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Monday, June 04, 2018

Who Wants To Be A Librarian? And Why?

So, there was this discussion on Twitter about why you would go into librarianship. Someone started it with this well known trope that “if you want to go into librarianship because you ‘love reading’ I suggest another line of work’.” It was tweeted by a non librarian, of course, one of those who think they know all about it. As it was a University academic, I suppose that special librarians don’t take books home to enjoy. But that wasn’t what the tweet said. It was that you shouldn’t go into librarianship if it’s because you love reading. Honestly, why else would you do it?

All the librarians chipped in. Some agreed that sitting around reading all day was not what being a librarian was about. Others, the school librarians, felt that the original tweet had missed the entire point. If you are wanting kids to love reading, you have to love it yourself and that means reading the stuff. Not in the library, obviously, with the million things you have to do, but reading.

Here’s the thing. One of the tweeters said that you shouldn’t put it into your application if you wanted to get the job. And that’s right. BUT...

When I was about to do my interview at RMIT for the librarianship course, which was much sought-after and very hard to get into, I was warned against saying I wanted to do the course because I loved books. I should say it was because I wanted to help people. The time came, I went into the office of the man in the librarianship department who got to decide, finally, whether I would be a librarianship student that year. I’d done all the other stuff. It was a long process that ended in the interview if you were close. The question arrived. Why did I want to do this course? I opened my mouth to say what he presumably wanted to hear... and I said, “Are you seriously suggesting that you didn’t do it because you loved books?”

And he grinned and agreed. He said, “Most people say they want to be handmaids to some sort of research.” That, in other words, and probably “because I want to help people” was what he was fed up with hearing, not “because I love books.”.

Reader, I got in. There were five hundred applications and thirty accepted and I got in because I was honest. So much for that trope.

Of course you want to help people! And I love the research - it has been a huge help in my writing. It has been great to be able to help kids learn how to do it. And of course you don’t sit around reading in the library. You grab a book off the shelves and take it home to read.

I think I probably had the best version of the library job, the school library, closely followed by the public library, but even if I was working in a public library I’d want to be the one who organised and ran storytimes. I love the children’s and YA books. I love opening a box of display books and inviting kids in to help choose new stock. I love taking them to writers’ festivals and chatting about them on the way back to school on the train, and getting kids voting for favourites on the YABBA and Inky Awards. I love watching eyes light up when I hand them the next book in a series they’re reading. I love finding that one book that will get a reluctant reader reading. Most of all, I love saying, “Have I got a book for you!” and sharing it.

See? It is about loving books and reading! And sharing that love. 

14 comments:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - your enthusiasm shines through ... now I'd love to be a librarian ... but I can be via the blog in my rather vague way ... that's me. Excellent to see about your confidence in your interview - well done ... and now we have you to refer to for ideas and thoughts - great to read - cheers Hilary

AJ Blythe said...

My father told me I should be a librarian when I was in high school. The trouble was, in primary school the librarian was a mean, gruff man and my friends and I were all terrified of library class each week (and I was already a bookworm who loved books, so that says something). Then in high school the librarian didn't seem to like her job at all - almost like she hated books - so becoming a librarian didn't seem to be a job I wanted to go into. I wish I'd had better role models because I know now I would have loved it.

Helen Hollick said...

I was a library assistant for thirteen years back in the late 60s - 70s. The BEST bit about the job was the books! Access to new ones, access to ones you didn't know existed, access to old favourites, new genres... I didn't enjoy the not particularly nice members of the public! Working in a public library brings you up against some very rude and arrogant people (one remark in particular I've never forgotten: "I pay your wages young lady" - referring to paying council tax. He wasn't too pleased with my answer of 'I live in the Borough as well. I also get paid out of the council tax I pay."
On the plus side most people were lovely - especially the housebound ladies and gents I delivered books to.

The 1960s was also a time of 'us and them' staff. The Bosses were the Bosses, we were the minions. Head Librarian was always 'Mr Smith' (not his real name) not 'Sam'. They had their tea breaks separate from us - OK two of them were outright bullies. As a shy teenager straight from secondary school the whole thing was daunting and actually, I hated the snobbery in that environment ... but gods did I love those books!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hilary - thanks! Yes, I loved what I was doing, and I am already missing those kids and the library. You do, as you say, have access on your blog.

AJ - sounds like you had bad experiences! Strange... I remember my primary school library, but not who was running it, which suggests that it was nobody too dreadful, but also not interesting. It was a beautiful room, with a high ceiling and big windows(but not big enough to heat up the library like a sauna!). The school was built some time in the Victorian era and was made of bluestone, so the rooms were lovely and cool. My high school library was the size of a classroom. In fact, it WAS a classroom last time I visited, and the school had built a library extended from what had been our locker room. We had library classes, but I remember very little of the librarian - the fiction was fine, but I had to go to the State Library to study and research... You do have to wonder why someone would go into a job that involved sharing books with kids if they didn't enjoy it. I'm sorry it put you off.

