the naked library assistant

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I used to work in a public library in America, at the circulation desk helping people to check books out, issuing new library cards, collecting fine payments, and answering general questions. During those couple of years I became a familiar face in the library, and would sometimes get recognised by members of the community outside of work. People would say hello in the supermarket, for example, nothing too awkward, but I wouldn’t always recognise them as library users.

Well, there was this one time I got caught naked. Not at work, I hasten to add, surely that would be illegal? No, I was minding my own business, taking a shower at the gym after a workout, when a guy walked over, looked at me and asked Do you work in the library? I suppose I could have lied, and said Not I, sir, surely you are mistaken, but instead I simply looked at him and said Yes, yes I do, and continued on with my shower.

Staff Development Day

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I work as a library assistant in an academic institution, and have volunteered to join the team to help plan a staff development day for the library employees. I have no prior experience of planning such a thing, and there hasn’t been a staff development day at this institution for many years. Last year we had an away day, which was actually an afternoon in a different part of the campus, with a free lunch, and a couple of guest speakers who also work here; in other words, it didn’t really feel like much of an away day. It was more of a short trip to the local corner shop to buy a loaf of bread rather than an excursion to John Lewis to buy a sofa, if you get my meaning.

Well, this year is going to be different. My suggestion that we try to hold the staff development day off-campus was met with enthusiasm, and we have already managed to find a venue in the city centre. I guess that was the easy part; now we need to come up with a program of activities to entice our library colleagues to join us for the day. I should point out that the staff development day is not compulsory, and that many of the staff will be unable to attend anyway, because we still need to open and run the university libraries that day. (It was decided that we would have only the one day for some staff, rather than repeating the day twice so all staff could attend.)

Anyway, my question is this: have you ever attended or helped to plan a staff development day for library employees? Do you have any suggestions for topics or themes? Any engaging workshops or activities? Things to avoid? All ideas are welcome, in the comments below. Thank you!

I will update you on the progress of our staff development day as and when. It is scheduled to take place in May.

4 years

I started this blog four years ago; initially as a place to share my senior thesis research, which looked at adult education programs offered by public libraries, but the blog evolved to focus more on sharing articles that related to how public libraries connect with their communities in general (hence the name). During this time, the situation for public libraries in the UK, where I currently live, has become pretty dire, due to severe funding cuts from the government, and my interest shifted more to being an advocate for public libraries, and supporting various library advocacy groups and campaigns.

I worked for over two years in a public library in the US, and when I relocated to the UK, it was my goal to find a similar job here, as a library assistant, but those kinds of jobs are few and far between. Instead, I have spent the last couple of years working in an academic library. There have been unexpected benefits to this; I have had more opportunities for training and development than I would probably have had in a public library, and I only work during semester, so I am fortunate enough to be able to spend the whole summer taking care of my young children. I work in a small library that holds book stock relating only to a few subject areas, and primarily serves the students that are studying those specific subjects. This is, naturally, vastly different from working in a public library, where both the users and the book stock are more varied.

Recently, I have been sharing more personal pieces of writing on this blog, that traced my career path from working in a bakery at age 17, right up to my current position. The idea behind it was to try to make sense of my apparently jumbled work history, in an attempt to see how all my experiences led me to wanting to work in libraries. The story doesn’t end here, of course; I have a passion for working in libraries, but I am not a qualified library professional, and I am unsure what the next steps in my career will be. For now, I remain a library assistant.

Sharing articles from external sources on here feels a bit hit and miss; I’m not sure how much I am actually contributing to the library advocacy movement by doing that, and indeed, there are other people blogging far more effectively about libraries than I am. For me, it is far more rewarding to write original pieces that somehow relate my personal experiences to the context of libraries; in a way, connecting myself to libraries through sharing my experiences of them, whether as a library user, advocate, or as an employee.

The library in which I currently work is going through a period of great change, and I think that will become the focus of some of my writing on here for a while, as I try to contextualize and make sense of my experiences. An academic library serves a different kind of community than a public library, but I believe that libraries connect communities regardless of the kind of libraries they are or the kind of communities they serve.

