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The Multi-tasking Librarian

Updated on April 22, 2011

It is the goal of information workers to restore order from the chaos that information systems and the world at large tend to fall into. The main job of a professional-level librarian involves customer service, such as at the information desk, the check-out and returns desk, and reference any other department. However, there is also a number of other tasks to be completed, and if the staff is not large enough to assign each of these tasks to one or a few people, they either go undone or fall to these same professionals.

You may have heard of Adopt-a-Road for Earth Day. Adopt-a-Shelf is a similar program for libraries whose staff is too busy to go through the stacks every so often to make sure the collection stacks are clean and organized as they should be. Otherwise, if a patron is looking for a book or other resource that is not where it is supposed to be, there is a problem. This task normally would fall to library pages or interns or is completed rarely, if at all. The more immediate needs of patrons are the primary focus, and collection maintenance usually only gets brought up when a patron asks the librarian sitting behind the desk where the misplaced item is. This is also vexing for the librarian who may have to look for it a few shelves down when this problem could have been easily solved by someone else who didn't have other tasks to do on a busy day.

Not all libraries are the same; like any workplace, they all have different needs. Some library job descriptions across the country involve shoveling snow and other seemingly random duties. At the same time, one of the most common questions asked of school librarians aside from "where can I find this?" is "can I borrow a pen/pencil?" Different libraries also have different channels through which people can sign up to volunteer. If you are not needed to volunteer or if they can't afford to take on any interns or lower-level employees, the least you can do is be a good patron. Here are some hints:

1) Put trash in the garbarge can where it belongs and put materials back where you found them. However, many libraries do not want patrons trying to put items back in the shelves, as this is how most of them end up misplaced either by accident or on purpose. Instead, shelving carts are kept throughout the stacks so that they can be shelved by a librarian along with the returned materials and new arrivals. Whatever the instructions, be sure to follow them.

2) Take care of library materials used in-house or checked out and brought home. Minor tears can be repaired with tape. If damaged by liquid or if a child colors all over a book, you will most likely have to pay to replace it yourself.

3) Respect your library and the librarians running it. Anyone can have a bad day, and that's understandable. Librarians aren't the stereotypical, uptight "Shhh!"-ers you may think they are. If you realized all the tasks they have to do as part of their job (and as at least half of it takes behind the scenes, most people don't), you may understand if there is ever any tension.


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