As a reference librarian at an academic library, I had a very specialized view of my library. The people most important to me were our patrons: faculty, students, and staff. I tried to make sure they received the access to information they needed, whether it be the latest issue of an e-journal, that interlibrary loan item they needed asap, or that DVD that they absolutely had to had. Yet all of these efforts primarily consisted of talking–talking to patrons, talking to acquisitions staff in the library, talking to vendors, talking to the ILL coordinator and circulation staff. The job of the public services librarian is, at its core, about talking to people to make things happen and make patrons happy.
The flip side: As I continue my vulture-like strategy of volunteering at every library in town, hoping to be able to swoop in when I position becomes available, I am getting a completely different library perspective. Last week at the Leonardtown branch I repaired books with broken spines and torn pages, date-ordered shelves of newspapers, and recovered books with sand stuck between their flaps (making me think twice about taking library books to the beach). At the Lexington Park branch I pulled books from the shelves for interlibrary loans, and reported a questionable wet spot on the floor of the children’s section. When I work at the SMCM Library on the weekends I shelf-read, refill printer trays, and help students find DVDs for the weekend.
The verdict: Reference librarians may be the public face of the library, but they (and I say this as a reference librarian at heart) are definitely reaping the benefits provided by library staff and volunteers. A well-organized, patron-friendly library is the product of everyone’s efforts, and although I knew this before, I don’t think I fully understood what it meant. Libraries like the ones I volunteer and work in, where staff and volunteers are truly valued and appreciated, will always be good libraries. These organizations know what makes their libraries tick–the finely-tuned coordination of librarians, staff, and volunteers. I hope that when I do (and I hope that do) eventually find work as a librarian again, I won’t forget that.