Starting a new job can be overwhelming, to say the least. Especially when it’s your first ever librarian job! In today’s post, Stephen Wilcox shares his experiences as a newbie librarian in a public library. What can you expect starting out in a public library? As Stephen says, Yes, There Will Be Shelving (and lots of people looking for the toilet).
Week 1. Feeling: proud
Just finished my LIS Masters and a week later scored my first library job! It’s now two weeks after that and I’ve completed the first of a ten-day training period. Soooo much to learn. There are policies and procedures, of course, corporate structures to comprehend, library methods across shelving, customer service, joining new members and managing current members, answering reference questions, making reader recommendations, supporting researchers, understanding opening and closing the branch, and everything in between.
There are 8 of us starting together, and we’ll be breaking up into smaller groups next week to do more intensive library management system (LMS) training and visit some of the library sites. Everyone seems just as overwhelmed as me, but the general feeling is we’re glad to get going, glad to be here!
Week 3. Feeling: like a noob
The other librarians in the branch are really nice, but I still feel like a total rookie, unsure where the Reference section is, befuddled by booking the public computers, unable to independently direct patrons to the toilet. Training was great, and I came out feeling confident, until today when I felt more in the way than on the way! It’s funny also how little my years of study have played in anything I’ve done so far. A lot of it is learning to follow procedures, asking or intuiting what library patrons may need, using a bit of instinct. There’s loads of customer service! And today I did a fair bit of shelving – a good way to learn where sections are located in the collection.
Week 4. Feeling: exhausted
The learning and accumulating of experience continues. We bounce between different roles: sometimes we’re shelving, sometimes working from the main counter, sometimes in the office managing holds or new items. I’ve also had the chance to ‘shadow’ other staff delivering community-focused sessions, of which there are many. I’m a little in awe of the experienced staff, they are so confident and knowledgeable across children’s stories sessions, computer classes, gardening hints, graphic novel appreciation groups. How am I ever going to be so versatile? It’s exhausting just doing the basic tasks, on your feet most of the day, pushing trolleys and filling shelves, staying switched on to the needs of library patrons. I flop down at night, my feet up, my head humming with new discoveries.
Week 7. Feeling: challenged
Nearly six weeks in the library, and I think I’ve turned a corner. I come in each morning now feeling confident, settling into the pattern of the day. I’ve taken my first solo session! It was a maker’s lab group using heaps of building blocks with kids; one of the senior librarians asked me to take it on and I agreed. It went fine. With my growing knowledge of library patrons and my understanding of the philosophy behind these sessions I felt I could offer something enjoyable and purposeful. There weren’t a huge number of participants but it was a step forward for me. I’m finally starting to feel like a valuable part of the team.
Week 8. Feeling: special
I’ve been asked to join an ad hoc team for a week setting up an ‘instant library’ in a local park for a festival. So excited! I’ll be with some much more experienced staff but it’s a new event for all of us, can’t wait to problem-solve and present something pretty innovative for the local community. It feels like my newness has worn off and I’m considered someone reliable, which is encouraging. Library work has such a distinctive community focus, and this is a chance to reach folks who may not normally come into a library. I’m continually amazed at the potential public library services have to make a difference, from providing somewhere quiet to read and study all the way to hosting baking skills sessions for a hundred people. The amount of variety is a factor I hadn’t really counted on when starting this new career, and I’m becoming super-glad I chose it.
Week 11. Feeling: the pressure
The weeks of settling in are over and now things are getting serious. We have a list of 60 or so procedures we have to master in the first six months and mine aren’t being achieved fast enough. It’s not from lack of trying, but more that I do so many different things in a day that I start to feel like a jack-of-all-trades, master of none! My empathetic colleagues remind me to relax, not be too hard on myself, to keep on asking questions and taking the time to learn things properly. I’ve now hosted quite a few sessions, even some kids’ stories, had my week with the instant library which was excellent, helped dozens of library patrons, and used the LMS to support hundreds more. Now just got to tick those boxes!
Week 16. Feeling: fulfilled
I actually love going to work each day. Its not perfect: patrons can be impatient or rude, shelving can be arm-busting, computers can go down at the most inconvenient moments, but on the whole it’s a really fulfilling job. I’ve now been here almost four months, and today a new person started who has just come in from the latest intake. I’m no longer the newest on the block! It was nice to be able to help them today – I made sure I told them exactly how to direct patrons to the toilets – which I think they found a bit weird.
I’m really still at the start of my journey but my steps now are more solid, more stable. I don’t yet know my destination but I do know I’m heading in the right direction.