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“Other Duties as Assigned”
For librarians, as with many other professions, “Other duties as assigned” can be a code for tasks that are not included in your job description or are distasteful, off-kilter, or just plain gross.
Almost every librarian I know has a story or five about retrieving something odd from the book drop (Think of books covered in peanut butter and jelly, or DVDs with buttery-grease from the popcorn eaten while watching the movie), cleaning up feces or dirty diapers in the bathroom, or as I had to do today, remove a smashed jelly-bean from the carpet. But “other duties as assigned” has another meaning, too, and that is what I would like to talk about in this article.
Most people are aware of the emotional load taken on by professions like police, clergy, social workers, nurses, 911 operators, and teachers. Rarely, however, do people consider the emotional toll on librarians. Spend a day at the service desk of a busy library and you’ll see people at their best or other times at their worst. Spend a few months and you’ll begin to follow the lives of your repeat visitors - where you are made privy to some of life’s hardest problems. When going to Library School we were regularly told not to get involved! Spend a few years and it becomes increasingly difficult not to become emotionally involved; you are now a member of a community, hearing about and perhaps even witnessing the tragedies of everyday life: families that are breaking up, accidents that happen to patrons, the decline of your favorite wisecracking old lady, and death…oh so much death.
There are plenty of life-giving things that happen as well. You get to see cute three-foot tall first graders grow seemingly overnight, into tall, gangly teen agers. You hear about graduations, weddings, and other important life rituals. And throughout all of that, you keep up a running dialogue about the books we read, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, and all that happens in life! You feed the curiosity of your community, and if you’re around long enough, they come back and tell you about your influence!
When I was young I visited the library regularly and there were a few librarians that saw me grow up. I don’t remember their names, but I remember their faces, and recall the joy and confidence with which they served their patrons. With their help, I was never at a loss for something to read or something that would sate my curiosity.
This week we have been signing-up adults and children for the Summer Reading Program and many have been sharing with us their excitement and memories of previous summers. We’re glad to see the excitement and the enthusiasm which all of these patrons have and we’re looking forward to the journey with them…just remember, by the end of July, the whole staff will be a bit worn out!
Being a librarian is not always an easy job, and it’s not because we occasionally have to clean up mess, it’s because we are involved in peoples’ lives and that is something that is real, that is sometimes hard, and that is always important. This is not something we who work here often talk about, but it is something we experience and I thought it important to let you know.