How to Library

A tweet talking about all of the good things that libraries do as a publicly funded entity which is probably why people talk about them being obsolete in an effort to be rid of them (I’m paraphrasing the tweet by a lot, but that was the gist) reminded me that I actually have inside knowledge about this that I could disseminate to the masses. Or the readers of this blog. Whatever.

For those of you just tuning in, my current day job is working as a part-time library clerk at my local small town library. Now, I’m sure you think it’s a great job, especially for a writer, to have because it’s a small town, so it can’t be that busy, right? How much work do you actually do? Especially part-time.

Kids, let me tell you…there is a lot that goes into making a library work.

Obviously, there’s checking out items, checking in items, and shelving them. I do a lot of that. It’s a basic of the job. And here’s some real insider knowledge: we all sing the alphabet when we’re shelving stuff. Always. Everyone. My boss is a librarian, master’s degree and all, and she still has to run through the alphabet while shelving. Think you know the alphabet? Work in a library. I guarantee you don’t. It’s amazing.

Other things we have to do every shift include getting the books out of the book drops outside (I curse the people who return half the children’s floor that way) and we get items on the pull list, which are items requested either by our patrons or patrons from other libraries in our system. Yes. You can order books from other libraries if your library doesn’t have it. Pretty neat.

But in order to have access those items they first of all have to be bought and then catalogued and then processed because yeah, this shit just doesn’t come in ready to go.

Cataloging involves putting each item in the system and then barcoding it. After that’s done, it has to be processed. What’s processing? Well, every library has their own way, but this is how we do it.. First of all, everything has to have the appropriate labels; spine labels, obviously, but also series labels on books and audiobooks; DVD’s, Blu-rays, and CDs have to have the appropriate color coded stickers for genre, as well as other relevant stickers; everything gets stamped or stickered as the library’s property; and then the books get covered. Which means laminating them. Paperbacks get hard laminate, which has to be measured, cut, and stuck on by hand. Hardbacks get soft laminate, which means the dust jackets are put through the laminator, cut, taped, creased, put back on the book, and taped down. Does this sound like a lot? Well, yeah, it kinda is. But we’re not done! Because after all that (or at some point during the process; depends on who’s doing it), everything has to be RFID’d. What’s that? That’s the system we use to check things in and out. So everything gets a special sticker and it’s encoded with that item’s information.

As an aside, we switched over to this system during the early months of the pandemic. I, along with three other of my coworkers, tagged every single item in the whole library. It took us about three months.

Anyway. That’s just a small portion of what my coworkers and I do on any given day, and that’s just the “books ‘n’ stuff” work. Because even my small town library provides the community with a lot of resources and services.

Like…

We’ve got an outreach program so people who are homebound or at the nursing home can get items. We’ve got three different book clubs. Do you like ebooks? Audiobooks? Movies? Music? We’ve got apps for that. Yeah, you can borrow items from our digital collection, too. It was a big hit when were shut down in March/April/May of 2020. Also, remember how I said you can order books from other libraries. You can do that online, too.

We’ve got free programs and workshops. From teaching kids how to make hovercrafts to teaching adults how to effectively compost. We made pillows for the local nursing home, painted bottles, made tiny art, made Mother’s Day and Father’s Day presents, made friendship bracelets, taught people how to make pollinator gardens, and had kids do their own Coke and Mentos rockets. There’s crafts and skills and lectures and all sorts of things we provide for patrons and members of the community to do and learn.

Speaking of programs, do you need space for yours? How about a party or gathering? Or just a quiet room to study in? Yeah, we’ve got all of those available for reservation. And again, you don’t have to have a library card to use them, but a few of our rooms do come with a fee.

We provide free computer access and free WiFi. You don’t have to have a library card to use it. You can get copies done on the cheap and you can send a fax for a dollar a page (it’s going back to 1994 after all). We provide free notary services as well. Do you need something laminated? We can do it for a reasonable price.

We can help you find whatever information you’re looking for. We’ve got a list of e-resources for patrons who are looking for work or housing or legal help, etc. We can also help you check your email, print things, use Google, and other basic computer/internet tasks. We can also probably point you in the right direction if we don’t know the answer to your question. And we rec books, movies, music, and TV shows just for the hell of it.

My library has the Library of Things, which allows you to check out things like Rokus, WiFi hotspots, an Amazon Fire Stick, and even ukuleles. We also have a seed library where you can “check out” seeds.

We also have an extensive archive collection relating to the library, the city, and the surrounding areas and people can actually request items to look at in person. They’re also frequently put out on display and my boss talks about them in a video series she does on Facebook and YouTube.

Oh, yeah. We’re on the socials. During the lockdown, we did a major pivot to video for the kiddie story times, which are now happening in person again. We’ve also got a website that’s positively loaded with info and reference links. And we’ve got a podcast that you should totally listen to. Not just because I run it (which is a good enough reason), but because it provides a lot of insight into what the library has and what it does. Also, I’ve done some cool local history episodes that are quite murder-y.

In fact, I just completed a series of episodes in which my coworkers tell you a little more about what they do at the library and how that translates to benefits to our patrons and our community.

And that’s just my little library. There are other libraries all over the place doing similar or bigger and better things.

So check them out! And support them! Libraries are good!

And return your shit on time.

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If you’d like to listen to my library’s podcast, you can find it on Anchor as well as bunch of other platforms. Check the links there to find the one you like best.