Thank you for reading; we’ll see how this blog changes and develops over the next four years…

My Employment History Part 17 (or how I ended up working in a library)

The final part of a series  exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: from department store to academic library

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My wife and I relocated from the US to the UK, with our two young children in tow. A couple of days after landing in the UK, I had an interview lined up for a job at a library within a publishing company. I sailed through the first interview, but stumbled at the second. I soon had interviews at various other libraries, but they ended the same way; I got down to the final two people, but they selected the other candidate. Time was running out, and I needed to start earning money, so I decided to use my customer service skills and experience to find a temporary job while I continued my search for a library position. This is how I ended up working in a department store, as a seasonal temp during the run up to Christmas.

I only worked there for eight weeks, but it felt like a lot longer. My duties included refolding piles of sweaters and t-shirts, fixing the gaps between clothes hanging on rails to make sure the hangers were all equally spaced, restocking and sorting packets of formal shirts into their correct sizes and styles, cleaning the store fixtures, tidying the changing rooms, and serving customers both at the cash register and on the shop floor. Learning how to use the cash register was a challenge; during the week, there wouldn’t be enough customers to get practice using it, and then at the weekends there would be so many customers that there wouldn’t be time for asking for guidance on how to use the cash register correctly. I teamed up with other temporary staff, and we helped each other out the best we could. To confound matters, this department store had different offers and special promotions every week, and each one required specific actions at the cash register in order to activate them at the point of sale; it got very confusing.

I was quite happy to use my customer service skills in an environment other than a library, but there is a very different focus in retail. In this company, there was a heavy emphasis on recruiting customers to sign up to a store credit card. There were targets of how many new credit cards we were supposed to activate, and we had to ask every customer, at every single transaction, if they would like to open one. Not only was this repetitive for us, but it also really annoyed the customers; imagine being asked about a store credit card every time you made a purchase? Customers would grimace and complain as soon as we mentioned it; in many ways, asking the question undermined the rest of the customer service that we were providing. Like most retail companies, the staff were encouraged to go above and beyond, to really help the customer get what she or he wants, and yet, the whole credit card thing left a vile aftertaste at every customer interaction.

I was offered a permanent position at the store, but I declined. Fortunately, I had persevered with applying for library jobs, and secured a library assistant position at an academic library, which is where I still work today. I have been here for two years now, and am witnessing a period of great change. The university is spread out over multiple campus sites, with a different library serving each one. The library in which I work will be closing within a few years, during which time the whole campus will shut down and the various departments will relocate to the other existing campus sites. At this stage, I don’t know if I will still have a job when the campus finally closes, but for now, this is where I am.

I was going to end here with a summary of the highlights of my working life, but there’s a danger it would end up looking like a CV or resume, and this isn’t the right place for that. Looking back through all the jobs that I’ve had has been a rewarding experience, and I  recommend you do it, too. Some people have a clear, linear career path running through their working life, but for me that hasn’t been the case. Instead, I have been incredibly fortunate to have lived and worked in a wide variety of places, including America, Canada, Israel and Japan, and have experienced working in education, museums, government departments, retail, offices, libraries and, yes, in a bakery, which was where my employment journey began all those years ago. When I was 17, I had no idea about what I wanted to be; when I was 18, 19, 20 and 21 I still had no idea, and was worried that I would spend the whole of my working life stuck in an office somewhere, because I just didn’t know what else to do. My 17 year old self would be reassured to know that when he grew up, he would have the confidence to take risks, to try new things, and that, yes, you really will live and work abroad someday (in more countries than you dare to imagine), you will get married and have children, and even be a stay-at-home-dad, despite how alien that sounds. I would also tell him that, when you reach 42, you still might not have a career, but it really doesn’t matter. The whole word is out there, so go where your heart takes you, and only stay in the jobs that you enjoy. Oh, and start writing…

 

My Employment History Part 16 (or how I ended up working in a library)

Part sixteen in a series exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: library assistant.

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I worked as a shelver for a few months before getting a job as a Library Assistant, and my hours increased to working four evenings a week and every other Saturday. A shelver shelves books, but what does a Library Assistant do? I was on the front-line, serving library users at the Circulation Desk; checking items in and out, collecting fines, issuing new library cards, handling reserved items, and answering general questions like Where is the restroom? In a nutshell, I was providing customer service.

