Saturday, October 01, 2005

So why libraries?

I took part in summer reading programs and library programs since I was little. In sixth grade I was too old to be in those programs but my mom found out the children's librarian had a program for older kids. We would meet after school at the library and do a number of projects. Sometimes we'd clean books, or pull book collections, or write puppet shows for the children's program. Kathy also taught us about the reference section and what information we could find there. After an hour or so, we all went up to the staff room and had snacks while Kathy read a book from the young adult section.

When I got to be a freshman or so in high school I realized I was a bit too old for this now - now that there were fifth and sixth graders in the group. But I didn't want to leave the library. I asked if I could be a volunteer for the library. So for the next few years I worked for Kathy. Kathy ordered all the books for the children's collection. She circled the ones she wanted in the catalogs and I filled out all the forms by hand. I did a lot of filing and copying and put together welcome packs about the library for new moms. Once they even let me go into the library database and delete records of patrons who hadn't used the library in a long time. That was one of my first experiences with a computer.

I was a teacher assistant for the high school librarian when I was a junior and senior. There I checked in all the new magazines and helped process new books. While I worked there we converted from a card catalog system to barcode system. I cleaned almost every book in the library, stuck on barcodes, and read them into the new system. This of course generated some rumors about me in the library with alcohol. =)

I was accepted to George Fox University and I had been told that a library job was hard to come by, but one of the best. (Who knows if that's true - but I really didn't want to be scrubbing toilets or raking leaves!) I got a library job working in the Interlibrary Loan department. I spent the next four years learning the ins and outs of ILL. It was a lot of standing at a copy machine making copies of articles. That is one thing I certainly don't miss! One thing I do remember was some of the weird requests we'd get. A form would come in and some library somewhere was looking for some obscure article. They weren't sure of the author, title, date, and/or volume, etc. I lived for these! I would sometimes hide them so no one else could get to them before me. I didn't know as much then about searching databases for information so often it was flipping through indexes to find the article. Ah, the thrill of the hunt.

I also got to encourage friends to use the library. Some of them had weird ideas about the library, or were scared to use them. I was always trying to 'demystify' the library for them and take them on tours. I didn't see any reason to be afraid of the library or the staff (okay, so there were one or two people to be afraid of... =)

One summer break I volunteered at the Salem Public Library. I worked in technical services I believe. I ordered books again, but this time it was on the computer! So much easier! I checked all the books when they came in against what I'd ordered and sent them on their way to be processed. And again, lots of filing. That's all I remember from that job.

When I came up to Seattle several years ago I got a job in a local business library, what they call a 'special library' in the library world. There is just my boss and I. She does the research and I do everything else. I pay bills, order books, process books, check items in and out, do interlibrary loan, send overdues, check in and route journals, shelve items, send TOCs and maintain the look of the library. I've also been handed responsibility for our organization's facilities directory, fax directory, and committees pages, as well as keeping our own library intranet site up to date. My boss calls me the glue that holds the library together, and I guess that's true. =)

Some days are hard and I wonder what I'm doing. But more often I love my work, it's ever changing and sometimes challenging. One story I remember in particular.

A woman from another department contacted me and said they were looking for a certain book they needed right away. It was one of those medical resources that puts out a new edition every year. Many libraries don't update these often, or they buy the new one and toss out the old one. I got to work with my contacts and found there was a library here in Seattle that had the right edition. I called them up and they were willing to lend the book. I took a bus over and picked up the book. The woman was amazed! She had called everywhere, including the publisher, tried everything she could think of to no avail. I had the book in hand within a few hours. Not to toot my own horn, but it was a good feeling to track that down for her. She requests a lot of stuff now and I have to say I don't always find what she needs, and not always so quickly. That was definitely a rare situation. But she has been very grateful. After that incident I got a box of chocolates! Each year she sends me a nice basket of flowers.

Hey, if you use the library often - show some appreciation to your librarian!!! I do what I do no matter what, but that appreciation sure is a bonus.

So there you have it. I've worked in a small county library, high school library, university library, state public library, and business library.

Why do I continue? I enjoy helping people find information. I also really like the atmosphere and the people I've worked with over the years. Librarians are some of the most fascinating people. I see a lot of potential with libraries as community places.

What sort of library am I interested in? That will have to wait for next time...

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