what you’ve been missing

At the end of another shift, I sat in the manager’s office, closing out my checks for the day.  Six weeks in, she inquired about my intentions: am I planning on sticking around, or am I actively seeking another job?

I explained that, yes, I am actively seeking another job.  While the lunch restaurant at which I’m currently waiting tables isn’t a bad gig, it simply isn’t enough to support me, especially after that dreaded day on which my student loans enter repayment.
“What if I can get you some shifts in other departments?”  She told me that she was happy with the work I do, and would get me into other restaurants and shops in our little village, if it meant that I could stay.
“I appreciate that,” I responded, “and I’d love to get some more work around here.  The bottom line, though, is that I am a librarian.  I’ve been working for years to get to this place.  I was born to be a librarian.”
She gave me a slight nod of something that looked like understanding as she paused.  When she spoke, I realized that she didn’t get it at all: “What if I got you part-time work at the bookstore?”
*     *     *
A few days later, I waited in the kitchen for the weekend brunch rush to pick up.  Among the kitchen staff, a food runner, and another server, the subject of my profession somehow came up.  True to form, it took about thirty seconds before they were all entertaining the thought of me, headstrong and goofy, shushing the masses in a dusty room full of books:
“Y’all won’t be shushing anyone.  You’ll be screaming at them to shut up!”
“Who needs books anyway?  They have these things called computers, ya know.”
“Do you wear contacts?  You’re gonna have to get yourself a big ol’ pair of glasses to push up your nose.”
After they squeezed in all of their good-natured jests, I looked around at my co-workers and asked, “When was the last time any of you even set foot in a library?”  Just as I’d suspected, none of them could recall visiting a library in the past year.
I realize that I am officially out of library school, and not yet hooked up to the Internet at my new place, and thus completely out of contact with all of my librarian buddies.  This is the best justification I can provide for my recent encounters relating to libraries: people just don’t seem to get what it is that a librarian does.  If people don’t understand who librarians are, they’ll likely think I’m crazy for devoting years of my life to being one… and imagine what they think when I get so excited about it!
I’m not offended that my co-workers think that I’m crazy; rather, it frustrates me that they have no idea what it is that libraries (and devoted staff) are good for.  When I encounter this, I take a moment to correct their perceptions and explain why I was born to be a librarian:
  • I’m good at solving problems, and I dig it.  As a librarian, I get to help other people solve their problems.  Loving what I do and helping people = awesome.
  • Libraries are not big, quiet vaults for storing ancient parchment and musty hardcovers.  Sure, there’s probably a section of archives around the building somewhere, but modern libraries are technological workstations, social outposts, collaborative environments, gaming centers, and, of course, a resource for information that’s infinitely more reliable than big internet search engines.
  • I’ve said this before, so I’ll say it again, verbatim:
    I know about a hundred future librarians who are working every day to shatter your preconceived notions of what librarianship is.  We’re not cardigan-wearing, pencil-in-the-hair, shushing types.  We are activists, fun-loving teachers, and technological whizzes who just happen to have an insatiable thirst for information and want to share that thirst with everyone – even though I’ve been known to wear a cardigan and put writing utensils in my hair.
  • No matter how radical I sound to you, I am not a pioneer of my field.  I love librarianship because it’s filled with smart, forward-thinking people who are moving the earth, one library service at a time.  Just today, in fact, I encountered several fabulous libraries/librarians who are doing delightfully cool things:
    School libraries who encourage cell phone use (courtesy of Rebecca, my classmate/hero)
    Libraries as cultural centers (thanks to James for this one)
    Library day in the life (some of the interesting projects that my clasmate/hero Erin gets paid to work on)
  • Unlimited access to free books!  There, I said it.  But being a librarian also grants me access to movies, new tech gadgets, social activities, cutting-edge computer programs, and a quiet study corner (should the need arise).  Oh, wait. I don’t need to be a librarian to get all of that stuff for free.  Anyone can take advantage of all that… imagine such a place!

I know that most of what I’ve just said is not new or original.  Aside from the personal anecdotes – and no one is reading for those! – everything in this post is reiterating someone else.  Who is paraphrasing someone else.  Who read it somewhere else.  It might sound like a game of telephone, but the message remains intact: if you’re one of the masses who assumes that I spent a semester honing my shushing, stop by a library and see what you’ve been missing.

If you’re not sick of hearing me go on about this, here’s the link to my library school f.a.q., which I wrote last year.  It has more about the MLIS program experience, and a little bit about librarianship as a career.


  1. Erin

    Aw thanks for the shout out Karen! This is a great post as usual 🙂 Let me know what’s up in NC and if there’s anything I can do – hope the job search is coming along

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