Rant of the Wild Librarian: Day in the Life

Many people seem to think that libraries are just rooms with books and that librarians read all day and shush people.

But libraries, as I’ve said before, are like swans:  they look quiet and serene, but there’s a hell of a lot of activity underneath.  Library staff—admin, reference, circulation, tech services, maintenance, student pages—are the ones paddling.

To illustrate this with reality rather than metaphor, here’s a look at what I did today in the genealogy and local history department—keep in mind that Tuesdays aren’t our busiest days, our department isn’t the busiest place in the library, and my job is relatively sedentary.


  • Arrived at 8am, did one last check of personal e-mail, blog stats and comments, and Facebook to get it out of my system.
  • Clocked in at 8:25am, grabbed indexing copy of the newspaper from Tech Services on the second floor, returned to my desk on the basement level and looked at the schedule, where I found a notice about a pre-opening fire drill seconds before the alarm shattered my ear drums.
  • Fire drill at 8:30, ambient temperature outside the building 38F.* It took us five minutes to check and exit the building and thirty seconds to get ourselves back inside after the all-clear.

Morning accomplishments:

  • Answered four of sixteen e-mails and sent two research requests to the departmental e-mail account.
  • Indexed five newspapers and added three new subject headings to the list for review. Noted in passing that Dennis Quaid just turned 58 and that this has made no impact whatsoever on my appreciation of his sex appeal, noted that Peter McNichol has also turned 58 and I still feel no impact whatsoever.
  • Bound the leaning tower of indexed newspapers that has been looming overhead and sent it up for intra-library delivery to the librarian who normally enters the data into our local index database but who has been assigned to the cross-town branch for the past couple weeks, hence the tower.
  • Discovered that some of the Publisher’s Weekly romance reviews several issues ago (don’t get me started) were part of series we don’t own and determined whether or not we should order the first books, too. Looked at my remaining budget and ordered the urban fantasy romances because those are circulating better at the branches than the regencies right now.
  • Fielded an assortment of switchboard phone calls while a co-worker was at a meeting and helped patrons with computer questions our morning volunteer couldn’t answer.
  • Sent one donated book and two genealogy-society-purchased Civil War Volunteer Regimental histories to be cataloged—hi, Grace!
  • Indexed several fifty-year old photograph negatives from the local newspaper into our historical image database while listening to my stomach growl and contemplating whether I should give up my nightly bowl of ice cream for more breakfast . ..



Free Pizza for National Library Week Staff Appreciation Day!

And Diet Pepsi, too!



Questions answered/Problems solved during afternoon desk hours:**

Do I need a library card for the computers?
(Yes): 3

How do I get a library card?
(Go see the nice people at the circulation desk): 2

Can you tell me my library card number so I can go online?
(Yes, with valid ID): 1

What’s my PIN?
(Depends on when you received your card and if you ever changed the . . . Never mind, I’ll reset it for you): 2

Where are your old newspapers?
(Depends on your definition of old—most recent week is on the first floor, the three prior months are in paper in closed stacks, and the rest back to the 1800s are on microfilm—choose your poison): 1 group of 4

Can you help me find an obituary?
(Yep. Do you know the exact date? The year? Decade? Century? Okay, then, follow me to the indexes): 2

Can you help me find marriage records?
(Yep. See above): 1

How do I use the microfilm machines?
(Job security!): 5

How do I make microfilm copies?
(More job security!): 3

What does this blinking light on the microfilm machine mean?
(Aw, &#!%) 2

The change machine ate my twenty!
(Huh . . . This machine only takes ones and fives, but I can check to see if there’s a twenty in the hopper—sir? Where did he go?): 1

The photocopier/scanner  keeps beeping at me!
(Say it with me: Job Security!)

Can you tell me which tax forms I need?
(No, but I can find you the instructions that will help you make that decision): 2

Can you help me find a copy of this specific tax form from 2005?
(Yes and good for you): 1

They said the library would help me do my taxes for free.
(They were mistaken, but I can loan you a pencil and a calculator): 2

Can you help me with my taxes for free?
(Not even if you paid me, but I have another calculator): 3

Who can help me do my taxes for free?
(The reference department has a list): 2

I need print reproductions of these historical images—how do I do that?
(Give us three days and twenty dollars, please): 1

I meant digital reproductions.
(if we’ve already scanned ’em, give us an hour and sixteen dollars—if not, three days and the sixteen)

Did my microfilm come in yet from the State Historical Society?

