The questions people ask us

Recently, I posted about the questions we ask ourselves. Today, I’m sharing some of the questions patrons ask us. A Library Board member asked recently why we hire librarians instead of lower-paid staff to cover our desks. I ended up writing down a list of some of the questions we’ve gotten at our desk in the last couple of weeks:

*What time does the library close?

*Can I have some trains?

*I am tutoring an autistic boy and the school says he needs C level books—what are those?

*I read Alabama Moon and The Million Dollar Shot and I want books like those—do you have any?

*I’m doing a report on earthworm regeneration. What do you have on that?

*Can I have a guest pass for the computer?

*Do you have any programs that would be good for my child going into first grade?

*My daughter needs help with 7th grade math.

*That little girl over there seems to be looking for her mother.

*My son brought money to the library and those kids over there stole it.

*Do you have the 4th book in the 39 Clues?

*My friend was reading this book and I think it was called The Ghost or something like that. Do you have it?

*I’m teaching a unit on triangles—do you have any stories? I don’t want nonfiction.

*Can I have the slider game? (Sorry)

*I’m supposed to read books between 340 and 490. Do you have some?

*I’m trying to print my report and it says I only have two minutes left on the computer—what do I do?

*Do you have any lullabies in Polish?

*I’m doing a report on railroads in Chicago during the 1800s. Where’s your section on that?

*Do you have book 3 in <unintelligible name of a Japanese graphic novel series>?

*I want to teach my child how to read. Where are the books for that?

*Do you have any books where the paper is all folded? (turned out to be pop-ups, not origami)

No sooner had I finished my list than I got exactly the type of question that illustrates why we need librarians. A 20-something woman came to the desk and said she was looking for a series of books she used to read as a kid, and the title of each one of the books began with the word “the”.  The answer turned out to be R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series, but when I tried to figure out later how I had gotten there, it was kind of elusive. That’s because when you’ve been doing this awhile, the path to take becomes much less something that could be diagrammed neatly and much more something very intuitive.  It took into account the patron’s age and demeanor, the fact that she’d also asked for Sweet Valley High, and that in further questioning it reminded her of Goosebumps and that she’d been a little older when she read them. Voila!

That’s the thing about being at the desk, and all of us out in the field know it even if some Board members don’t.  One patron will want the most mundane of information. The next patron’s question will require knowing your resources and your child development so well that you can match the question to the source and come up with the information. And then sometimes you’re going to hit that question that’s going to force you to really engage your brain and think back on the reading you’ve done and the kids you’ve known and something that you can’t quite put a finger on but you can get it.  We call it library science, but we could just as easily call it the art of being a librarian.

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3 Responses to The questions people ask us

  1. Marinka says:

    I think I asked every one of those questions at some point. Sorry!

  2. Janice E. Bojda says:

    Another great piece, but a topic with which I struggle philosophically.

    When I started my career as professional librarian, w-a-a-y back in 1983 in the south suburbs of Chicago, the south suburbs still had many library’s where the children’s departments were staffed by those without the MLS. I can only think of two libraries in the library system that were “big” enough to have more than one degreed librarian working in the children’s departments. My first two jobs in the south suburbs I supervised only paraprofessionals. All of them were dedicated to serving their communities, committed to encouraging reading and learning and read children’s books.

    When I came to work in the North Suburbs, where many libraries have many professionals on their staffs, I worked I worked with a paraprofessional here who knew more about children’s books than many a children’s librarian I’ve known.

    I guess if I had to summarize my personal thoughts on degreed librarians vs. paraprofessionals, they are as follows. I don’t think that the degree necessarily makes you, Susan, the great professional you are, nor does it make any one else with the degree great or special. I think many of the qualities that would make a “great librarian” in many cases are qualities that an individual brings with them to library school. Library school can provide a foundation of values, a broader understanding of the field of work, and a certain amount of practical training.

    I know, though, using myself as an example here, I went to library school an enthusiastic reader of books and a lover of children’s literature, but a lot of my knowledge of children and their development, how they learn to read, and even my knowledge of the literature and books has come on the job not from those 13 months of library school.

    • sdlempke says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Jan! I guess part of what I am arguing for is the continued education of people to be librarians, which will only take place if there are jobs for them. What I do when I have an opening is post it as a librarian/MLS position, but if there’s an excellent paraprofessional who can come to me with a lot of knowledge and training, I’ll certainly consider them. What I won’t do is post the job as a paraprofessional position because then I’ll get all of the people who think that if you like children or have children or was once a child, you could be a children’s librarian, AND you can’t hire a librarian with all of their training and flexibility.

      One of my favorite job applicants listed his prior experience as “caddy” and “deli boy”. lol

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