Being a Librarian- Not as Quiet as I Thought

By Yvonne Sligh

When I was a little girl I thought the librarian in our public library just about stole her salary. I couldn't imagine getting paid for sitting around in a quiet environment, reading books and occasionally answering a few whispered questions - what a deal! Our library was a particularly great one - an old, high-ceilinged shadowy building with little nooks where one could curl up and spend a long time with a book or maybe just watch the dust motes dance in a shaft of sunlight and let the mind wander. I envied the librarian's days spent in that enchanted place. I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Who knew that things would be so different when I began working in a library? Business must have picked up in the years since I watched that librarian, or else I just didn't realize what she did. I've never had time to read a book while at work, much less watch any dancing dust. I do a lot of planning and worrying over budgets and surveying the collection to see what books need to be bought or what old editions should be replaced. There are a great many other administrative tasks to do, but my favorite work in the library is helping people. Working with people all day has taught me a lot about human nature.
A librarian has to be adaptable and willing to help people with just about anything, like listening to life histories and problems people want to talk about. This usually happens in the course of someone's begging to be pardoned of the overdue book fines they've accumulated. At times I've had people sit at my desk and cry - I mean loud, sobbing crying - and once a man slid down onto his knees and held up his folded hands in supplication. People have told me about drug abuse, death, illness, divorce, suicide, child abuse, being robbed, mugged and lost, nearly drowned in a flood and accused of murder. I try to help by listening and by offering sympathy and a tissue.
Some people get really angry with the library staff, or me in particular, usually for reasons again involving overdue fines. I've been yelled at lots of times, spit on once or twice, and called all sorts of creative and descriptive names. One woman said I would rot in hell - I sure hope that isn't true. Once in awhile someone will come in with some unrealistic expectations and get pretty angry when I can't help. In particular I remember an older lady who wanted me to call her each morning at about 11A.M. and read her selections from the Sacramento newspaper - the front page, the editorials, the comics, and the automotive want-ads. She was outraged when I said I didn't have the time - she asked me what else I had to do. Besides, she was a taxpayer so I ought to find the time.
Being a store detective also falls into the realm of the librarian. You might be surprised how many people steal things from the library. We often catch people going out when the security system alarm goes off. Some folks just say a quick, "Oh, I forgot I had this," give it back, and the whole incident is over. Others make a huge production out of it and begin to yell and scream "I'm not a thief!" instantly attracting a large audience. I remember one young man clad only in a T-shirt and running shorts who sounded the alarm as he went towards the door. He held up his hands and turned around and around to show he carried nothing. I jokingly suggested he might have something tucked in his clothing - he immediately dug around in his shorts and produced an issue of Sports Illustrated. Of course, none of my staff wanted to put that magazine back on the shelf.
People come in with interesting topics to research and sometimes it takes a bit of questioning to find out what they really want. One young man asked me for books by an author named "dumbass" - we finally figured out it was Alexander Dumas. A young woman wanted information about JFK, but she didn't believe me when I referred her to the books on John F. Kennedy. Her instructor had told her to research JFK, not someone named Kennedy. Another student was looking for a copy of Roget's Catharsis in the reference section. One night I answered a call from a frantic sounding youngster who asked me to look up for him - quickly - how to remove red paint from white mink. I don't think I want to know the rest of that story.
However, as I look back on the librarian I long-ago envied in that quiet library, I've decided that she probably didn't have it as easy as I thought. But I wouldn't trade being a librarian for any other job.

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