Politics, Reading

What do librarians even DO anymore?


When I announced to my previous employers that I was leaving them to work in a library, their response wasn’t, “Congratulations,” but, “Aren’t libraries dying? What do librarians even do? Won’t that be boring?” And I was both incredibly irked and flustered. I didn’t know what to say other than I’LL DIE BEFORE I LET LIBRARIES DIE.

Despite printed books seeming out of date in a digital world, the fundamental principle of a library is freedom of information and community connectivity. Do you know how many people can’t afford books (especially non-fiction/research topics), a computer or a printer, or even a Kindle? Are you aware of how many services your local library runs? We do so much more than put books on shelves.

Libraries are vital, their worth cannot be measured in books alone. – Angela Clarke


Are people still borrowing books, though?

Yes. Primarily, my main task of the day is to shelve a lot of books that customers have brought back to the library. There are constantly books to shelve in the children’s “returned section”; it’s an avalanche we are resigned to sweeping up around the edges, and gladly, because it means children are reading. Our main beneficiaries are children, students and the elderly. If you’re someone who scoffs about the elderly dying out, you’re ridiculous. We all get old and, as you will too one day rely on your pension, you might find the library a valuable place of free entertainment. Things you can borrow:

  • DVDs
  • CDs (although these will possibly be phased out)
  • Popular and obscure novels
  • Audiobooks
  • Language learning packs
  • Cookbooks
  • Autobiographies
  • Graphic novels
  • Manga
  • Music books (wanna play Taylor Swift on guitar?)
  • Orchestral scores
  • Drama sets

You get the idea. But the main thing that blows people away in 2019 is the freedom to learn. We’re so used to Googling for answers and meeting some kind of paywall, it seems crazy that the library says you can borrow it for free. Not sure if you like that yoga book? Borrow before you buy. Need to learn about marketing online? Screw those fake “pay $500 for my online course” scams, borrow a book. If there’s a brand new Marvel film you want to watch, you can borrow it for a week for £2.50—you can’t even borrow it online for 48 hours for that cheap.

And if you really hate physical things, you can borrow audiobooks and books from our apps (Borrowbox and CloudLibrary respectively).


Fine, what else do you do, then?

We run many events. For free. Want to make crafts with your children? We’ve got events running every month. Want to develop your child’s language and motor skills? We run Rhyme Time (a nursery rhyme singing session) twice a week. Need help understanding how to use a computer? We have volunteers who come in every day who will teach you one-on-one, but I can help you with the basics, too. Want to play Dungeons and Dragons but don’t have dice or friends who also want to play? Come to the library, I’ll sort it all out, buddy.

We spend hours developing interesting crafts for young children and preparing all the necessary bits and pieces, ready to stick together and colour in, not to mention trying to find the perfect accompanying story. Something not too long or too short.

Customers use our library (with specifically trained librarians) to update their VISAs.*

We have clubs for the elderly who want to reminisce about different periods of their life together, so a librarian finds old newspapers, game boards, and photos, etcetera, for discussion.

Need to de-stress? Why not do some colouring in? One of our librarians draws beautiful mandalas and ‘adult colouring’ themed wall-art for people to colour in and piece together.

We run a chess club, code club, baby showers, D&D club, Lego club, shared reading groups—you get the idea.

Most of these things require library assistants to do prep work.

All of these things are free to attend.

Web banner libs are for everyone

But Kindle is cheap and I don’t like time limits.

Kindle is cheap, but the library will always be cheaper, therefore it is vital to those who are vulnerable. Young parents especially love the library because they gain access to thousands of picture books they A) never would have been able to afford or find, and B) means they can discover what their child likes, risk-free, and buy the kids’ favourites.

In our area, you can borrow a book for three weeks and renew that for up to a year. Unless someone else has requested the book, then sorry, it’s time to share.

I have spent hundreds of pounds on books over the years, thinking the library wouldn’t have what I wanted or that I wanted to read it at my own pace, but the library has all the popular books I ever wanted. I stopped borrowing books as a teenager, but now that I’m borrowing again, my reading is more efficient. I brutally cut out what I don’t enjoy, renew what I’m enjoying, and if I love it enough but can’t read it fast enough, then I’ll buy it. But I’ve been living the Mari Kondo vibe for a few months now and I truly enjoy being liberated of the Need To Own Stuff.


Paint a picture, describe one day

Obviously, it’s different for every library. Ours is a big library and I’m grateful for how busy we are. I also don’t run many children’s events so you won’t see me hosting Rhyme Time (yet), but I know some of my colleagues feel stressed trying to prepare a brilliant craft and story every week on top of our daily duties.

  • After setting up in the morning, I find all the books people requested yesterday
  • I shelve any books we couldn’t manage yesterday
  • I start rewriting an offcial D&D campaign so it works for me at the next session
  • I get interrupted for the next hour to (happily) answer computer/book queries
  • I shelve a ton of books that have come in from delivery/been returned that morning
  • I check library emails and find books for the stock supervisor/answer queries
  • I straighten the bookshelves and usually find misplaced books
  • I carry on with planning D&D
  • I continue to help customers at the same time
  • I sing along to nursery rhymes from the children’s area as I sign-up a new customer
  • I help someone buy a train ticket/upload a picture of their ID/photocopy documents
  • I assist someone choose their next book
  • I help with more shelving that has accumulated that afternoon
  • I plan crafts for an upcoming children’s event
  • I shelve more books

It’s a nice day. I help people with computers, I rarely get abused, I get to browse books by putting them away, I prep a super fun club, I chat to customers about books, I participate in arts and crafts, I see children get HYPE about stories, I go the extra mile to help an old man find the thing he actually needed, I make displays to raise awareness about autism and mental health, I supervise/run a club—we do so much and I love it all.

So, the next time you look at your shabby little library and wonder who on earth uses it, go inside and see what’s going on. You could be missing out on free clubs, cheap or free resources, and a dorky conversation about your favourite superhero.

This was pinned up in the staffroom of my local library.

*Sadly, we no longer run the VISA service due a high volume of demand that we (and other local libraries) were unable to cope with as part of our regular service. /14 Oct 2019


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