Things I Have Learned Working at a Public Library
Published: July 8, 2023 by Kesheena Doctor
Last November, I was offered a part-time position at New Orleans Public Library (NOPL) as a Library Assistant, and I’d like to share my experience. Though I plan on being an academic librarian, I understood any practical library experience would be beneficial to my education and career goals.
When I decided to pursue librarianship and started attending the iSchool, I had very little experience. One of my first goals was to get a position at a library, either as a volunteer, intern or as an employee. I learned a lot about the profession while at NOPL, including my passion and commitment to the librarian role.
Getting a Library Position
As a newer resident to New Orleans, I wasn’t familiar with the area and began finding all libraries. I input all the information in a Google Doc, including links to the organization’s information on career, volunteer and intern opportunities. I checked this list once a week and applied for any new positions that I was interested in and met the qualifications for. Funnily enough, one of the first positions I applied for was at the New Orleans Public Library. Having worked with a city bureau before, I was aware that the interview and hiring process could be significantly longer. I was also informed by librarian friends that the academic library hiring process is much longer, so I was prepared financially and mentally, to be patient and wait. To put this into perspective for you, roughly three months after I first applied, I started my first day as a library assistant.
Managing School and Work Responsibilities
Though the job was part-time, I still had difficulty managing my time. Unlike many iSchool students, I did not have any family obligations, so my primary focus was dedicated to school, my role as an iSchool student blogger and my public library position. The iSchool recommends setting aside 3 hours for each credit taken, and I was taking 10 credits for fall and nine credits for spring, which meant I had a packed, although manageable, schedule. However, my planned schedule was quickly offset by longer commute times. To accommodate the extra two hours a day to my commute, I reviewed assigned readings and wrote papers while on the bus. I was also lucky to work with a great team and was allowed to do homework during slow times at the circulation desk, which also helped alleviate some of my courseload work.
Applying Coursework to the Job
One of the biggest benefits that I gained while working at the public library was getting practical experience and using the concepts I learned in class to assist patrons. While it might not work for some, I found applying new concepts to real-world situations makes me better understand and retain information. I was also intentional in trying to match my courses to correlate with my duties as a library assistant. For example, during the spring semester, I included INFO 210 – Reference and Information Services and INFO 250 – Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals in my schedule. INFO 210 taught me how to best answer reference and reader advisory questions patrons asked. With INFO 250, I learned how to better aid adult patrons with their digital literacy questions.
Issues Public Libraries Encounter
As a Library Assistant, I came to understand how much adversity public libraries faced these past few years. The Covid-19 pandemic caused staffing shortages across the entire industry, and NOPL was also affected. The library branch I worked at operated without a branch manager for almost two years. As a southern state, libraries were also under threat to banned book legislation. Furthermore, the library system has been subject to threats of stringent budget cuts, most recently as 2020. This is in addition to the constant issues public libraries face with acting as social workers to assist patrons in underserved communities, including the houseless, those with physical and mental disabilities, assisting patrons with employment searching and helping non-English speaking patrons with obtaining social services.
While I worked at the public library for a short period of time, I gained a profound respect for the work public library staff do, especially library paraprofessionals. Public library staff work hard every day to ensure that patron’s needs are met and that the community has a free and accessible space to gather.
Are you working in a public library? If so, please share what your experience has been.