By Awnali Mills
A refrain we joke about here in the library is “The things they don’t teach you in library school…”, which is usually accompanied by an eye roll and a chuckle. But it’s true: library school not only doesn’t teach you everything you’ll need to know to do this job, but it couldn’t possibly even come close. I suspect that’s true with every profession.
But there seems to be an idealized idea of what a librarian does that may lead newbies to the field to experience shocked dismay. Are you kidding me? Somebody pooped in the middle of the floor? Why, yes. Yes, they did. And because the custodian is off today, you’re gonna need to glove up and clean it up. Surprise!
Today we had a puppet with a torn mouth. I dug out my pins, needles, thread, thimble and scissors (yes, I keep these in my desk), and set to work repairing it. And I got to thinking about all the different skills that I personally bring to the library table:
Sewing: From puppet repairs to crafting Elizabethan ruffs and hats, it’s not unusual for me to whip out a needle and thread. I’ve also created puppets from scratch with and without patterns, and repaired seat cushions and clothing.
Custodian: See poop above. Yep. And who knew that the ability to clean up puddles of vomit without vomiting myself would make me a valued co-worker? I’ve also cleaned Sharpie off of concrete furniture, gotten mystery stains out of cushions, and pencil marks off of walls and furniture (yes, sometimes you can erase pencil marks on cushions—who knew?). The amount of weird and mysterious things I’ve cleaned is too long to list here.
Firefighter: If you toss a lit cigarette into a container full of butts, sometimes the whole thing catches on fire, and your friendly neighborhood librarian has to put it out. Just saying.
Animal Control Officer: Sometimes critters come into the library that aren’t supposed to be there. Sometimes they need to be escorted out, and sometimes they need to be killed, with prejudice. (And one of my co-workers had to remove bees from a car—that was WAY beyond the call of duty).
Nurse: Ice packs, and ointment, and Band-Aids, oh my!
Lyricist: When you need a song about (insert topic here) and just can’t find one.
Computer Technician: No. I have no idea why that website won’t take your information/your phone won’t switch from Spanish to English/your screen displays sideways/etc. But I’m happy to take a look.
And the list goes on.
Did you notice that none of those things involved books or reading? And I didn’t even touch on the soft skills like dealing with the homeless/special needs/mentally disturbed/people in need of a kind ear/immigrants/creepers/the guy having a heart attack/the kid having a meltdown…
Does that mean that if you don’t have those skills you should hang up your reading glasses and seek out a nice, quiet profession like carpentry?
Don’t be silly. All it takes is a willingness to learn how to do things. We’re librarians. If there’s anything we know how to do, it’s how to find out how to do stuff. And yep, they teach you that at library school.