through that door and help solve so many problems. You can be a mentor for children and teens, show various worlds to people, and more. Imagine being the first person to hand over a Dr. Seuss book to a child, or having a wicked Halloween-themed job fair for teens, teaching them the best practices interviewing for their first job. Helping someone use a keyboard and mouse for the first time so they can go on to apply to their next job online, or maybe even publish their first novel via self-publishing. The joy, the sheer joy on someone’s face when you find the book they want to read! I’ve seen eyes glisten with tears when you help them track their ancestors using library resources. They shake your hand, look you in the eye, and thank you repeatedly for your help…after finding that book that their child needed for their book report, along with a list of other helpful sources. 

Now, that’s not to say it’s all grand. It’s not all terrible either. Whatever else librarianship is, it’s definitely a job for those that enjoy helping others. No, you usually do not get to read on the job and the library is not a peaceful and relaxing place (the #1 and #2 answers I’ve heard in interviews when asking someone why he/she wants to work in the library). It can be a raucous environment, dirty, making you unkempt to the point of verklempt. But when you see those smiles, or even maybe just one smile if it’s a particularly off day, you will go home happy. I promise. It’s knowing that, bit by bit, you are helping your community be better and happier. And in my opinion, that is priceless. 

This may be new to you or maybe you knew it all along. That’s not necessarily the point. You will have to remind yourself why you are doing the job every day, and why you need to keep pouring time and energy into it. It’s not easy. Things do not fall into your lap and not everything will go your way. You might excuse yourself to your coworkers, go into the restroom and splash some cold water on your face. You might lie awake in bed, unable to fall asleep as you figure out the last minute planning for that program. You might see your library’s infrastructure change due to funding, or lament the direction the system is going as the importance of the latest fad comes into play. What is the library about to you? Is it books? Information? Computers? To you, from here on out, it is about helping those that come into your building any damn way you can. Smiles of gratitude aren’t handed out haphazardly, so do everything in your power to earn them. If you receive a genuine smile of thanks, it has that funny way of making you smile, too.

Ryan is a Digital Services Librarian at the Chesapeake Public Library System, and is always looking to learn more from others. Please contact and/or share your thoughts with him on Twitter @librarianry.

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