Ah, National Library Week. It's one of my favorite celebrations. The best part of the week is always National Library Workers Day. It was yesterday, April 13, 2010, but I celebrate it at my library every day.
Libraries are enormous and complicated systems to run. It would be impossible to have a library if not for all the amazing people that work so hard. Some of them you might see regularly, such as librarians or people at the circulation desk, but there are so many unsung people you may not even know about. Here are a few I'd like to highlight. All of these positions exist in my library system and I'm sure they do in yours as well. At smaller libraries, there might be one or two people who play several of these roles.
Let's take a walk around the library and meet some of them. We've got to start with the custodians. I can't begin to tell you what a valuable part of the team they are, particularly in the children's section. They take care of all kinds of spills and accidents that happen all day long and they also set up for various events. There's the security people who keep the library safe for children and everyone else. And the facility managers and repairmen who make sure that everything is in working order and up to code.
Let's go in the back room and say hi to all those great people who work in circulation. You only see them when they're at the circulation desk, dealing tirelessly with a variety of issues and patron complaints and keeping numerous policies straight in their heads. But they're not done when they're off the desk. They also spend quite a bit of time checking in returned books and processing holds and transfers.
Wave hello to the shelvers as they sort and place in order all the books, DVDs, CDs, and everything else on their carts. Then they'll go shelve them... something that takes a surprising amount of time, particularly with thin picture books. This picture of a shelver is from the Abilene Public Library.
Stop by and meet the branch manager. This is the person responsible for everything happening in their branch including budgets, schedules and fire alarms. They're who the staff call if there's ever a major (or minor) problem. At smaller branches, these folks also do circulation, shelving, reference and everything else.
Here are the people who deal with interlibrary loan. They get books and other materials from all around the country for you, usually for free or at a low cost. You'll also see lots of green boxes back here for audio books for the blind and physically disabled. This picture is from the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library in downtown Seattle. Did you know that many libraries also provide service to home bound patrons?
As long as we're back here, do you see that enormous bookcase full of DVD and CD cases, with each one missing a disk? Be sure to thank the folks who handle the audiovisual problems and match up the hundreds of disks returned with their empty cases, so that the material is still available for the rest of the patrons to use.
Hey, look at all the brand new books on the shelves! They didn't appear there by magic. Let's walk over to the technical services department, which is usually at a library's central branch. Don't interrupt the selectors, they're incredibly busy reading reviews and new books. As they purchase, they are trying to make a balanced and current collection for the library and to stretch every dollar of the materials budget. Often there are only one of two selectors for the entire library system.
Look at all those boxes of new books. Someone has to unpack them, pay the invoices and report problems and damaged books. The catalogers and book processors are over here too. They make sure that every book has correct labels, stickers and an accurate catalog record.... an extremely time consuming job. Then the books have to be sent to each individual branch.
Step onto the loading dock. Here's the driver who visits every single branch, every day and brings new books and holds. They also pick up and return all the books returned to branches other than the ones they were borrowed from. (The drivers in this picture are from the Metropolitan Library System).
Also, back here, there's a spot where books get repaired so that the library can hang onto each book as long as possible. The irreparable books that have fallen apart are being replaced constantly so that the materials can be made available to more patrons.
Let's go upstairs and say hello to some more unsung heroes. Here we can find the people who answer the phone, order the supplies, pay the bills and keep the library humming. Thank the tech support department, who work tirelessly fixing endless computer problems and keeping the website current. Did you attend a good program at the library recently? Thank the person who put all the effort into coordinating and planning it. Odds are that you heard about the program because of the work of the publicity department. They find ways to advertise everything happening at the library, in a variety of different ways including Facebook, Twitter, blogs and press releases. The human resources, training, and budget departments are also invaluable pieces in the puzzle. Here's the library system's director... the person who has to make tough budget and management decisions and who works with the community and elected officials to advocate for the library.
Let's walk out to the reference desk. Here we can meet the people (librarians, library assistants, library associates and substitutes) who answer every kind of question you can possibly imagine. Listen in for a minute: "Where's the bathroom?", "Where's the nearest store that sells a particular product?", "I have a problem with my water bill. Who do I call?", "What book would who recommend for a second grader who reads on a fifth grade level and likes fantasy?", "What's a good, new mystery novel?", "I recently got diagnosed with an illness. Can you help me find everything there is to know about it?", "I just invented something. What do I do next?", "I need a county map from 1850", "Can you give me a list of local daycares?", "Which tax form do I use?", "What's the name of that new blockbuster movie that came out last week? Can I put the DVD on hold?"
Lots of public libaries have archives and goverment records. Take a look at the work room where the archivists preserve and take care of all the original documents, maps and pictures. Do you see all the storage? There are lots of documents back here that don't fit on the shelves.
Don't forget to thank a friend... the Friends of the Library. These tireless volunteers sort used books for book sales and help with shelving and circulation and much more. They also do various fundraisers... and every penny goes back to the library. This money helps provide all kind of programming such as summer reading and author visits that wouldn't be a possibility otherwise.
Our tour could go on forever, you would be amazed at how many people it takes to run a library. We only met a few of them today. The next time you're at a library, take a moment to thank these folks. Even if you don't run into them, realize how much work it takes to get each book on the shelf, every day.
And then, tell someone about it. Let the branch manager or library director know. Let your elected officials know. In these troubled economic times, virtually every library system in the country is facing reduced hours, major budget reductions, staff layoffs and branch closures. If your library is important to you, speak up to the people who can do something about it.
Thank you to every single person at the Arlington Public Libraries. I am in awe of the work all of you do everyday. Without you, there would be no library.
Is there someone at your library that stands out? Do you work at a library? What do you do? I'd love to hear all about it.