Simultaneously, I was still studying part-time for a degree, and during the day I was a stay-at-home dad, taking care of my young son while my wife worked full-time. Juggling household chores, childcare, classes,  writing essays, and going to work was challenging but manageable. However, I then had to start work on my senior thesis, and we discovered we were having another baby, due around the same time as my thesis deadline. Every moment of my day was taken up with something; time became a precious commodity.

It all came to a crescendo in Spring 2013; I finished my thesis a month ahead of time to ease the pressure, I became an American citizen, and then our second child was born, arriving on graduation day (needless to say, I was at the hospital with my wife rather than at college collecting my degree). My wife had six weeks’ maternity leave before going back to work; now I no longer had any study deadlines to meet, but instead I had a two year old and a newborn to take care of during the day, followed by my shifts at the library in the evenings. This was a different kind of tired.

However, despite the tiredness, I really enjoyed my job. I was on the committee that organised social events for library staff, I helped devise and implement a campaign to promote the library’s new Blu-ray collection, I contributed to writing circulation procedures, and genuinely enjoyed getting to know the people that used the library. I would have been happy to stay in that job, but my wife and I decided to relocate to the UK.

Part seventeen to follow.

My Employment History Part 15 (or how I ended up working in a library)

Part fifteen in a series exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: turning a page.

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During that first year of being a stay-at-home dad, I returned to college part-time to work towards completing my Education and Museum Studies degree. It was a requirement to undertake an internship in a museum-related position, so unlike my classmates who went off to spend the summer working in museums in New York, Chicago and other exciting places, I secured an internship with the local historical society, and spent a couple of hours there once a week. The only way I could do this was to take my young son with me, and although far from ideal, I was able to get work done while he played on the floor with his toys. I was very lucky; he was amazingly well-behaved, and as long as I wasn’t too far away, he kept himself entertained, while I read through dusty old files, trying to create an efficient way to cross reference the information contained within. Around the same time, I also had to do a collaborative project in the community, to fulfill an Education course requirement. I chose to create four museum programs, which involved me taking objects from the college campus museums and presenting them in the public library as educational events. (This later evolved into the subject matter of my senior thesis, but that’s a topic for a different, much longer blog post.)

By the time of my son’s first birthday, I was ready to find a part-time job; I knew that I needed something else to focus on that was neither baby-related nor college-related. I applied for all kinds of things, including working in Target and Walgreens, just to find a job that would somehow fit in with my wife working full-time and me taking care of our son full-time, while also studying for my degree part-time. Even as I write this, it seems like madness, but I was desperate to find something else to do, while earning a few dollars.

A Library Page position was advertised at the public library. I had applied for a couple of jobs at the local public library before, and hadn’t got anywhere, but I thought I’d give it another shot. Firstly, though, I had to figure out what a library page was; surely a page belongs in a book? Thankfully, the job description revealed all; a page is simply the American term for a shelver (someone who re-shelves library books after they have been returned). Now, I thought, even I can do that, so I applied. I knew that I was over-qualified for this position, and doubted that I would get an interview, but I had become known in the library due to my museum project there, and I was very familiar with the library thanks to all the storytime sessions I had been attending with my son. I was very happy to be invited to interview, and even happier to be offered the job. I worked 12 hours a week, shelving books. Yes, it wasn’t the most interesting of jobs, but I loved working in the library. The money I earned went straight into paying for childcare so someone could watch my son while I worked, but for the pure escapism those 12 hours provided, it was worth it. My life had become incredibly busy, juggling full-time parenting, a part-time job, being a part-time student and still doing all the reading and essay  writing, as well as undertaking college projects, but I was happier because I had a job in the library, and who knew where it might lead? What I learned from being a page: shelvers provide the backbone of the library, and without them, nobody would be able to find anything.

Part sixteen to follow.

When a book review advocates for libraries

via The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters by Nadiya Hussain review – what the Bake Off winner did next | Books | The Guardian

The link may seem tenuous, but stick with me. This book review, for a novel by Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain,  is actually advocating for public libraries, and how they help shape lives and fullfill dreams. There’s an extract below, please click the link to read the full article.

Somewhere in your town, probably in a chilly corner of your library, if you are still lucky enough to have one, is a child. They are by themselves, bespectacled probably; not wearing the trendiest clothes. And they are reading and reading and filling their head with nothing else but books and words and new worlds. They have a dream; that one day books will be their life. It seems unlikely, but there it is. And it is wonderful.

