It took me a FEW years in a public library to acknowledge that I had entered a career and wasn’t just doing a job. It was a long time ago. I had finished college with an AB and what we called a “gut” major in history. I applied for and won a job in the small Reading Public Library, MA. Despite my lack of credentials, I was given the title of Youth/Reference Librarian. Relieved to be employed, I started to learn what a public library does, or did in those predigital times.
Pretty quickly I began to love the work, especially the gang of tweens and teens who invaded the place after school each weekday.
Before I was hired, the other staff would tolerate the chaos and noise until they simply couldn’t stand it, or some older patron complained. Then they would call the local police to quiet and/or clear out the adolescents. Much as I disliked that procedure, it took me a while to come up with a better solution. That was when I realized that I had embarked upon a career. I studied young adults—their characteristics, fears, problems, and literature—at the School of Library Science at Simmons College, Boston, under Jane Manthorne, a deeply committed YA librarian from the Boston Public Library.
I began to develop relationships with those local kids. I learned about their interests, fears, and lives and, equally important, remembered their names.
Soon, despite the intense dislike of the adolescents by most of the staff, I was able to deal with those youth, even befriend many of them, and do it without the help of the cops.
In the process, I met other librarians who not only disliked teens but actually found most library users to be an annoyance. About half of our staff were that kind of burnt-out case, but the other half loved serving users and found ways to make the library and its resources more valuable to them.
Some of my colleagues even grew to love the kids who disrupted the peace of that little library every afternoon.
I wanted to grow in the library field, and I did, finding fulfillment with each new step in that process. Still, along the way, I noticed that many library staff viewed their responsibilities as simply a job, often an onerous one, because they had to serve whoever showed up at the library, even the kids and other problem patrons.
In some libraries, these disgruntled staff were such a strong influence that they destroyed morale and often drove career librarians away from the profession.
Back then, most library staff, especially those with the MLS, truly viewed their work as a career—some even considered it a calling.
I know librarianship isn’t sacred, and it certainly isn’t a religion, but there was no greater joy in those days than when I finally discovered I had found a profession. Sure, it was frequently unpleasant and difficult work. But just as frequently, it delivered the rewarding fulfillment that convinced me that I was lucky to be a librarian and have a library career.
Current economic conditions faced by so many new librarians trying to get hired may make this hindsight seem unrealistic. Still, to librarians just starting out, don’t be put off or discouraged by the disrespect that you and your young and older patrons face from a few colleagues, the ones who constantly complain about the people they serve and the institution that employs them. If it gets too bad, keep looking for a new spot until you discover, as I did, that you have a rewarding career, not just a job.