A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Some Advice from the Trenches

by on March 15, 2013

I entered library land as a second career. I was already over-educated and had held a professional career for a number of years. Still, taking a leap of faith, I returned to school one more time, to pursue an MLS degree.  Having so much educational experience, I tried to take course work that offered information I was the least familiar with.  Despite all of this experience and learning, there are a few things I was unprepared for  in the library world.  Based on my own experience, here are some practical tips:

1.  If you find a sympathy card you like, buy all that are available. We all know that death and taxes are inevitable, but as we commence our everyday lives this is not something we think about.  However, in a public library the truth is we serve a lot of seniors.  We also serve a lot of relatives of seniors.  The combination has meant that I have sent out more sympathy cards than I care to count. This is also something that is surprisingly difficult.  I don’t want a card that is religious.  I don’t want a card that is too personal.  At the same time, I do want a card that is sympathetic and sincere.  Finding such a card is not easy, finding such a card every few months as some times is necessary, even more difficult.

2.  Always keep a supply of rubber gloves on hand. The amount of ick that I have encountered since entering library land is stunning.  I will spare you the grossest details, and offer some less disgusting reasons for this advice:  fixing the toilet, the greasy underside of the office chair, computer toner.  This leads to the third piece of advice.

3.  Always have stain remover on hand.

4.  Disregard any direct knowledge or experience you have from your past and before suggesting ANYTHING to your board or manager, know who else in Library Land is  doing it and exactly what  they are doing. This has perhaps been my most frustrating element in working in libraries and one that I have not encountered in other venues.   It has been my consistent experience that no matter what the idea, be if for a program, a process, a policy or procedure, the first question asked by the decision maker is:  who else is doing this? What are they doing?  There is a strong trend to know what others are doing, even when the response is, no one, the information had to be researched.

And last but not least….

5. You will spend time reinventing the wheel, go with it. Often the turnover of a library board or other governing body occurs annually Due to this, the library administrator and and library employees spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel. Things ‘looked into’ or investigated in one year are likely to be asked to be evaluated again the next or a few years later. Issues that you thought resolved and ready to proceed with, suddenly end up at the starting block again.  The best thing one can do is understand this is happening and go with it. Some things can be anticipated and presented on before the process comes full circle, but always be prepared. This rerun is an inevitability.