*The description of the child as “bespectacled probably; not wearing the trendiest clothes” is an unhelpful stereotype at best, and in my opinion, the article would have been better without this sentence.

The Future of Library Cards, via American Libraries Magazine

The Future of Library Cards is an article by Kaitlin Throgmorton,  published in American Libraries Magazine, discussing the introduction of digital library cards, and the potential benefits they offer. An excerpt is given below, but click the link for the full article.

If libraries are the door to knowledge, library cards are the key. Once a mere slip of paper bearing a patron’s name, the library card is evolving into a technologically sophisticated tool that can help patrons access information more quickly and easily than ever before.

At many libraries, digital “cards”—which usually consist simply of numbers that patrons use to access digital items—have become standard. The Harris County (Tex.) Public Library (HCPL) introduced its version, the iKnow Digital Access Card, as a way to “reduce as many barriers as possible,” says Library Director Edward Melton.

IKnow card holders can access the library’s digital collections—including ebooks, streaming video and audio, magazines, and research databases—within minutes. Acquiring an iKnow card is as simple as registering via an online form, which is viewable only within the state of Texas, and which accepts only registrants who have ZIP codes in or adjacent to Harris County. Currently, nearly 50,000 people, or about 4% of HCPL’s total patrons, hold an iKnow card.

a quick plug…

Forgive me, but here’s a quick plug for my other blog Matthew’s Memoira place where I share more autobiographical-style pieces of writing. You might recognise a few bits and pieces from here…

My Employment History Part 14 (or How I ended up working in a library)

Part fourteen in a series exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: being a stay-at-home-dad and discovering the joys of storytime.

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It’s been a while, so here’s a brief re-cap: I moved to the US after marrying an American, became a full-time student again, and had a part-time job working in an art museum. Then one day, my wife gave birth to our son, and suddenly we were parents…

American maternity leave is not as generous as British maternity leave, so just six weeks after the birth, my wife returned to full-time work, leaving me at home with our new baby. This wasn’t a complete surprise; we had discussed what we’d do if we had children, and mutually agreed that my wife would continue to work full-time, in a job that she loved, while I stayed home. Hence, I had to quit my museum job, and took a semester off from my degree course, with the intention of going back part-time at the start of the next semester.

Becoming a parent is life-changing; suddenly there is this helpless little stranger, who you have instantly fallen in love with,  living in your home and needing all your attention, all the time. It is truly magical. It is truly exhausting. At times, it is truly disgusting. In those first few weeks alone with the baby, I would set up camp on the couch; a stack of snacks on the coffee table, some DVDs, a pillow on my lap for the baby to sleep on, and everything I needed within arm’s reach. The baby would sleep, wake up to be fed and changed, then sleep some more.

What on earth does this have to do with my career path? How is this relevant to how I ended up working in a library? Well, there was a small group of local parents that got together once a week for breakfast, followed by a visit to the library. This, as you will see, is how I found a new appreciation for our local public library. Meeting with this group of parents became my main (sometimes only) social event of the week. I first joined them when our son was six weeks old; we met up at a local diner for breakfast, and then took our gang of young children over to the library for storytime.

I carried my sleeping baby into the children’s area and sat down with a large crowd of other parents and their young children. An enthusiastic, smiling, happy lady greeted us with a song; “Welcome, welcome, it’s time for a story! Welcome, welcome, we’re glad to be here!” I appeared to be the only person in the room who didn’t know this song, so I looked on, bewildered, as everyone else sang along and did all the sign language actions. I felt like I had inadvertently wandered into an episode of Sesame Street, and expected Big Bird to come striding into view at any moment. I felt very British and out-of-place; the sleep deprived part of me was thinking what am I doing here? My baby boy is six weeks old and asleep, I could be asleep too. But the sane part of me, the part of my brain that was desperate for some social interaction, was thrilled that I was there, because this was a new experience, and there were all these other parents to talk to, and how wonderful was it to be a part of something like this instead of being home alone? Like the song said, I really was glad to be here. I had no idea at the time, but a year after going to my first storytime, I would have a job working in that library.

Part fifteen to follow.