Bookish Musings | A Day in the Life of A Library Worker

Posted By Kate | 8 comments

It must be so nice to get to work in a library where you can just relax in the quiet and read all day.

Over the past 6 years, I have been frequently asked what it’s like to work in a library. Mostly I get asked if it’s literally the most peaceful job ever because libraries are so chill and quiet all the time. And I get lots of jokes about shushing people. I mean, I have shushed people, but not very often.

Here’s a snapshot of what my day at the library actually looks like:

12 pm Head to the reference desk. The day is already in full swing, so I need to be ready to jump right in. Lots of patrons can’t tell any of us apart, so they may start talking to me as if I know what the last person was helping them with. I had to learn pretty quickly not to panic, and how to gently let them know that I have no idea what they are talking about…but that I can still help them!

12:05-12:30 Try to get through emails. These pile up like crazy, especially for a part-time employee. I subscribe to a lot of mailing lists for library resources and webinars, so those take a while to sort through and pick out the good stuff. The rest is communication from coworkers and supervisors, plus messages from Administration.

12:10 Get “interrupted” by someone who needs help finding a book (or DVD, newspaper, CD, database, the bathroom, or their husband, who is lost in the stacks. I look for a lot of stuff.) I don’t like saying interrupted because I really am there to help patrons, so when they come looking for help, they are my priority. It’s just the only way to describe the stops and starts in our behind-the-scenes work. Looking for items usually means running back and forth and up and down, usually while the phone is ringing with another patron needing help. Whatever I’m looking for could be on a shelf or on display, it might still be in the sorting room, or might’ve been stolen by a studious rodent who is hiding it in a place you’ll never find. There’s a lot of ground to cover. (Disclaimer: kidding about rodents, they can’t even read. Yet.)

12:30-1:30 Work on upcoming programs. I’m a Teen Library Associate, so all of my programs are teen-oriented, which is one of the reasons I love my job. Our department definitely has the most fun. (Last week, the teens and I dumped several gallons of lime Jell-O slime through a hole in the ceiling, onto one of my coworkers. It was awesome.) Planning programs includes finding presenters, checking event calendars, making sure rooms are booked, supply lists are made, Facebook posts and Tweets are lined up, and generally making sure anything else that needs to happen is either done or on it’s way to being done.

(12:30-3:30) Answer the phone approximately 1,000 times. During this time, I will: look up phone numbers (including but not limited to Hillary Clinton’s personal contact number. The library apparently has ALL the info) track down more books, try to translate romantic phrases into French, reset passwords for online library accounts, find directions between one random town and another, determine the appropriate amount of time to cook a turkey, and handle lots of other requests. If the question exists, I have tried to answer it over the phone. (Have I mentioned that I love this job?)

1:30-2:30 Work on tasks for performance development plan. This includes things like watching webinars to improve on Readers’ Advisory (aka helping you choose rad books) and keeping up-to-date on any tech skills I need. I’m also involved with several teams and special projects, so I’ll work on that stuff, too.

2:30-2:45 Break time; either reading or staring out the window, trying to conserve brain power.

3:00 School lets out for the day. Kids stream in. Hell breaks loose. (Just kidding.) (Sort of). After school we always have some kind of activity going like Wii gaming, scavenger hunts, or puzzles/board games.

4:00-5:00 Dinner Break. More reading, or some library school homework.

5:00-8:30 Repeat first half of day, plus mediating arguments between teens, breaking up rounds of hide and seek and/or making out in the stacks, helping with computer issues, finding teens books for their homework assignments, fielding complaints from adults about teens (where I often annoy adults by siding with teens who are usually behaving in a totally acceptable manner.)

8:30 pm Go home mentally and physically exhausted, but feelin’ smug about how many lives I enriched today.

Working in a library is really one of the weirdest, coolest, most interesting jobs on the planet.

It’s also one of the most challenging, and (I think) underappreciated fields out there. So be a good human and support your local libraries and library workers, because we are here to help you. Especially when you want to find out exactly how long to cook your turkey.


    • Thank you! It’s so awesome to feel that appreciation from patrons, whether they are patrons of my library or another!

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  1. I love this, and I love libraries and librarians. I, too, have to sometimes remind myself how much I love my job when I get interrupted by students or co-workers or whoever else needs attention (but especially when answering student emails).

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    • Thanks! Library life isn’t always easy, but it’s always a fun challenge! Plus, how many other jobs are there where you get permission to dump Jell-o slime onto a coworker?

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  2. Thanks for sharing! I’ve been thinking about going back to school for library science, I’d be interested in hearing more about how you got into it.

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    • That’s so exciting! As for how I got into it, I started as a shelver at my local library about a year after graduating from college. From there I accepted a part-time position in the Teen department in the same library. After a few years I decided I was really interested in supervising, which generally will require an MLIS. So I went back to library school and am about halfway through. Are you working in a library yet, or just mulling over going back to school?

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    • Thanks! You are spot on – it is really a ton of fun, and there is so much going on behind the scenes that people aren’t really aware of. Thanks for reading!

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