Sunday, February 13, 2011

5 best things about my job

I recently gave a talk to students in the University of Ottawa's School of Information Studies about being a public librarian. They were a pleasure to talk to, and I only wish I had more time to stay for additional questions and discussion. They did have some wonderful ideas, questions and comments.

I thought I would share some of the thoughts I prepared for them. After giving them a bit of background (Rideau Branch statistics, OPL statistics, my career path), I decided to structure my talk as:
  • The 5 best things about my job
  • The 5 most challenging things about my job
  • The 5 qualities someone interested in my job should have
I'll be blogging these in the next few days, starting with the 5 best things about my job today.
  1. Autonomy
: My job has a certain degree of autonomy by virtue of the fact that I am the most senior person in the building at most times. Another degree of autonomy comes from specifics of my own circumstances: I have a great manager, who works with me to give me the freedom to pursue or create projects that I am passionate about. All this autonomy results in great conference presentations, a shelf-talkers pilot, outreach
 initiatives, and fun programs. Furthermore, as senior person at the branch, I get to "set the tone" of the branch in some ways: decide what's going to happen and how they are going to work.
  2. Bond of trust with the community
: In any community branch, the branch librarian is fortunate to get to know regular patrons, community groups, program partners, local book clubs, and other kindred spirits. Building and maintaining these relationships, often over the course of several years, is incredibly fulfilling for me. On a more subtle level, simply being seen working (well, I hope) in the community on a daily basis fosters a certain sense of trust for some more reticent members of the community, and gives me "social capital" in the community, which can sometimes prove (in the short or long term) to be pretty valuable.
  3. Working from the ground up:
 In a community library, the world can be your oyster sometimes: you may implement new initiatives, new programs, new partnerships: so many things haven't been done before in many cases that you have a lot of fertile ground to work with.
  4. Variety / diversity of experiences/opportunities/tasks:
 I can unequivocally say that in the past week I have answered both reference and readers’ advisory questions, as well as questions about homework help, and computer/Internet training (today, a woman argued with me about why she couldn't type in to get to Google. "Are you sure?" she asked...). It's also possible that I prepared children's programs, acted as a part social worker, broke up an altercation or two, set up a display, helped at the circulation desk, picked up garbage on the floor, removed expired posters from the community bulletin board, and yes, to cite the cliché, dealt with something sketchy in the washroom (or, frankly, elsewhere). No two days are the same!
  5. Responsibility:
 A community librarian might supervise staff
, either directly (as I do) or indirectly, and be responsible for training, guiding and overseeing their work, as well as offering feedback on their performance. Of course, I also interact with many other groups, from building and city maintenance staff to library senior managers, from the library board to the general public, and from colleagues at OPL to librarians across Canada. I have the privilege of watching people I have trained learn and grow
; I have had the privilege to represent Rideau Branch or OPL or professional librarians as a whole within the community. The responsibilities of a community librarian are all interwoven, in a weird and wonderful way.


  1. a note about responsiblity: i believe it is the responsiblity of a supervisor to learn and grow from their staff as well. as a paraprofessional who cannot become a supervisor because i do not have an MLIS but have LOTS of experience from community, tech services and systems points of view i have alot i feel that the library and librarians would be well-served to remember that they have a wealth of knowledge within their own four walls and institutions.