Where would I find books about what it’s like to be a reference librarian?

So, I try to do a lot of my work (and daydreaming) at my local library branches. You know peace and quiet, free wireless and all that. This week I happened to sit near the reference librarian’s desk.

Here’s some of what I overheard:

Do you have any children’s books that talk about pilgrims? Not just those that landed at Plymouth Rock, but you know, to give kids a broader meaning of the term pilgrim?

Where would I find books on traveling to Mexico?

Where would I find maps of Germany?

I’m looking for a book called Truth and Beauty. It’s fiction. I don’t know the author.

My daughter needs a book on an American Native scientist for Native American history month. Where would those be?

Image courtesy of the Goddard Space Flight Library in MD.

8 Comments so far

  1. cynthia (unregistered) on November 11th, 2005 @ 9:19 am

    how about:
    “I don’t know the title but the cover is red.”

    “I don’t want MY tax money used to buy books about (just name your topic… any topic)!”

    there are lots of sites with librarian stories… kind of fun to collect your own though… I recommend sampling the reference desks from different public libraries around the city and burbs and don’t forget to overhear questions at the academic library ref desks. They can be hilarious!

    Libraries are most awesome for so many reasons.

  2. nikkos (unregistered) on November 11th, 2005 @ 9:35 am

    Apparently you have access to a time machine, since your post is dated a month in the future. so tell me: what’s the future like?

  3. James T. Struck (unregistered) on November 11th, 2005 @ 4:32 pm

    Reference librarians do not just work in libraries. Librarianship is a training process that applies to many areas of life.

    I was a librarian for almost 9 years at Roosevelt University. I worked in the archives, built indexes, built handouts, built websites, published library related articles, taught library instruction (over 200 sessions probably in the 8 plus years), covered the desk, opened, closed, troubleshooted machines,cleaned up, filled paper, fixed jams, fixed copier jams, fixed computers, tried to babysit with children’s books student’s children, found books in other libraries.

    These skills apply to running a small business-keep records of conversations and phone numbers, build indexes, organize- and to daily life- when a store clerk at Walgreen’s today could not find Snow White, I suggested building an MS Excel file index of movies. (That is only because my MS Access skills are not as good as my MS Excel skills)

    As far as what it is like to be a librarian–

    1. Call places like Chicago Public Library,
    Evanston Public, DePaul, Roosevelt, IIT and talk to staff.

    2. Call Dominican University (formerly Roosevelt University) and talk to staff at the only local library school.

    3. Call UIUC Library school and talk to staff. The only distance learning program for librarianship in our state.

    4. Go to a catalog, http://www.chipublib.org, and search topics like Reference Librarian or Librarian or Library work or reference or working and libraries

    Be aware that librarianship can be very stressful. After 8.9 years at Roosevelt University, I was terminated. I sent out applications to everything from Newberry Library to University of Chicago to UIC to NEIU to DePaul to Loyola to Northwestern to Evanston Public Library to IIT to Chicago State to Baker McKenzie. I made calls to the Adler Planetarium about starting a library. I made calls to the Lincoln Park Zoo about building a library to show people how complicated zoology is. I offered to help build the library at LP Zoo. I got one library related interview and one phone interview.

    Some library jobs might think twice about hiring me because I also run a failed small business that does not make money.

    Some of the most common questions are

    Where is the bathroom?

    Why do you not have this?

    I did not know there was a library?

    How much do you get paid?

    My job at IIT actually prohibited me from talking outside of strict library related issues, but students and patrons always are asking personal questions like “How are you?” and “How is your family. etc” or “How is your legal case about your brother going?” “Are you going to go to law school?”

    You will be told it is ok to talk to students or patrons at one job and then prohibited from talking to students, staff or faculty at a school like IIT.

    One day you will be interacting with senior faculty at schools and the next day told you have been laid off to save money to hire someone full time.

    You will be doing grant writing for the NEH and the state library. The Illinois Libraries Journal is a good place to publish; other resources are much much more rigorous. The American Libraries Assocation is right here in the city.

    Enjoy your search. It is fun work, but some jobs run out of funds. It involves helping, but sometimes helping can be terribly misunderstood.

    It involves international collaboration. I presented in absentia a poster in Prague.

    You will meet people from all over the world. I knew librarians at the US Naval Observatory, Canada Hawaii Telescope, Goddard Space Flight Center, Australian National Observatory.

    Be aware some very experienced library staff get dumped like they are worn out paper.

    James T. Struck

  4. nikkos (unregistered) on November 11th, 2005 @ 4:38 pm

    James T. strucks again!

  5. James T. Struck (unregistered) on November 11th, 2005 @ 9:21 pm

    Thanks Nikkos. I meant Dominican University (formerly Rosary College until about 1996-97)

    Other common questions or comments are

    1. I can’t pay the fine

    2. I already returned it

    3. Can you waive the fine

    4. Can I check it out without the card

    5. I like the building (at the Auditorium Building)

    6. things about the quality of collections

    7. the printer is broken

    8. the printer is out of paper

    9. how late are you open

    10. where is call number QR987

    I mean it that many questions are directional.

    Call ALA here in Chicago; they have many books. Almost any librarian in Chicago would be happy to take a call about this question. I was often just too loaded with work. Busy trying to build a handout for a class and no time to focus on archives, students, classes, printers, questions, etc.

    Still, the workload settled down a few years back. With remote access, the amount of work decreased. People were getting to scholarly data from home, so questions in house in the library, at least as far as I saw, went down. I may have just been there on certain days.

    You are often helping people face disasters–applying for financial aid, jobs, letters to countries far away. Libraries really are lifelines to others. Telephone lines, connections to galaxies far far away.

    Libraries save lives…sometimes librarians save lives too. The past is there and the past helps us in many ways.

  6. JenniferRoche (unregistered) on November 12th, 2005 @ 8:48 pm

    Cynthia, I so love libraries and so appreciate librarians, too. Thanks for the post. James T., it’s cool to see all your insight. My title of the post was a tongue-in-cheek, but now others will benefit from your comments. Nikkos, have no idea what you’re talking about. . .

  7. Ben (unregistered) on January 19th, 2006 @ 9:04 am

    This isn’t about librarians as much as it is about books, but I love this store and want to share the love.

    Half Price Books opened up a store in Niles last year and are opening up one in Schaumburg in the Spring.

    In case you are unfamiliar, they have a HUGE selection of books, all of them ATLEAST half off the face value. I got a hardback biography on Teddy Roosevelt in perfect condition, face value $35, for $9.99. Everything is organized into sections and it is a great place for book lovers. They also buy back books, cds, dvds, magazines, board games, etc. They also give teachers discounts and have coupons available.


  8. credit card (unregistered) on January 19th, 2006 @ 10:46 am

    Compare and request the credit that best meets your needs.

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