In which the Singing Librarian is positive about libraries

It has been suggested recently that a reader of this blog might possibly come to believe that I love singing and hate librarianing.  It is undeniable that there is more content here related to theatre and music than there is to libraries, and I have ranted about library patrons more than a few times.  It is also true that performing is my passion, one of my greatest joys.  And yet, I do like working in a library – it’s not as bad as I may have unintentionally suggested.  So what’s good about it?

Helping. I like being in a job where you know that you are helping people.  Perhaps not quite as obviously as a nurse or a fire fighter, but my primary purpose at work is to help people.  I may be helping them borrow some books, or I may be helping them find the information they require on an on-line database.  Perhaps they need to get hold of an esoteric text about witchcraft in Wales, or perhaps they just want to know how to spell ‘tautological’.  Whatever it is, my job is to help them access the information, whether by telling them a simple fact, directing them to a specific text, or teaching them the skills they need to search for the information themselves.  I may retrieve items from a store, order a book from Edinburgh University’s library or explain the use of the library catalogue.  Sometimes people thank me, sometimes they don’t, but it is good to know that I have helped them in some way.

Eclecticism. You really never know quite what you’ll encounter in a day at the library.  Sometimes you spend the whole day doing those things which the world at large associates with librarians – stamping books, shelving and asking people to be quiet.  Sometimes you attend meetings.  Sometimes you’ll deal with a succession of intriguing queries, from people looking for audition songs, the history of the university, the mating habits of snails and details of referencing schemes.  This can be particularly rewarding when queries that match your own interests come up.  It’s not often that students are looking for information on musical theatre or the eighteenth-century novel, but it does happen – it can be hard to stop helping with those queries!  The staff are also eclectic, with special interests ranging from the Earl of Rochester to theatrical design, and possessing a wide variety of degrees at all levels.  Some are easier to work with than others, but as a body, they ensure that there’s never a dull day.

Knowledge. I am fond of telling people that librarians, contrary to popular wisdom, do not know everything, but rather know how to find everything out.  Nonetheless, it is useful to know things, and the longer I work in librarianship, the more I learn, not just about information science, but about every discipline you can imagine.  I will never become an expert in the subjects that are not already ‘mine’, but it is a joy to discover things, whether it is the meanings of book titles from the sciences or health care, or some of the findings of the research students.  There is always more to learn and always will be – supporting the work of a higher education institution is an education in itself.

Order. There is something innately pleasing about classification schemes for me, and particularly the lovely Dewey Decimal system, which is the one I use.  It is perhaps foolish to try to categorise and classify all of human knowledge, and all such schemes have their flaws, but the ways in which the creators of such schemes attempt this task are fascinating – sometimes elegant, sometimes awkward, but with an odd beauty.  I do wish that Dewey wasn’t so Western- and particularly Christian-centric, but I do love it dearly.

Shelving. Related to the joy of classification schemes is the joy of shelving.  It takes a particular sort of person to enjoy shelving, but it is an immensely satisfying task.  You start with a trolley full of books and a number of shelves which look like a swarm of locusts has attacked them, and you end with books in neat ordered rows, spines facing front in beautiful straight lines, pulled to the front of the shelves and looking like… well, like a library.  A terrible day can seem much better after a session of shelving. Not only is it a good physical workout, but it is good for the soul to transform chaos into order.

So, you see, it’s not all ignorance and rudeness.  There are certainly good things about working in a library.  You learn something new every day, you can appreciate a sense of order, you can help people and you may even get a ‘thank you’ or two.  It’s not a bad job, it’s just that the frustrations probably make more amusing blog posts than the joys.

  1. Nicely stated. I just am obsessed with books and everything surrounding them whether it is looking at them, showing people how to use them, the process of publishing them, or the process of selecting them.

    Libraries are about information in its many forms. This is what makes them so wonderful.

    Plus they are a bit eccentric, eclectic, useful, and helpful all at the same time.

    There is something satisfying about putting other peoples things in order as well.

    It is a good job going through many changes with a very different future than what it is now.

  2. “The Joy of Shelving” – a lovely phrase. 🙂


  1. August 28th, 2010

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