Getting punched in the face wasn’t part of the job description.
Then again, not a lot of things I did that summer were.
My attacker was a 10-year-old girl named Sarah, whose mother dropped her off at the library before heading off to work every day. A blithe and mischievous spirit, she had a love of pop culture and a distaste for authority that made her just as difficult to deal with as the mountains of books in need of sorting and shelving. That day, we had gotten into an argument over why I was able to tell her what to do, since she said I was “just a librarian” and that she could “beat me up until I cried like a baby.” While cleaning up after the mess left behind from crafting a butterfly-shaped collage, I half-heartedly told her to try. Of course, I underestimated the juvenile audacity of this girl who I practically babysat, and thus she wholeheartedly delivered a right hook when I least expected it.
This was just one of many eventful days I had working at my local public library. To be honest, there’s a lot that you don’t expect while working as an assistant librarian. For me, this was only exacerbated by the fact that this was my first real job, as all of my previous library work had been restricted to volunteer work at my school libraries.
But contrary to what you might think, there’s a lot to learn when you’re working at the library. Like those working in retail, librarians have to deal with dozens, if not hundreds of customers a day. They’ll ask if we have the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, where the bathrooms are, how to use the computers, and a million other things that you’re expected to have the answers to. To get to as many as possible, I had to learn to answer them quickly and succinctly, which involves knowing where virtually everything is. Origami books can be found anywhere between section 736 and 740.29, the popular books are lined up alphabetically by the conference room on the first floor, and biographies have their own section in the corner of the library by the CDs. Reciting information like this on a dime quickly becomes routine, but even then I had to get used to communicating with those who aren’t fluent in English. You have to watch your tone when speaking as well, as your supervisors, co-workers, and your customers will all react differently to what you say and do. Let’s just say that there are consequences if you don’t, as Sarah was happy to prove to me.
This job will also try your patience and self-control at every turn. While helping to manage the summer arts and crafts program that was running at the time, I was dealing with anywhere between 40 and 120 children at once, all armed with glue, markers, bits of paper, and their own voices. Three days a week, the library would be converted from a quiet sanctuary into a cacophonous circus where the ringleaders are just barely in control. I’ve had to deal with kids playing tag inside the library, customers who babble endlessly while trying to figure out what they’re looking for and the endless rows of books in need of being straightened again after looking away for just a few minutes.
There are also plenty of other tasks that need to be performed aside from shelving books and making arts and crafts though. Cleaning the art gallery and making laminate name tags for the displays, setting up online accounts to help parents and children track their reading, decorating the walls with giant paper snakes, and taking calls regarding book reservations and our weekly events, especially the ever-popular movie night. I’ve even thrown birthday parties for my co-workers and some of the regulars, music, cake and all. You’re always moving, always taking new requests from rowdy runts, concerned parents and demanding bosses. This is not a job where you can just sit around and do nothing, but that makes your paycheck all the more satisfying after a long day’s work.
It’s natural for students like us to look for more “exciting” and “impactful” jobs in science research, engineering and other rapidly growing fields. After all, it’s what our esteemed university is famous for. But there are plenty of practical skills you can learn at any job you take up, even at institutions that are a little more mundane than what you’re aspiring to be. Try taking up one at the library. Despite appearances, there’s plenty you’ll take away from it and I can assure you, it’s never boring.