Helen - reading some of your reminiscences makes me glad I was in a school! Still - even in a school library, you get some unpleasant patrons, and I'm betting your housebound patrons considered your visits a special treat - a weekly visit from the young lady from the local library, bringing goodies!

Sad to hear about the "us" and "them". I've never had that in my school career, ever. We all sat in the same staffroom at the same tables, sharing homemade baked goods and exchanging gifts, and there is a special week annually to appreciate the support staff's work. They get little gifts and there's a morning tea or a lunch to celebrate them. But that was a long time ago.

As a writer, at least you know more now than some others about what libraries do!

Stuart Nager said...

I worked as a "clerk" for three years, two different libraries in the same county. What I loved about it: as mentioned above, access to new books, finding new authors, and books books books. I really enjoyed the patrons who, when I wasn't monitored. The first library frowned upon clerks having an opinion and making a connection with their patrons-no joke. I was reprimanded a number of times for suggesting a book or movie.

What I hated were, as above, the rude, demanding patrons and the head librarians who thought their you-know-what didn't stink. They got their degrees; I knew books and people came to ask me for help. Way too many of them were just not friendly.

Libraries are my go-to place still. I would much rather hold the book in my hands than read electronically.

Helen Hollick said...

If I could go back now I know I'd love it - because I am more confident and know how to 'deal' with people. But to be fair, many workplaces are VERY different now compared to the 60-70s!

I do have some wonderful memories - and some funny ones: finding a rasher of bacon in a book used as a book mark: people climbing over ladders and pots of paint when the decorators were in because they hadn't noticed the signs to use the other door... the boxes of chocs at Christmas, the delight of helping children choose a book...

I must add: if it wasn't for working in the library I'm not sure I would have become a 'real' author. I'd always wanted to write but I 'stumbled' on Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave and discovered King Arthur in a different context to the usual Knights In Armour tales ... and ended up writing my own Arthurian trilogy. (LOL and a confession - much of which was written by hand when I was alone in the library office _supposedly_ writing overdue notices!)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Stuart - wow! What strange people must have been running your library! Whyever shouldn't you suggest books or movies? That's the whole point, isn't it?

Helen, you're right - workplaces must have changed since the 60s and 70s. I haven't seen any bacon bookmarks, but I have seen banana peels between the books when kids have had their lunch in the library...

Yes, I know about your Arthurian trilogy - I have the first volume on my shelves! Must go back and reread.

Helen Hollick said...

Stuart - I'm glad it wasn't just me who had these sort of experiences! *laugh*. I totally agree about the 'real book' aspect ... but... keep this in mind: my Kindle is my salvation. My sight is failing, I can't read ordinary print any more. The computer is fine because I have a large screen (and a large keyed keyboard plus various gadgets) the Kindle means I can continue to read because of the large font I use. Electronic means I can still read wonderful books! (although books don't bloomin' run out of battery charge!!!!)

Sue Bursztynski said...

I agree, helen! I love my print books, but ebooks are wonderful. A lot of books which are out of print have now come back in ebook - and I enlarge the print for my mother. It also means I can carry hundreds of books with me, any time, and read in bed with the lights off. And no more need to wait till the bookshop opens! :-)

Catherine said...

I loved reading your post which a friend pointed me to. I went to RMIT and did that whole interview thing too. I did my undergrad in the early 90s and was interviewed by Henri. Do you remember him? My mum recommended me be a librarian because I loved books, but I used the help people line in the interview - hehehe! I work in a hospital library doing complicated searches in databases that end up being written as reviews and I get my name put on the paper too, esp if I write the methodology bit. I've never worked in a public library (did my work experience there) and did a little contract work at my old high school library, and there was still a book there about medieval history that I loved as a student - I borrowed it again as a staffer - no due dates! I remember being told by my primary school librarian Mrs Butcher if I really wanted to borrow a big book of Enid Blyton stories. It's a very big book ... she was doubtful. I must've been about 8. But I consumed it within a week and was back for more!! Great post and I think I'll follow you as I love reading book reviews! I write book reviews in a blog too. Librarian thing?

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi, Catherine and welcome to my blog! I did librarianship several years before you did - I was already working in my first school as a teacher librarian by the time you were studying. (I already had teaching qualifications). So no, I don’t recall Henri. It was Barry, I think. He taught a subject on library organisation. We had to plan out a library as a group. Every year he gave this massive assignment and people complained and every year he grumbled that nobody had ever complained before, but cut it... Still, he did choose me for the course! It sounds as if you’ve made an enjoyable career in a special library. That’s great!

Can you give me a link to your blog? The only one I could find with your profile hadn’t been written in since 2010.

Catherine said...

Hi! I remember Barry McIntyre. He taught me thesaurus construction and it was one of those massive assignments. Hehe! My blog is independentbookreview.wordpress.com/the-books/ and it is mostly about the books I read for the various reading challenges I do.

Sue Bursztynski said...

When I was in my second school, nine years after my studies, I got a massive, thick library survey from him - not sure if he was writing a book or doing a PhD, but yes, massive! I did try to oblige, but gave up.

Thanks, I’ll check out your blog.

Catherine said...

LOL!