Are you sure?
(Yep–it takes 8 to 12 weeks and you ordered it last Thursday)

Where are the restrooms?
(Behind you to the right): 3

I want to find my relative in the 1940 Census.
(The 1940 Census isn’t indexed by name yet, but if you know his address, we might be able to browse the right section, as long as it’s local): 1

He lived in New York City.
(That’s not local and we don’t have a 1940 ward map for New York)

I want to try anyway.
(All right. I’ll set you up at that computer over there)

I don’t know how to use a computer and I don’t have my glasses–can you do it for me?
(I’m afraid not—without a ward map, I’d be searching the entire city for one name)

Go ahead—I don’t mind waiting.
(**headdesk** Ow.  That kind of search will take several days to complete, especially as we only be able to search one ward of one borough at a time . . .  And we charge $15.00 an hour for research requests of this kind)

Maybe I’ll just wait for the index.
(Thank you)

Can you help me get my resume off my e-mail and attach it to this online form?
(Do you have a flash drive? Never mind, you can check out the temporary one for two hours): 1

Do you have headphones I can borrow?
(No, but I can sell you a set of earbuds for a buck): 2

These things fell apart when I took them out of my ears!
(What do you expect for a buck—shoot, did I say that out loud? The circulation desk might be able to give you a refund): 1

How do I print from the computers?
(Explanation of printing station omitted for sake of post length and blogger’s patience): 2

  • I also mailed out three research packets, recorded two research payments, received three e-mails and answered two, and took down two phone requests.
  • And took a potty break in the middle there.


Late afternoon accomplishments:

  • Finished going through my back stack of PW,  then went through a pile of historical and genealogical catalogs and checking items against our current holdings, while drinking the rest of my last diet Pepsi of the day.
  • Did more newspaper image cataloging.
  • Answered three e-mails.
  • Helped shut down the department for the night.

Clocked out at 5:34pm.

Anyone still confused about why libraries and librarians might be handy to have around?


*We do this for you—we already know where the exits are and we don’t argue with each other about why we have to cut our computer sessions short just because the building is on fire. Whine, yes. Argue, no.

**I’ve left out two patron interactions because of patron privacy.  I left in the  New York question because it was the same as several other questions I’ve had for the last week—and New York wasn’t the city.


Attention Please!

Not much time left to
Enter Sarah’s fun Contest
Write a haiku now!

I know I said Wednesday was the deadline  but I’m cutting entries off at midnight tonight, Central Time.   So send me your seventeen syllables soon!


21 thoughts on “Rant of the Wild Librarian: Day in the Life

  1. Happy National Library Week Staff Appreciation Day!!!

    I appreciate you and all your work for your community. I don’t want to imagine a world without libraries or librarians.


    A daughter in law of a librarian

  2. Happy National Library Week. I’m an English teacher by trade but a librarian at heart! I’ve done my stint behind the circulation desk and know the pain (and joys) and being a librarian.
    Happy Pages,

  3. Happy National Library Week to my favourite librarian – I worked in two university libraries (undergrad and law) – the road not chosen…. sigh.

    Keep the faith and keep smiling.

    • Happy National Library Week to my favorite nearly-librarian two countries removed. 🙂

      I knew there was the air of a librarian about you, Duchess! It’s probably the feathered boa.

  4. Wait. It’s national library week? And there’s a staff appreciation day? Pizza??? Figures they wouldn’t advertise that around here.

    At least nobody asked you if the library had the blue math book.


    • Surprise! 😀

      The blue math book isn’t in my department. The Big Red Book of Everyone’s Genealogy used to be, but we’ve mislaid it somewhere . . .

      • Ummm… yeah. My great great grandfather was born somewhere in Illinois or Iowa or somewhere sometime before now. Can you help me find out about him?

        • I’m sorry, we seem to have misplaced The Big Red Book of Everyone’s Genealogy. You can try to order it through the Interlibrary Loan Service of your own public or academic library, but I’m afraid most facilities won’t loan out their copies. Do keep checking with us, though . . .

        • Wow. You really have the customer service stuff down. This is why I work in technical services. I’d never be able to say that with a smile on my face!

  5. My husband had to attend a class yesterday on why the police need proper training (guns, obviously, but tasers, clubs, all of it as well), and to be able to document said training. His comment to me was, “See? The documentation would show I was perfectly trained to tase the kids when they didn’t want to go upstairs and put on their pjs.”
    Which gets me to thinking. Perhaps the libririans should vote for some taser training in case patrons need encouragement in case of a fire…
    “But, but I still have half an hour left!” Bzzzzzzzzzt! “Yes, ma’am. On my way, ma’am.”
    Happy Librarian

  6. What does it say about me that I actually found this account of your day riveting? I suppose there is still time for me to get a library science degree…except I would probably be scared off by all the “Libraries and librarians are going extinct!” hysteria floating around. (And which scared off one of my friends who was starting an MLIS program.)

    “They said the library would help me do my taxes for free.” Oh, honey. Felt kind of bad for this person.

    • There’s always time for a Library Science degree, Laura!

      I wish I could track down the They who keep sending people to the library for things we’ve never had and never done. It’s so frustrating for everyone.

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