Career Envy: Librarian

There’s one thing you’ll figure out very quickly if you see my living space; I love books. I’ve got them crammed into two tall blond wooden bookcases, weighing down three wall-length shelves my dad built for me, and surrounding the edges of my bed like a scale-model Andes range.

They’re organized by genre and author’s last name, something I learned from my favorite place—the library. Ever since I was little and shy and smart but bored, I’ve loved that awesome place where they let you take home things to read for free. Ever since I met a friend of mine while he was a shelver during high school, I’ve wanted to work at one, too.

The pros:

1. Meeting authors. I’d probably have to land a gig somewhere in a big city’s stacks to meet my very favorites (although if Zadie Smith, Lionel Shriver or Stephen King will stop by my small-town South Carolina, I will bake them red velvet cake), but local authors can be even more interesting to talk to because they show their personal takes on places I know well.

2. Helping people find their passions. I’m not just talking about finding that one book that clicks with someone and turns them into an instant bibliophile. I’m talking about leading people to whole worlds, hobbies, talents, and interests they’d never think about if not for my guidance toward the right section of knowledge. And here’s the thing: I wouldn’t actually have to teach them anything. I’m a terrible teacher. But as a librarian, I could point them to miles of shelves full of experts. I’m talking about leading horses to water so they can drink! (And find prettier, less cliché metaphors.)

3. The American Library Association annual conference. It was in New Orleans this year. Molly Shannon, gaming distributors, and a giant convention center full of free promotional books were there. That, my friends, is a party.

4. Books! Is this too obvious? I feel like I can’t make a big enough deal about the fact that librarians get paid to handle these neat little packages full of people’s ideas all day.

The cons:

1. Ordering books. This is one of those job duties that sound like it’d be the most awesome part until I get deeper into the actual process. Of course I’d go crazy with money, a giant list of new releases and orders to get spending. I’d also go way over budget within about ten minutes and halfway down the first page, necessitating a talk from my boss about how I’m actually supposed to use tax dollars. Oops.

2. The public. A librarian is ultimately a service job. I’d have to deal with all the people who want to check out books without library cards, who want me to ignore their late fees because it wasn’t their fault they let their material get overdue, who use pieces of bacon as bookmarks, and who only want to check out whole seasons of Dr. Who DVDs at a time (not that there’s anything wrong with that last one. David Tennant, red velvet cake can be yours, too).

3. Bureaucracy. Libraries are magical places, but behind the big checkout desks, they run a lot like a regular office. They have to for organization sake. In addition to not being able to escape normal office politics (which I hate), libraries have to figure out how to fit into major shifts in the way people gather information. Then they have to justify their existence to stay in existence. I can argue a few ears off and I’m pretty decent with PowerPoint, but I’d rather not fight for my job every time the Internet gets faster on smartphones.

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    • Gwyneth Duncan

      Can too read when the lights go down! I use a backlit ebook reader. I don’t have to read under the covers anymore, but it would be good for that. I agree with just about everything else, though.