Ask Me Anything: I’m a Librarian

When I tell people I’m a librarian by trade, I get a lot of questions-usually it’s “does anyone even use the library anymore?” and other rage-inducing queries…but I digress. A few weeks ago, I put in my Instagram stories a call out for questions about library life, and my Bookstagram followers didn’t let me down! Here’s some gems of things they’d like to know about being a librarian:

Do you get to be the first in line when new books come in?

Yes and no. For my library, it all depends on when you place your hold for the item. So yes, we know when we make the purchasing decisions and thus can get the jump on placing a hold, but most libraries don’t let staff just take items when they come in!

Sorry, I really didn’t answer your question, buuuuut we don’t get priority if we don’t place the holds first (i.e. we don’t automatically get moved up the list), so mostly no?

What is the craziest condition you have seen a book returned in? What’s the grossest thing you’ve found between pages?

Y’all, I’ve seen some nasty things. There was once a book returned with what I can only hope was covered in melted candle wax…I really don’t like to think about it too much! I’ve also seen lots of food covered items returned (the worst was melted chocolate-I mean come on!). I wouldn’t say I’ve been privy to too many gross things in the pages (I don’t work the circulation desk at my current job, so I don’t process returns), but people often leave like, personal photos and identifying information as bookmarks??? People, don’t do that…please (both items of these types were found in returned books on the shelves).

How are new books picked?

This varies library to library. Basically, most libraries have a collection development policy that helps dictate their purchasing process, and many of them come down to requiring professional reviews to purchase. This isn’t always the case, as graphic novels and indie published titles don’t often get professionally reviewed, but it’s fairly standard across libraries. Obviously the number of holds placed on a title impacts purchases, as popularity could convince us to purchase a title or purchase more copies. We also take community interest into account; for example, I work in a minority majority community with a great deal of Spanish language speakers, so we’re more inclined to purchase Spanish language titles even if they don’t have a lot of reviews. Finally, we obviously take patron suggestions into account, so if you are looking for a specific title and your library doesn’t have it, suggest they purchase it! Worse comes to worse, they don’t purchase it BUT you could probably get it from another library through interlibrary loan.

I hope this makes sense- bottom line: new books aren’t selected willy nilly, but by clear and defined policies and procedures. Libraries often post their collection development policies on their websites so if you have specific questions about your library, I’d check there first!

I also have more detailed information about collection development on my Bookstagram- check out my story highlight titled “Library Life” to learn more!

How is school? Do you have to go to college to be a librarian?

Okay, this is a very loaded question, as you’re likely to get a different story depending on where you are and who you ask. Strictly speaking, if you’d like to be considered for competitive positions in the library world, a Master’s Degree from an ALA (American Library Association) accredited program is required (I have a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois). However, if you are in a smaller, rural community, usually a Bachelor’s degree of any sort or even an Associate’s degree suffices. This is really a dividing topic in the library world because Masters programs obviously prove a barrier for people in terms of cost, time, and other factors. I definitely value my Masters education, but do I think it’s necessary for entry level/non-management positions? No, not really.

Long story short, a Masters degree is considered competitive and at this point in the profession, almost necessary, to get a job. This isn’t to say you can’t get a job in a library, but the upward mobility might not be there without it.

What are some helpful tips you have for wanting to enter the profession?

I’d love to- I’m always happy to help the new up-and-comers!


Yeah, networking is a real pain, but it is invaluable. I went to my state’s library association’s conference right out of grad school, and I made sure to talk to other people and establish connections with them. Those connections grew further connections, and it actually got me into the job I’m in now! While it’s obviously important what you know, sometimes in the library world it’s more important who you know, as many libraries usually promote within and getting into a new library sometimes requires knowing someone there or having a connection!

In addition to networking with individual people, you should also try to join networking groups in your area. I’m in a few in the Chicagoland area and it’s really helped me not only become more involved in the library world (through committees, presentations, etc), it’s also helped me make connections with others! Seriously, this is the most important advice I could impart on new library professionals.

Also, the job search will take a long time…that’s just the nature of it in this job market. So always be working on tweaking your resume and cover letters. These are difficult to do, but they are obviously crucial to the job search process. I seriously cringe when I see my old cover letters from my initial job search, because they were clearly form letters and didn’t really convey what I could offer a potential employer.

