Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Review of Library Positions (That I’ve Worked)

Page

The typical “entry-level” position for people wanting to work in libraries is that of Library Page. A lot of hardened library folks look back on this position with a smile on their faces, because it is by far the simplest and least bullshit-ridden position you could possibly have at a library. Your basic duties as a page are simple, but vary from library to library. The thing they all have in common is shelving, which means that anytime you’re at a public library and see some sad-looking fella shoving a cart of books through the stacks, you’re probably looking at a page. Through sheer osmosis, the pages become more intimately familiar with the collection and Dewey system than anyone else in the library, since the whole point of their job is keeping things in order. The absolute best part of being a page is not having to deal with major library problems. In fact, at some libraries you are specifically forbidden from helping people, even if they’re looking for a book that you have on your cart. Goddamn I miss being a page sometimes.

However, there are a few major downsides to being a page. The first is the pay. As the second-lowest wrung on the library ladder (volunteers are the lowest), you are paid the least. Another problem is that after several months, the job becomes mind-numbingly tedious. There’s a reason why, at a certain point, previously energetic pages start taking on the appearance of cattle, with sad expressions just begging to be put out of their misery. Another problem is that there are many other little tasks that you’re required to do as a page that you never find out about until you’re asked to do them. There are typically jobs such as picking up garbage on the floor and even in front of the library, moving around surprisingly heavy boxes of crap, wearing costumes for library events, mopping the floor if someone spills a drink or food, mopping the floor if someone craps or pees on it, climbing on the roof to hang promotional signs, etc. A lot of the time your job as a page is being a janitor that also happens to shelve books.

Final Verdict: If the pay was raised, this would be an awesome position. I cannot stress enough how desirable cleaning crap off the floor is to having someone threaten to stab you because you cut off their computer time, or throw things at you because of a fine. Also, if you’re a bookworm, there is nothing better than constantly being up in the collection from the start of your shift to the end. Finally, there is a very peaceful and, dare I say it, zen-like quality to those early morning shifts, when you’re shoving a cart of books through a quiet library with the sun shining through the windows. That is how I prefer to remember it.

Aide/Clerk

This position can potentially be the scariest. It’s a rung higher than the page, so you’re paid more, but depending on which library system you work for, the difference in pay can either be awesome (a $4 increase) or pathetic (a $1 increase). This position is usually filled by former pages wanting to work their way up, but I have also found out that a lot of places let applicants jump straight into this position without needing previous work as a page. This, of course, infuriates a lot of pages who get passed over for this position, but human resources could really give less than a shit about the pages. Anyhow, the main job of an aide/clerk is checking out books to people and dealing with all of the pleasantness that this entails. There are, as always, a lot of smaller side jobs as well, such as mending damaged books, pulling books off the shelves to fill requests, shipping them out to other libraries, and other shit work which is less shitty than what you’re asked to do as a page. On the plus side , you get to meet a lot of your library’s patrons. Some people may ask, “how the fuck could that be a plus?” but the simple fact is that most of the people who come into the library are very nice and just want to have something good to read, or a good movie to watch. The conversations are typically pleasant and do a lot to kill the tedium of the job. In fact, since customer service is your job at this point, a patron can talk you up for 15 minutes, and if you’re enjoying it, this is a great way of killing time that would otherwise be used checking in books or dealing with another, possibly angry patron. And your supervisor can’t really say shit to you, since you’re supposed to be providing good customer service. Well, they CAN scold you if you’re clearly just bullshitting with a friend, but you at least have the option of defending it as customer service.

As can be predicted, the major, MAJOR downside to this position is that you are the person who gets yelled at if a patron has a fine, or overdue books, or a lost book. I am not kidding about this. If you work as an aide/clerk long enough, at some point someone will yell at you about this stuff, and question your competence. Of course it’s not your fault that they have fines, but the anger has to be directed somewhere, and since you’re the messenger, you’re the one who’s going to get it. When it starts getting out of hand you always have the option of calling up your supervisor, since they’re the ones who have the final say in these matters, but it still sucks ass having to deal with these yelling fits. It actually does get easier the more often you deal with it, and you learn some neat ways of delivering the bad news and defusing some of the anger, but no one likes to be a punching bag, and when you work this position, you’re the one person at the library who gets punched the most.

