I’m coming in under the wire with a late entry.
For the last round of Library Day in the Life, I wrote about being a cataloger. While cataloging is a perfectly respectable thing to write about (and what I do most of the day), writing about it doesn’t exactly advance the cause of libraries.
For this round, I turned to the people with the real stories. I asked the directors from each of the member libraries in our federated system to tell me in their own words what they would most want readers to know about a day in the life of their libraries. All libraries have stories. And I believe it is these stories that breathe life into the building known as the public library. We, as librarians and library workers man the decks, but it is the people inhabiting our space that sets the ship to sail.
So, without further ado, here is what I received. Not everyone participated, but many thanks to those who did. I most certainly could not have said it better myself.
Deb Drury, Director, Elizabethtown Public Library
I entered the Library through the Coffee Company, yes, Elizabethtown Public Library in PA has a full-service, roasted onsite specialty coffee shop. There was a small gathering of people drinking beverages and sharing cookies while perusing magazines and chatting. Another person was waiting on her order and let me know that she, too, is a Hershey Bears fan. A pair of business women were scoping out the magazine and newspaper collection. I walked into the main Library and saw two gentlemen working on their computers. One was in one of the “comfy” chairs and the other had his materials sprawled across one of the tables by the windows. As I walked past the shelves there were a few different people browsing the collection. Three or four people were using the public computers and one had someone helping them navigate what sounded like an employment site. There was a lady checking out the Friends of the Library Bookstore. Some ladies were setting up in the turret room for a card stamping class. One team member was checking out materials to a client while another answered questions about passports on the phone. A volunteer was getting ready to shelve books.
I grabbed my mail and headed up the steps. A volunteer was outside scraping leaves from the sidewalk by the entrance (it looks much better now) and I passed a little boy holding on to the railing and counting the steps as he came down past me. When I entered the second floor I saw a flurry of parents and kids getting situated in the upstairs turret room for their weekly program. I’m guessing an older sibling was playing one of the computer games and a Dad was paging through a small book while his young child played in the “kitchen.” As I walked toward my office someone was meeting with a volunteer in the passport office and the team member at the Youth Services desk was answering questions. There was someone browsing in the Young Adult room and a teen volunteer working on that computer. Near the windows a tutor was helping someone learn to read.
Even though I know I missed something – this is a lot. It took me less than ten minutes to move from the Coffee Company to my office door and this is what was going on. The Library is a happening place.
Ed Miller, Special Services Manager, Library System of Lancaster County
My bookmobile “day” starts with a glance at the morning obituaries while eating breakfast. Since a large number of our customers are advanced in age and suffer health issues, we often do note their passing. We get up close and personal with our “customers” and become friends, even if we only see them once a month. For the 95 year old with vision impairments or mobility issues, the 8 or 10 books we select for her each month are anticipated and received eagerly, like birthday presents. When I get to know someone in this way, their reading tastes, their current interests, their trials and tribulations, I feel their loss. I like to find the time to send a card or sign the online guest book set up by the funeral home.
Part of the thrill of bookmobiling is the variety each day brings. Today, we read to 120 three and four-year olds at a Head Start Center. Tomorrow, we visit an Amish school house, a home for the developmentally challenged, a retirement community and a low-income housing project. Next week we see English language learners and GED students. I like the look of surprise on someone’s face when I provide them with something they need or want, which is pretty frequently. I like the fact that Johnny showed up for GED class last month just because it was bookmobile day. Johnny is surprised to find things relevant to his learning, but maybe he shouldn’t be. After he leaves, his teacher tells me what they will be working on in class for the next month. This level of collaboration is what we strive for.
My toughest customers by far and away are teenagers. Most of the teens we see are at alternative schools and other settings where kids are struggling in one or more aspects of their lives. In most cases, I get one chance to hook a kid. If I can’t put a book in their hands today that catches their interest, or some way make a connection with that kid, they won’t be back. Sometimes, too often, I fail. The one on one impromptu book talk is something a librarian working with teens needs to be able to do and do well. It isn’t just about knowing books but about convincing the person you really are interested in them.
Penny Talbert, Executive Director, Ephrata Public Library
I like to get to work before the sun comes up, partly because I get a lot more done without people in the building and partly because I love maneuvering up the unnecessarily long driveway that leads to the building with the word “LIBRARY” backlit and glowing. I like to sit in my office in the dark, staring into my laptop and moving papers from the “to-do” pile to the “done” pile. Most days, I get very little paperwork done after the doors open because I walk around the building like it’s a construction site, which it hasn’t been for 20 years. I pick up stuffed animals and rearrange them; I check to make sure there’s no new graffiti in the bathroom, I talk to the staff and the patrons, and I go to way too many meetings. My assistant, who we’ve stuffed into the corner of my office, is a documentary filmmaker and she’s constantly telling me that my office would make a wonderful documentary. We can be in an intense meeting about relocating an entire collection and the next minute there’s a patron, claiming there’s a chicken in a tree outside. (We caught the chicken, which was really a rooster. He’s taken up residence with my parents.) Last week the local newspaper editor stopped by and we talked for an hour about all the amazing stuff the library is doing. In the span of 6 seconds I went from that meeting to scheduling an appearance by American Idol heart throb, Bo Bice.
I keep a piece of paper on the wall with a list of the things our Reference Librarian “doesn’t know.” This week we added “how to fold a shirt.” The entire list includes: steam punk; Sylvia Plath; Banksy; and the definition of Jesus. In over a year, these were the only topics that he couldn’t fully explain. Sometimes in the lull of a conversation, he’ll quiz us with random facts. His favorite is yelling out, “What are the four Commonwealths in the United States?” We’ll scurry to quickly spit them out. (Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Virginia!)
It’s almost like the library has become everyone’s living room. They come here to lounge around and read, to have good conversation with a friend, to see a movie or to sit and work on their laptop snacking on take out pizza. We’re not a particularly small community, but it still seems like everyone knows, or knows of, everyone else.
I am a believer in Kathleen de la Péna McCook’s idea of a librarian at every table. As librarians, we have a unique charge of representing our patrons to each other…without bias. And every single person is our patron. I don’t care what anyone says – that’s a great responsibility. In exchange for our hard work, we work in everyone’s living room. We get to participate in the lives of the community in a way that affects them directly. This is what I take home with me each night, driving down the unnecessarily long driveway. Today, people in that building, came for help and received it – without an opinion, without judgment, but because that’s what libraries do.