What Librarians Can’t Do


Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. ~Groucho Marx

One of my best friends is a nurse in a large city. She and I often talk about how put-upon nurses are in today’s day and age. “It’s nothing on librarians,” I said to her. She laughed, but I don’t think she truly understood.

It’s true that librarians have to wear a proverbial many hats in these changing times. The great paradox is that in this ongoing recession, more people than ever need library services, but the funding is not what it once was. Like many other organizations, we have to make do with less. Therefore we, as library staff, have to be cross-trained. In some ways it’s like asking the nurses to be doctors, pharmacists, and security officers in addition to their regular duties.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my job and I consider it a great honor to be able to share even some knowledge with the public. It is, however, not quite what I expected when I went into library work.

When I say no two days are the same at the library, that’s no exaggeration…it’s the honest truth. I can help someone with their report on Equatorial Guinea, bust patrons for looking at inappropriate material, design a book display, and assist in genealogy research all before lunch. No two days are the same, but nobody ever said they weren’t interesting. I enjoy finding information and helping find small nuggets of wisdom in a giant heap of dross which is cyber-research.

The trouble comes when many of my patrons mistake my library expertise for something else entirely. Take today, for example. “Why can’t you find ‘John Smith?'” an elderly lady caller asks me. “I know his exact birthdate and all. I knew him forty years ago.” I am not a P.I., nor do we, for privacy reasons, have those kinds of resources at the library. (If I did, I often want to ask patrons, do you think I’d be working here instead of running my own detective agency?)

As a library staff member, I’ve attended everything from cyber-security to self-defense to “Dealing with the Mentally Ill” courses as part of my training. Are they useful? Well, perhaps. Should I have to worry about this as a librarian? (I think not.)

I’m here to help. I like helping people find the information they need. That being said, here is what I can’t do:

* I can’t watch your children for you. This is a library, not Miss Sally’s Playhouse. If you were a responsible parent, you wouldn’t even think of leaving your child unattended in a public place.

* I can’t be responsible for your stuff. You must have my desk mistaken for the coat check.

* I can’t fill your job application out for you. I want to help you find work, but this is crossing the line.

* I can’t (and wouldn’t entertain the notion anyway) date you. Sorry to disappoint all you weird men with librarian fetishes.

* I can’t come over to your computer to share your porn with you. And yeah, I think the fully clothed grinding women are porn.

* I can’t let you eat your food in my library. Eat it in the open area if you wish, but I’ve had enough of crumbs everywhere and coffee-stained books.

* I can’t offer political or religious opinions. You may think Jesus, Buddha, or L. Ron Hubbard has changed your life, but professionally I can’t comment.

* I can’t draw facts out of thin air. Admittedly I am smarter than average, but if all you’ve got is “It’s a red book by someone named ‘Robert,'” that’s not going to be enough.

* I can’t waive your fines just because you say so. If you didn’t bring back those six books back in 2009, there’s a reason you owe $159.00. Books cost money, and we are not made of money.

* I can’t profess to be something I’m not. I’d love to offer you expert legal, medical, or psychiatric advice; the trouble is, I am not an attorney, physician, or counselor.

What have your experiences been, good or bad, with libraries and librarians?

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on November 10, 2012.

11 Responses to “What Librarians Can’t Do”

  1. I’ve always loved librarians! So helpful and knowledgable. Thanks for sharing about your work.

  2. I try to never waste our librarians time. I make sure to ask for what I am looking for if I cannot find it, and when they find it for me I make sure to thank them.

  3. Take today, for example. β€œWhy can’t you find β€˜John Smith?’” an elderly lady caller asks me.

    I know you could have helped her easily by just telling her he’s in the Los Angeles underground, but you are too loyal to the A-Team not to hand them over to anyone without making sure they are not sent by the MPs!

    Keep up the good work of helping people to be literate, educated, and informed.

  4. That is some list. People expect a lot!

  5. These were too funny! I bet hardly anybody realizes how hard your job can really be (even if you love it). I LOVE my library. I try to be quiet and respectful and always return my books on time!

  6. Oh, I don’t know, I don’t think you’re ambitious enough, Heather. THink of the private practices you could set up in those ‘off’ hours.

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