It’s deceiving, the library world. After a recent tour of my public library, an individual stated, “I had no idea how much work you guys do.”
If I’ve written about this before, sorry, it needs to be stated again: materials don’t just magically appear on the shelves. I have a staff of 9 people whose job is to buy, catalog, prepare and process materials for a library that circulates over a million items each year. At least 3 (sometimes 4) people have touched that book the patron pulls off the shelf. This doesn’t even address the many hands (and a truck) for items we don’t own and must acquire from a member of our resource-sharing consortium into the patron’s hands.
We are always looking for ways to make processing easier. Whether it is standardizing and streamlining processing procedures, migrating to a new ILS, or floating items to a branch, the goal is to get the patron what they want as soon as possible, while still upholding discovering and accessibility standards in the catalog. Sometimes the changes are apparent, sometimes the public doesn’t even know.
Sometimes we need to break with the past, which I have learned isn’t as easy as I would hope. Often, my lets-see-what-happens-attitude is mitigated by one of my staff asking questions or a manager indicating a concern. Indeed, a colleague is fond of saying, “This is a big ship to turn.” This concept has helped me be more thoughtful and deliberate, and it stops me from making hasty decisions. There comes a time, however, when we need to pull the trigger on a change. Staff may not be happy. Patrons may be confused, at least in the short term. With a little hand holding and clear communication, we help them through.
The mystery of the library world isn’t really a mystery. The mystery is that being a librarian and working in a library takes work. Our work may not be visible and you may not see us (you probably never see my staff), but we do work; we are the engine that drives us. Tax payers aren’t wasting their money because someone needs to get materials on the shelf.
So, when I heard the comment, “I had no ideas how much work you guys do,” I was proud. We do work hard and everyone should know.