Having been through the long job search, I would be happy to look over your resume and cover letter and offer advice if I have time. I seriously wouldn’t have gotten better at doing it myself if I didn’t have help from other professionals in the field, so I’d be thrilled to help others too!

Finally, any experience is good experience! If you can get an entry level job in a library (circulation assistant, page, etc) while in school, DO IT! Not only does that experience look good on your resume AND libraries are more likely to promote from within and invest in their own employees, but you also get the opportunity to see if that kind of a library is a good fit for you before graduating! If you can’t get a job, look for internship/practicum opportunities. While these are generally unpaid, this experience is also invaluable; if it wasn’t for my practicum during grad school, I wouldn’t have found out how much I love public libraries! I was able to tailor my coursework to public librarianship afterwards, and that was so helpful in the long run! Jobs and/or internships also help you make connections in the library world, which could help you down the line.

Do you get to read at the desk?

*deep inhale* Okay people, let me blow your mind for a minute….THAT’S A BIG OL NO. No librarian I know is allowed to read at the desk, or really even read on the clock (unless it’s a break or meal time). That’s right, I don’t even get to read my book club books for work on the clock. Sorry to be the wet blanket of your librarian fantasies, but we truly don’t get to just read all day…or at all during the work day.

Do you deal with a lot of unstable patrons?

Not really, no. Alsoooo I really don’t love that phrasing, just an FYI. We’re all going through life, and some of us have more barriers in our way than others.

We do have homeless patrons come use the library, and truly they cause no issues whatsoever. We also have patrons with different personality quirks or issues, but for the most part, they cause no issue. Sure, when working in a publicly accessible building and organization, some alarming things can happen occasionally but for the most part, people are kind and respectful. On the rare occasion things do happen, issues are swiftly addressed and taken care of in the most positive manner.

Librarians are some of the most empathetic people I know, and this empathy is almost a necessity when doing what we do (especially in public libraries). We are here to assist all people from all walks of life, and I have FAR MORE positive patron stories than negative.

I’ve seen some drama flying around about e-book licenses for libraries. What’s your take on it?

Woooooo- this one’s a real hot topic among librarians. For a super official and well-written response, I’ll link you to the American Library Association’s statement on the matter here.

If you aren’t sure what this question is in reference to, basically Macmillan (most recently, though there are other publishers with similar policies) are placing embargoes on library’s access to new titles available in e-books. For further details and information, here’s a bunch of great articles detailing the issues:

Now my response? Publishers are royal idiots for doing this for a multitude of reasons. While I understand that more people are choosing to check e-book titles than buy them, that is NO reason to implement sanctions to decrease this option for patrons. Why?

  1. This pisses off librarians SO MUCH (AKA the people who make purchasing decisions AND are the most likely to purchase your items and promote them)
  2. This alienates customers and patrons, and widens the gaps between the haves and the have nots.
  3. This violates a core tenet of library services: equitable access to information for ALL.

I mean, there’s obviously more reasons that publishers are making a mistake by doing this, but I’m getting real heated so I’m going to end it there.

So if you love libraries and love equitable access to information, please contact major publishers and let them know what you think.

For more information about how much it costs for libraries to provide those high-demand e-books you’re looking for, here’s a great article from the Philadelphia Inquirer from earlier this year.

Is working in a library like the dream we believe it is? I always wanted to work in one, but I fear I’d end up hating it.

For me, it really is.

But let me be clear, being a librarian is not what the media or your mind makes it out to be. I don’t read on the desk or at work, I don’t just get to talk about books all the time, helping and interacting with people is an everyday and every hour thing, I make no money, etc etc.

It’s not perfect, but I love that every day brings something different: from fun patrons to ordering books to putting on programs, there’s always something going on. I also get great personal satisfaction from helping others, and being a public librarian allows me to do that every day.

Also there’s all sorts of different libraries- public libraries, archives, academic libraries, corporate libraries, etc etc, and they each offer different experiences.

I’m always happy to expand more on my personal library journey and answer specific questions about the job so if it’s something you’re thinking of pursuing, just hit me up!

Have any other burning library-related questions? Comment with them below (or DM me on Bookstagram, etc), and I’d be happy to answer as best I can!

Until next time!

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