Today marks my last day working as a Reference Librarian. Monday will find me full-time in the library’s Programming department, where I am excited to learn new skills, interact with new coworkers, and have new experiences.
But before I leave Reference, I just want to write this list:
TEN THINGS I LOVED ABOUT REFERENCE LIBRARIANSHIP
- Talking to patrons about books. In more than 14 years, I never got over the thrill of a stranger asking me for a book recommendation and the feeling of helping them find just the right thing. Over the years I have had so many great conversations about books, literature, genres, poetry, the publishing industry, ebooks vs. print books, audiobook narrators, recipe books, self-help books, graphic novels. How books can change your life. If it’s OK to not finish a books. The book that made me want to throw it across the room. What kinds of books teenagers should read. Why books aren’t rated and why I don’t think that should change. Recently, book banning and censorship. Someone’s favorite book from the third grade. That I got paid to talk to people about books is just astounding.
- Seeing people’s reaction to the library’s art. We have an amazing collection and people respond to it. My favorite is a sculpture called “Incoming.” Some children are terrified of it,
some find it fascinating. Some just giggle because he’s naked. Children’s responses were my favorite, but I also loved talking to adults about it. Often they would say “Oh, it’s The Thinker!” No, we definitely don’t have a Rodin in our library. This piece is about war and it is a companion of mine. I do tell it hello most days I’m in the library.
- A patron who loves poetry as much as I do, or one who WANTS to learn about it. A patron who discovered Margaret Atwood because of The Handmaid’s Tale and wonders if I could tell her what to read next. One who hopes we might have quilting books? Someone in awesome Dr. Martens who notices my flower ones and then we spend twenty minutes talking about boots. Someone who just happens to ask me (I don’t work in media for a reason!) if the library has an alternative music CDs. These very personal connections are the best.
- Library stories. I’ve shared a bunch on my Facebook feed over the years. My favorite might be the time a little girl came into the fiction section, took a big, appreciative sniff, spun around in her dress, and said “Oh I LOVE the liberry. It is my very favorite berry.” (The child who warned her brother that librarians in basements are actually witches is another good one.) Not every shift had a story but a lot of them did and I loved getting to experience them.
- Favorite patrons. I don’t know if there’s a rule somewhere that states you can’t have favorite patrons, but I don’t care. I do. I got to see one of my favorites, a patron who is in her 80s but seems more like early 60s, always put together and very intelligent about books, this week. She’d been ill with COVID and I was so happy to see her back again. I think other, more loquacious and outgoing librarians than me have a bigger fan base, but I have six or seven patrons who I’ve developed a lovely library friendship with.
- Developing our library’s book group collection. This was something I inherited pretty quickly after I started working here. First I just managed the reservations and then I started doing the collection development (meaning I decided which books to buy). This assignment worked with my strengths so closely. It gave me an opportunity to interact with patrons in other ways (many of my favorite patrons are book group users), to use my writing skills (I also created the discussion guides), and to look at books from a unique perspective. I fought really hard to be allowed to keep this collection when I switched departments but I lost that battle, and I’m still very upset about it.
- Walking with books. This might seem silly. But I loved that I got to just walk up and down shelves loaded with books. To be among books. Surrounded by them. Reading isn’t just sort of a little hobby I have. It’s integral to my very identity, and so I don’t love books just as mechanisms for getting to a story, but for the books themselves. The covers, the smell, the heft, the type. The spines all lined up on a shelf.
- Quiet shifts at the desk. People always say “Oh, you work at the library! It must be so peaceful there.” Truth is, it is often the very opposite of peaceful. I have had patrons scream at me, tell me I’m stupid and worthless, shout across the floor to get my attention. Couples have arguments in the stacks, people talk loudly on their cell phones. They cough and sneeze, snore and, yes, fart. (I pretend not to notice.) Often there’s a phone ringing and a patron who needs help printing and another one who wants to complain about taxes or inflation or what a disappointment Joe Biden is. (Sorry, you picked the wrong librarian for that conversation.) All at the same time. So my introvert self deeply appreciates the quiet shifts when the library is slow and I can work on whatever projects I had, in peace, surrounded by books.
- A display shelf. This is another thing I will desperately miss, my staff favorites display. This is where I put four or five of my favorite books, making sure to rotate through everything that I loved. Not everyone wants to ask a librarian for recommendations and this was a way to connect with people who didn’t want to talk. I loved that I could influence what people decide to read without ever even talking to them. Since my tastes lean eclectic and unusual, it felt like being a champion for the books that likely wouldn’t get checked out much. A way to kind of pay it forward for my favorite authors and the work they do. Plus, a couple of times patrons in the wild recognized me: “Hey! I know you from your library shelf! I read [insert random title here] because it was on your shelf and I loved it!” (I generally do NOT love being recognized by patrons while not in the library, especially the problematic ones, but that interaction is OK.)
- “Always put the most important thing last” is a basic tenant of good writing, so this one is number ten: My coworkers. Not all of them have been my friend or mentor, but the majority of them have. There is just something about working with book people when you, yourself, are a book person. I mean. Two librarians talking about books together? It can get gloriously intensely booknerdy. Plus, when you love books you look at the world in a different light. Many of my coworkers have been, to borrow Anne Shirley’s words, kindred spirits. They were the best part of a job that held a lot of goodness.
Here’s to the ending of one chapter and the start of another in my career as a librarian!