Why write about libraries?
I have resisted writing a blog about libraries for many years. In part, I didn't feel like I had anything to add to an already robust discussion (after all, who better to write a lot about the subject of libraries than a bunch of people who love to read) and in part because I still felt like I was learning so much about the profession, and my own passion for it, that I didn't know if I could even finish a thought, much less a whole article. But after 16 years of working in public libraries, I now feel I might have some insights worth sharing.
Besides, I have never written a blog before, and what better way to learn about them than to do one myself?
And that, in a nutshell, is one of the things I truly love about working in a public library. Whatever I have learned over the past 10 years, it can be either directly or indirectly tied to my chosen profession.
Take technology, for example. I am old enough that we didn't have personal computers in my high school, and we were using punch card computers when I went to college for my undergraduate degree. Then, when I went back for my Masters in Library Science, the entire world had changed. I learned about online databases, building a website, the inner hardware of a PC, and the subtle power of technology to revolutionize the way people accessed information.
I bought my first tablet when patrons started bringing them into the library and asking questions I couldn't answer. I learned to make and edit movies when I got a YALSA grant to make a movie for Teen Tech Week. i set up my first Facebook account in the library, and my first Facebook page was for the library I was working for at the time. Same thing with WordPress, Twitter, and LinkdIn. Would I have discovered these assets without being employed at a library? Maybe. But having people ask me how to use new devices and new networks was instrumental in my learning curve.
And don't even get me started on answering reference questions. Some of the things I have learned would never have crossed my radar without the impetus of helping someone else find the answer they sought.
Beyond enriching my own learning, however, libraries also offer a glimpse into a true representative cross sample of the community. Children, seniors, homeless people, travelers, drunks, genealogists, artists, musicians, writers, community organizers, teens, elected officials...they all come to the library. Everyone wants something a little different; everyone has a different story to share in exchange for my time. I cannot think of a better way to spend my work hours.
And then there are the people who I work with. Employees of public libraries are an interesting breed - introverts that enjoy helping people. We might not always want to talk to the public, but after a certain amount of time working with them, the gratification of seeing a young child so excited about a book they are literally jumping up and down, or the relief on a senior's face when getting help applying for benefits online, and even the gratitude of those less fortunate souls with no place else warm to go for the day far outweighs any sense of social awkwardness.
So that is why I want to write about libraries, and why I think libraries are meaningful, even in the days of Google and instant answers. We are the last bastion of personal help in an era of professionals - true generalists whose passion is to help you ask the right questions, find the right sources, and use the available resources, technological and otherwise, to change your life. And I am grateful everyday for the opportunity.