Secrets of a Public Librarian #1

I absolutely love being a librarian.

It is such a rewarding job and I’m so glad to be able to provide the services we do to the public. But like any customer-facing role, there are things the staff are thinking, but will never say to your face.

I’ve had to hold back laughter when overhearing customer conversations, gently and carefully correct (usually older) customers who say insensitive or offensive things, and hold back my true opinions when customers ask for “my honest opinion”.

And some of “my honest opinions” are about the library service itself, but I’d never say them to the customer. Instead, I’ll divulge some of them here. So I hope you enjoy some of my possibly surprising views that I don’t tell the customers.

1. I really don’t like story times

Story times are the bread and butter of public libraries. All children’s events programmes start with a story time at the library.

And I hate them.

It doesn’t help that I’m not a big fan of children generally, but running a story time is just exhausting. You’re desperately trying to keep a room full of toddlers engaged with a big fake smile on your face, singing songs and putting on voices. Genuinely, it’s a 30 minute one person performance.

I think story times are fantastic for family and toddlers. They’re just terrible for me.

2. I’d rather you use the machine
than come to me

from Giphy

Don’t get me wrong, I love serving customers. I love answering enquiries and helping people with their account or reservations or finding books.

What I don’t like is simply checking out or returning books when there is an RFID machine 5 metres away from me for that sole purpose.

At my library, there are some customers who believe that they are keeping me in a job by bringing me their books instead of using the machine. And while I appreciate the sentiment and I know their hearts are in the right place, the sentiment is incorrect and it is just inconvenient for me.

Now, if they just want to have a chat, or they have a question or even need help using the machine, I’m more than happy to serve them. But checking out and returning books is not a good use of my time.

3. I don’t like overdue fines

Most of our customers understand why the library has charges for overdue books and they don’t mind paying. But you get the odd customer who will go on a full 15 minute rant about how the fine is unfair and they’re never going to pay it.

And these interactions pain me because I don’t think the library should have fines either.

In my experience, the people who are most likely to accrue overdue charges are the neurodivergent, people living in poverty, people with certain medical conditions like Alzheimers or disabilities that hinder them coming to the library.

And of course, most libraries will allow staff to waive fines for people in these types of situations. But that requires the customer to contact the library and divulge their personal, financial or medical information to give a reason why the book was overdue.

I just think there are better, less-discriminatory ways to incentivise customers to return books on time.

What do you think your librarian is secretly thinking?

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