Final Verdict: This is the position where you really start feeling like you’re part of the library, and you start sharing your battle stories with coworkers. Being a page is a solitary position, but as an aide/clerk you’re typically at the circulation desk with another person. There’s also some kind of strange, unspoken sense of superiority that you get in this position. The reason for this is that you’re handling money, your dealing with the public, and you’ve already typically paid your dues as a page. Therefore, folks in this position get the snobbish delight of looking down on the pages, even though they’d switch jobs in a heartbeat the moment someone starts screaming at them about fines. Also, for you horny bastards out there, you get to talk to a lot of attractive patrons. Not that you’ll end up dating them or anything, but it’s better than having to dodge someone’s farts while shelving books on the bottom row of a crowded aisle.


Extra-Help Library Assistant

This is an awesome position if you can get it. I got it years ago but had to give it up when I started working more hours at my current library. Basically, this is an entry into the world of reference work. It’s an on-call position where, if you’re available, you can go to whatever library needs you, work the information desk, and then not have to deal with whatever major problems the library has once you leave. You get paid surprisingly well and have to do only the basic duties of a library assistant. More likely than not, you’ll just be looking up books for people and dealing with getting people on computers. Sometimes, you’ll have to do minor jobs like pull books of the shelves for requests, or maybe enter some random shit into a computer. There is absolutely nothing about this job that is too difficult. And if a patron starts flipping out on you, you can stare at them blank-faced and just tell them that you don’t usually work there, and direct their complaints to someone else. It’s all the joys of working reference with none of the commitments!

On the down side, you only get work when you’re needed, so you can’t go out and buy a home working this job. Also, while being called to work at a variety of libraries sounds nice initially, it’s a pain in the ass to have to deal with finding some of the more obscure branches that you get called to, let alone where you have to park. Unless you’re familiar with the system, you might get sent to some shady areas that you didn’t know were shady until you’ve already parked your car. Also, and this is a major downside; you’re fresh meat and aren’t familiar with some of the crazies that you may have to deal with. Believe me, once you work reference long enough, you learn how to treat certain people so they don’t start flipping out for bizarre reasons. But aside from the risk of someone stabbing you with a pen because you’re new and don’t know that they’re unstable, it’s a great position!

Final Verdict: This was a great position when I worked it. However, the instability of when you get to work makes this position less than desirable when you have bills to pay. However, if it’s open and you have the time to swing it, it’s a great introduction to reference work. I met some interesting people and got to find out how difference library systems worked, and that was always a plus. And like I said, no commitments!

Library Technician

This is my current position. I’m basically a fake librarian, since what I do is what people assume all librarians do. I look up books for people, I answer reference questions, I assist with computer issues, you get the idea. Library assistants are also fake librarians, but depending on where you’re working, your duties will differ. For example, library assistants in LA County typically have to do work schedules for the pages and aides/clerks, while the assistant at my job schedules class visits for schools. Library techs, on the other hand, don’t do any of that as far as I know. From what I can gather, the main focus of this job is to do “librarian stuff” without having to go to all the big meetings or deal with administrative bullshit. I really, really like that barrier, since the last thing I want to do is get involved in library politics. At least with this job, you can stay ignorant about everything else going on and just concentrate on your job.

The nice thing about this job is that your interactions with the public are usually friendly. The way library folk tend to view things, you’d think that every day was a disaster, but the fact of the matter is that around 80% of your day is positive, if not downright dull. There’s also some shitwork that you don’t have to do, and you have the pleasure of calling on another person to do it instead. Plus you don’t deal with fines. I cannot stress enough how much of a plus that is.

The downside to this position is that you directly encounter and are forced to deal with the more extreme and bizarre problems at the library, such as people masturbating at the computers, fist fights, people complaining about how another person smells, etc. Probably this biggest problem that you’ll have to deal with is the inconsistent and ever-changing policies regarding what you can and can’t do in the library. Food will not be allowed, then it will be allowed, then only food bought in our vending machines will be allowed, then all food will be allowed again, and on and on. A woman will take her shirt off and use a computer wearing only a bra, and that’s not allowed, but a man will come in wearing a leather vest and no shirt, and that’s allowed. Then there’s the problem with people assuming that you know everything, and screaming at you because they can’t find their kids, the same ones they actively ignored for over an hour while checking their email and Facebook updates.

Final Verdict: I get paid ridiculously well for this position, and I’m very happy with it. Like I’ve said, there are negative aspects of it, but those only take up part of your day. Depending on how high up the library food chain you’re looking to go, this is a great job to try for. Just be aware that you don’t get any practice being a supervisor or anything like that. If you don’t want that, and just want a job that pays you well to do librarian stuff without having to do pain in the ass administrative duties or scheduling, this is a great job. Plus everyone will just call you a librarian anyway, and the only people who’ll get annoyed by that are those who went to school for it.

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