5 Things I have learnt from working in a library...

This week is one of my favourite calendar weeks of the whole year. (After Christmas week and my Birthday week, which just happen to be the same...) Why, I hear you ask...What could possibly be so special about this pretty nondescript week during October? I have one word for you: LIBRARIES.

The 8th-14th October is National Libraries Week. A whole week dedicated to the bookish buildings of wonderfulness that are our local libraries. Apart from spending this week championing libraries and spreading the word about all of the fantastic services they offer, it also occurred to me that as of next month I will have been working in a public library for ten years. This evoked many thoughts and feelings (the main one being, OMG I AM OLD.)
I love libraries, both as a place of work and a service which I use in my personal life. But having spent a whole decade of my working life surrounded by wonderful books, this got me thinking about some of the things I have learnt in my role. A LOT had changed during the past ten years (including my position, job title and location) but there are some things which will always stay the same...(My library card will probably always be maxed out, there's no other way round it...)

I thought it would be a nice way to celebrate this wonderful week of the bookish year by sharing five of the most important things I have learnt during the last ten years. If I could grab my eighteen year old self as she was on her way to her interview for the post of Library Assistant all those years ago, then this is what I would tell her...

1) You will never read all of the books. So you think you only like chick-lit and won't entertain reading anything unless it has a sparkly cover or the words 'Sophie Kinsella' on the spine? Think again. You will be exposed to more books and new authors that you could ever imagine. You will want to read them all and try your best to do so. Every time a book catches your eye you will dash over to the computer, whip out your library card and borrow it. But you won't read it. You'll end up begrudgingly returning it when you've renewed it a (probably) ban-worthy number of times. You will eye up every book that you ever shelve, every book that a borrower hands you and tells you what a good read it was, every book that shines back at you from being on display. But you will never read them all. It's been ten years and you STILL haven't read a fraction of the books you wish you had. You will need to accept that you won't be able to read all of the books, all of the time. *This is certainly not being said in a lesson-learnt kind of way. This is something I am still struggling with.

2) It's not all about the books. My five year old self always had the expectation that working in a library meant you got to sit and read books all day in a cozy corner and then stamp them when someone borrowed them. Stamp, stamp, stamp. I couldn't wait to use that stamp. I even tried to re-create the stamp with my TV remote at home, but don't tell anyone...
OF COURSE the reality was entirely different. (I'm yet to read a book at work, ever. Don't believe the assumptions.) And whilst books are a huge part of a library, as time goes on the focus is less on books. At first this was a thought that horrified me (Give me a cozy reading corner, immediately) but the longer I have spent in my job, the more I realise why this needs to be the case. Libraries offer so much more than just books. They are lifelines. They provide life-changing services for EVERYONE, not just those in need and this has made me realise the importance of libraries. Before I started working in one a library was 'just' somewhere that had free books and would let me print out my homework when my printer at home had run out of ink. Whilst those things are blimmin' amazing, I now know that libraries are much, much more than that.

3) You will meet the most amazing people. There are hundreds of people who walk through those library doors everyday. Some of which you will have no contact with, others minimal contact, others quite in-depth contact. But you will get the odd one who will stay with you for much longer than the five minutes they spend in the library every week.
It's heartbreaking meeting vulnerable people and having them share their stories with you, knowing there is only so much you can do to help them. I see people who are struggling, I see people who lash out because of their circumstances, I see people who are unwell. There have been many customers who I have grown to care about who have sadly passed away.
Every day I meet people who inspire me, people who fascinate me, people who make me laugh, people who I care about, people who cheer me up, people who interest me and people who I admire.
Among these people you will make friends for life, you will worry about people when you don't see them for a few weeks, you will take an interest in their wellbeing.
I'm not just talking about library customers, either. I believe I work with some of the loveliest people in existence (bookish people often are, right?) and I have certainly made friends for life in the form of some of the amazing people I have been lucky enough to call my colleagues over the past ten years.

4) You will have to make a fool of yourself. Yes, you will have to bring a teddy in to work and pretend it's a child as you sing nursery rhymes in the company of two other grown adults for Rhyme Time training. Yes, you will have to dress up as Alice in Wonderland (although I loved this) and a cat (also loved this...) Yes, you will have to do role play. Yes, you will have to do the hokey-cokey in front of twenty under two year olds and their parents. Yes, you will get the words wrong to Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Yes, you will undergo an 'Elf-Yourself' makeover at Chatterbooks. Yes, you will have to explain to a grandparent that their granddaughter has just spent the last sixty minutes trying to beat the world record for blowing a Malteaser in the air at another Chatterbooks meeting...(It was book-related, alright!?)
In doing all of these crazy things my confidence has grown and I feel as though I have learnt such a lot. If I had read this part when I was eighteen I would have probably run a mile, but I feel as though I have now reached the stage where I can belt out nursery rhymes with the best of them - even when the parents decide they're not going to join in, I can do role-play, I can even attempt to train a group of teenagers when they are sat around a table giving me death-stares. These are all transferable skills that I feel will see me well throughout my life. There's also a lot to be said for being able to name at least twenty of the Daisy Meadows Fairy books unprompted. That's a skill I am super-proud of.

5) It's going to be hard work. You will be working with members of the public and that in itself doesn't present itself as easy. There have been times when my job is genuinely hard and utterly heartbreaking. It was hard to come into work and discover my library had been vandalised yet again. It's hard every time the staffing structure gets shuffled, it's hard worrying about the future, it's hard juggling all of the amazing things we do in order to get people through the doors. It's hard to start singing in a happy-voice when you're having a bad day, it's hard to speak to someone about their inappropriate behaviour inside the library, it's hard to resist taking all of the books home... But ultimately it's worth it (well, apart from maybe the last one.)

You can find out more about Libraries Week here.


  1. Awesome post and so true, your points all resonated with me, I've learned all of those (& more as you do) over 10 years in libraries, it gets harder as we have the threat of community managed libraries looming which will be a big loss to some very needy communities x

  2. Thanks, Gem.
    I know exactly what you mean- the first library I worked at went over to the community (as did many others)
    I hope all works out well for you x

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