A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

More Than Just A Page

by on January 30, 2018

A customer calls on the phone to ask if her requested items have arrived yet. I ask for her name and place her on hold. A brisk walk over to the far wall, slip down to the ‘P’s and there is Mrs. Peterson’s books. Exactly where they should be! I’m able to do my job well because our library pages do their job well. So why do I still hear my coworkers saying, “Oh, I’m just a Page”?

Books go missing for a variety of reasons. Take for example the Kansas City Public Library’s top missing books which include the Bible, books on witchcraft, any books in the Harry Potter or Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and the Art of War by Sun Tzu. Certainly not a surprise as these would commonly be missing in many public libraries. However, sometimes when items are mis-shelved they can appear missing despite the fact they are right there in our libraries waiting for someone to find them. The item may sit for days, weeks, even years until a staff member stumbles upon it during weeding or a customer checks it out giving the item another chance to find its proper home upon return.

A more ominous scenario occurs during a booknapping. You know, when the patron finds a book they don’t want to check out but they want to continue reading it. They’ll stash it just about anywhere where only they have exclusive access to it. The titles run the gamut and you know it when you see it. “What is a copy of ‘You Fill in the blank’ doing there?”

So however a book goes missing in our libraries there is one person who is key to recovering the item so it is findable once again. Enter the essential library page. Just imagine being a page at the Faye G. Allen Children’s Center at the Seattle Public Library. This 15,000-square-foot children’s area includes 80,000 items. Sure, items are not always going to find their way back to the shelf. It’s going to happen. Even a well-intended customer could unintentionally mis-shelve the item.

In addition to the importance of the duties of the library page, the position is an on-ramp into the field of librarianship. I have fond memories of toiling over every spine and wanting to thumb through various sections of Dewey’s nonfiction or reading every headline when organizing newspapers. My supervisor wasn’t thrilled with my productivity, but everything looked so interesting! I fell in love with libraries as a page and went on to earn my MLIS degree.

We should ensure our pages understand how the library works and that their role is equally important just as every other position in the library. Ensure other staff know it, too. Typically a page is part-time with limited hours so when they cannot attend staff meetings make certain they are included in some way.

Because their work is often behind the scenes or in the stacks other library staff may not see them, but customers sure do. Pages might be the most visible staff in your library. We know that a customer’s perception is that anyone who works in the library is a librarian. So, when customers approach the page, their typical response is, “Oh, I’m just a page. You’ll need to go to the desk and ask a librarian.” Rather than minimize their role suggest they respond, “Sounds like you need a librarian, let’s go find one.”

Pages perform the most fundamental task of what we do at libraries –organize items into their proper sequence. If items are not in the right place, guess what? Yep, searchers are not going to find what they are looking for and browsers may not discover their next new read. When customers do not find what they want we have a service failure. With the weight of this on their shoulders, why do we still hear our coworkers say, “Well, I’m just a page.” How often do you remember hearing yourself say that and now you hear it from others? I’ve developed a great response and it goes something like this: “Sure, like a page in a book. And the library would be nothing without pages!”

Let’s take time to elevate library pages by sharing with them the importance of their work and how their success at their job is directly tied to the patron experience. When a page does their job well it allows all library workers to provide excellent customer service. Their attention to detail, approachability in the stacks, ability to follow directions and efficiency in their tasks is closely aligned with library staff and customer satisfaction.

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