This month’s Librarian’s Spotlight features the lovely Annie. Enjoy!
RO: Please introduce yourself and speak a bit about your background with libraries.
A: My name is Annie, and I’m a thirty-something children’s librarian in a big, urban, East Coast library system. This is my first librarian job—I’ve been here for about six months so far.
RO: What made you want to become a librarian?
A: I’ve always wanted to be a librarian. I remember when I was in kindergarten, drawing a picture of me being a librarian (I actually still have it—I should get it out and frame it), but that was also around the time I wanted to be an astronaut and a supermarket checkout girl, so that should tell you something about the kind of child I was. But I think the reasons then are the same as the reasons now—I love books. I love reading them, talking about them, sharing them, pushing my favorites onto people, recommending similar books…
The picture Annie drew as a young girl.
What pushed me to make the switch was thinking that I didn’t want to be in education administration my whole life, which I had been doing, and enjoyed, but it wasn’t super-fulfilling. In 2009, I decided to go back to grad school (my first MA is in literature), and get my MLIS, just for the hell of it. If I used it, great; if not, well, at least I had the experience. I loved library school. My classmates, colleagues, and teachers were all terrific, the work was stimulating, and the whole time, I was thinking, This is what I want to be doing. But I didn’t have the nerve to switch careers just yet. The time was right in the fall of 2013, so I closed my eyes and held my breath and jumped.
RO: What is your least favorite aspect of being a librarian? What is your favorite aspect of being a librarian?
A: I think in library school (and certainly as a child), I had this rosy, romantic vision of being Marian the Librarian from The Music Man, helping children, stamping books, shushing, you know, that kind of thing. And then I actually landed in a library and realized how naive I’d been. My favorite parts of librarianship are either helping people find what they want—it is such a rewarding feeling of satisfaction—or the organization. It’s quite satisfying to know that everything is in its proper place, sorted by author, or number, or title, or whatever.
My least favorite part is being a disciplinarian, either with the children (“Please put your shoes on,” “Walk, don’t run,” “Let’s use our indoor voices,” “Please don’t throw blocks,” etc.) or with the teens (“Guys, watch your language,” “No, seriously, watch your language,” or my favorite, “Would you mind pulling your pants up, please?”).
RO: Librarians have been pegged with several stereotypes. Are there any that you find particularly amusing?
A: Oh, man, I’ve heard them all. And none of them are amusing. I do the online dating thing—no jokes, please—and mention that I’m a children’s librarian in my profile. If I get one more email centered around a “sexy librarian” question, I’m going to scream! A lot of men also ask me if I wear glasses. They weren’t even amusing the first time I heard them, and I get exponentially more irritated the more I hear them. Get a new line, guys.
But when people do ask me if there really is such a thing as library school—I get that a lot, too—I say, “Yes, with a major in shushing and a minor in book stamping.” That usually gets a laugh.
RO: What is your favorite database/online resource? Why?
A: I got to teach a database class for adults a few weeks ago, and I helped them with the Learning Express Library. I love that there are so many great resources for adults, and that they’re able to better their lives at any age, to go back to school, to learn about job searching, or to learn a new language.
RO: What book are you currently reading, or have recently read, that you would recommend? Conversely, what book are you currently reading, or have recently read, that you not would recommend?
A: I just finished American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. I’ve never been a huge fan of his, because both The Graveyard Book and Coraline (both children’s books, I might add) scared the living crap out of me – and I only read them a few years ago. But I wanted to try some of his books for adults, and I thought American Gods was brilliant. If anyone else had written it, it would have been pedantic and banal. Gaiman has such a gift with words and description and setting, though.
I find it hard to recommend books that don’t connect with me—the characters aren’t developed, or the plot isn’t logical, or people don’t behave realistically. I recently had trouble with Amelia Gray’s Threats because I felt it was obtuse. The story centers around a man whose wife dies mysteriously, but it raised more questions than answers, and it left me unfulfilled. Similarly, I also read Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois (a thinly veiled Amanda Knox novel) and the way the characters spoke, they were too clever—real people don’t speak like that.
RO: What is the best (most challenging or however else you may define “best”) reference question you have ever been asked? What is the wackiest reference question you have ever been asked?
A: Most of the reference questions we get in children’s and teens are pretty straightforward—someone’s doing a report on Uruguay, or bugs, or the Constitution. I have taken a few shifts in our nonfiction section, and got a terrific variety of questions there—one about the Mafia, one about harpsichord music…that’s really the fun of working in a library, because every day, every shift, every hour on the desk is different.
Sometimes you have to ask some follow-up questions to really get to what the patron is asking for. Patrons will often come in and say, “I’m writing a report about Greece,” but what they really need are books about the fall of the Greek economy, or ancient Greece, or Greek gods, or something. The wackiest one wasn’t a question, but the path we took to get to the answer: there was a parent who said that her child was looking for comic books with a blond-haired character (so that could have been real comic books or graphic novels), but she couldn’t remember the title of the comic. I listed as many as I could think of, and we went through the catalog, when I finally decided to cheat and Google “blond hair comic book character” and we looked through the pictures. It turns out she wanted Foxtrot. I felt like Sherlock Holmes.
RO: We all know that kids say the darndest things. As a Children’s Librarian, what is the funniest/silliest thing one of your littlest patrons has said?
A: You know, I don’t think I have any real winners in this category. I have had a child or two ask if they can buy our books, at which point I gently explain about borrowing books and bringing them back, while watching the parents crack up behind the kid. I do have a few unpublishable quotes from some of our teens, involving some extra-creative swear words, though. Sadly, one of the most memorable quotes came from a teacher (A. TEACHER.), who, after asking for picture books, followed up with: “Do they have words in them?” Oh, dear.
RO: What is something librarians do that, in your opinion, should be considered a superpower?
A: Having high-capacity memories. Some of my coworkers can instantly name a book’s author, the Dewey Decimal number for bats, or fairy tales, or bulldozers, or something along those lines. It’s amazing to watch, and I wish I had that. Maybe it will come with time.
RO: Going off of that question, if you could have a skill that is traditionally considered a superpower, what would it be?
A: This isn’t traditional, but I would love to be able to look at someone and immediately know his or her age. Teens has a strict 13–19 age range, so I spend a lot of time asking those patrons for their ID. Skipping that step would be awesome.
RO: Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who is considering going into the library science field?
A: Get the TV/movie stereotypes out of your head. Shadow someone in the library for a shift or two so you can really see what it’s like to work there. Stock up on hand sanitizer. Be prepared to get creative. Practice flexibility. Keep your eye on the new releases so you can always be up on what’s new and exciting.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Annie! That picture you drew as a young girl is key—it told the future!