Mary in the Library: Not Actually a Librarian...But Here's What I Do

Let's kick Mary in the Library off with a little unknown information: I'm not actually a librarian. Hence why this is "Mary in the Library" and not "Mary the Librarian." This sometimes surprises people when I correct them. I DO work in a library so why am I not a librarian? It's pretty easy, actually. A librarian is someone who actually has a degree in library sciences, specifically a Master's (MLS). not. I'm simply a person with a passion for books and some very odd skills and experience that made up for the oddly perfect combination to work where I do. Thus, I am what my library calls a Senior Library Assistant (oooh, fancy, I have a three-word title AND the word senior).

So what is a Senior Library Assistant and what does she do with her time? A LOT! 

Desk shifts: 
This is the aspect of libraries that most people know about. I spend usually 2-5 hours of each of my shifts working "on desk." When you're on desk, you're in the business of customer/patron service. My library features four desks: circulation, reference, children's, and book drop. Book drop is checking books in, processing holds, and answering the library's primary line. It's actually really busy most of the time because there are two book drops, and since people can check out up to 50 items, you might get up to 50 items at once per drop.

The circulation desk is where I spend most of my hours. We do a lot of checking in and checking out, help patrons use the computers, and do all the account stuff (new cards, card renewals, etc). We get a lot of questions about printing, copying, tax forms, computer sound (or lack thereof), and a few reference questions (like "Do you know Divergent?"). This desk is fun because I get to see a lot of patrons, and this is where I do a lot of my reader's advisory aka recommendation magic (I'll talk more about reader's advisory in another post). Also this is where I pimp out I mean encourage patrons to attend our various events and programs.

Reference and children's are very similar. Mostly it's helping patrons find a book by [X author] that the "catalog says is in." We reorganized our adult fiction shelves by subject (general fiction, christian, romance, fantasy/sci-fi, mystery, etc), and it still takes patrons by surprise. Especially when they find out [X author] is shelved in three different sections due to their varied bibliography (for example, Steven King is located in general fiction, horror, and mystery/suspense). Sometimes I get asked actual reference questions ("I need a book on English history from 1550-1650" or "I'd like to learn about construction").

Children's involves a little more help with the computers and making sure everyone isn't causing TOO much of a ruckus back in our play area, plus finding books to help children increase their reading level or find books for a school project. I also love giving recommendations at the children's desk because there are so many beloved series and titles from when I was a kid. Adults are usually hard to recommend to because so many of them have their own bookish tastes (and will scoff at your suggestions), but children are more open to finding something new.

Off desk:
Think there's a lot going on on desk? You're correct, but working in a library is like an iceberg: 90% is in the part you DON'T see. So in my hours spent off desk (and occasionally it bleeds into work that happens at the desk), I usually...

Plan programs. I am in charge of three programs at my library (and I'll talk more in-depth about all of them in later posts). Gaming Marathon is a program for teens and tweens that incorporates video games. Kids' Corner is a program for 3rd-5th grade kiddos that features our nonfiction collection. Picking Up STEAM is a STEAM-based storytime for families of all ages. I also help my boss work on other teen programs like our monthly book club, DIY programs, classic lit series, etc.

Plan author panels and events. I've spent a little bit of time the past couple weeks working on a recent author panel at the library that featured five amazing authors. Time was spent making swag, writing questions, working on the flyers, etc. Some panels are more involved and require craft supplies and decorations. It's still winter, but pretty soon we'll have to get started on our summer reading panel.
I make a LOT of buttons at work
(and sometimes I take a machine home with me)

Do social media/NTTBF festival work. Yep. I get to tweet at work. Mostly I just keep track of the Twitter account and answer questions. Right now we're also working on the NTTBF author reveals so we've got to find high-res book covers and write out the reveal mashups. Creating these is surprisingly hard.

Do random jobs. When I moved up to full time, I inherited a couple of responsibilities that the person before me did such as schedule meeting rooms and keep our office supply machine stocked so I have become well-acquainted with spreadsheets and calendars. I'm now in charge of all the tax forms and stocking the display during the spring. I also make the desk schedule one day a week, and either do the cash report or open the library that day as well. One night a week I close the library.

Develop the YA collection/purchase books (!!!). This is my favorite part. I get to order all the YA ebooks and e-audiobooks for our system. This is super a lot of fun. I keep track of a lot of spreadsheets and title lists (, Goodreads, and YA blogs that keep track of monthly releases are my big helpers for this). This is where it really helps to have a passion for books and being part of the YA community because I'm in the know about what comes out when, what's listing, what's winning awards, what special topics are being published, etc.

keeping track of what I buy when & from which service

Part of developing the collection includes creating a monthly newsletter of YA titles to help point patrons toward books that are maybe a little bit older. Sometimes I have a theme (December was "books in space") or feature books by authors who are visiting the library soon (I'll do NTTBF lists in February and March). I also maintain the displays (themed and new books) so that as many books get face time as possible, and process the new books when they arrive (which is why I have so many NEW BOOK!!! tweets). Library fun fact: sometimes our new books arrive early, just like in bookstores. That's how I got to read Fairest like a week early.

Unfortunately, maintaining the collection also mean weeding books, which is when the collection gets too large and has to be cut down. It's sad, but it also helps create room for the new books. We never get rid of titles that have been checked out in the past 1-2 years, and we always start with duplicates (we're cutting down on our Hunger Games collection now since all the movies are out & it's basically hit maximum reach; "cutting down" means going from 15-20 copies of each book maybe to 3 each). Also, I have to process the damaged books and determine if they simply need to be doctored or if they have to be withdrawn from the collection. This especially hurts my heart when a new book is damaged. :(

Things I don't do at work:
Read all my emails. Who has the TIME??
Clean my desk. Ditto! Also, my desk is basically a dumping ground for everyone else. There's literally always program supplies littering every flat surface.
Read.....sorta. While I'm at my desk doing all the above, I usually have an audiobook or some music going, but rarely do library staffers actually read at work. We have other work to do, and reading is still a hobby.
Shush people. My library is a bit on the loud side because of our large youthful patron base. We do a lot of work with kids, tweens, and teens, and our library sounds like it. I'm also a very loud laugher, and my coworkers and I always find something to laugh about.

Any questions about my job? Anything you want me to talk about in future Mary in the Library posts? Let me know in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. I love this, Mary! I know we talk about your work online but I never realized you didn't have the Masters part. Very intriguing because I would LOVE to work in a library but don't really have the financial means to get a Masters (considering the loans for my Bachelors are out of control). Do a lot of libraries have this kind of position where you don't need one? What do the librarians with Masters do that's different from what you do?