Friday, November 17, 2006

The Dangers of Being a Librarian

I've been living a dangerous, dangerous life. DANGEROUS. I sit next to the microwave while it's running. I run with scissors. I cross the street when the DO NOT WALK sign is flashing. I sometimes eat food I dropped on the floor AFTER THE 5-SECOND RULE HAS EXPIRED. And on top of all that, I work at a library. You know, being in CONTACT with THE PUBLIC.

Exciting and terrifying, I know.

I'm not the first in my family to run the public service gamut, either. My father, a veritable bear of a man, has been wearing the Kankakee City Police badge for several years, and had been wearing the St. Anne Police's insignia for many before that. I have seen this man deal with everything from irate, drunken Masons to irate, hormone-dripping siblings while simultaneously juggling eighteen pears and building a serviceable garden shed, and have only seen him lose his temper a handful of times. I'm not sure how he does it; I have the lingering suspicion that he has mastered the use of the Force, as well as maintained a steady diet of Buddhist monks for many, many years.

Despite the occupational gap, father and son do have one thing in common: we both work with the public, and we both walk the tightrope- the thin red line- between order and service.

We've spoken of this before, this dangerous little dance we do between one demand and another. The public must be kept happy; we must supply them with the information, service and access that they demand. Simultaneously, we have to define the difficult lines of acceptability in public, creating order in a vague and uncertain world. And in between it all, there's the secret self, the heart of personal interest we must maintain. Municipal service of any kind is a discipline in and of itself, one that demands separation of the public self and the private self.

There is a Japanese proverb of which I am terribly fond that tells us a man will always have three hearts: a true heart which he shows everyone, a truer heart he reveals only to his friends, and truest heart which will remain a secret for his own person. (Otoko no hito wa kokoro ga san-ko aru...) I've never told you this before, but under all these sweaters and collared shirts, there is a strong-minded liberal- tree-hugging vegetarian, mild supported of socialism, a protestor of the current political *cough*regime*cough*, a happy agnostic, a follower of existentialism and the Buddhist precepts. It's a strong passion that I have, but it has no place in my service to the public.

As much as I want to berate every patron looking to find a veal recipe or a dissertation on why religion should stay in schools, it is not my place to do so. I'm sure good old Dad has had the urge, once or twice, to tell those domestic dispute participants/juvenile delinquents/drunken Masons exactly what he thinks of them, but it hasn't happened yet.

Even when a patron is wrong, it is not my place to point that out to them. I cannot count how many times I have had rather stilted discourse with cardholders who believe that kamikaze means 'suicide' or that the internet is separately stored on each one of our shiny little computers or that Buddhism is the worship of Buddha or that all of the books in all the world are certainly housed in this one three-story building. We're lucky in the fact that library service embodies respect. It is my place to respectfully facilitate those users' needs, no matter how deeply-rooted their ignorance is, to help them in their journey- to show them the pathway to the enlightenment they seek.

We as librarians are moderators, objective guides into the world of literature, data, information. Excuse me for being so geeky, but I see librarians as the Jedi Knights of the public- keepers of order and peace, custodians of freedom of information. We are required to be the most wise, the most patient, the most objective; we have dedicated ourselves to the ancient discipline of literacy. (We are also known to occasionally use Jedi mind tricks on patrons, but that's our little secret, okay?)

My only wish is that they would issue us lightsabers at our library. Mine would be green. Maybe blue.

Okay, so I've never honestly earned my MLS, and it may be some time before I do; nonetheless, I do feel like I've become part of the librarian community. Baptism by fire has brought me into this amazing world; only Darth Vader and herd of wild gun-toting horses could ever drag me away from it. Bring on the insanity and the uncertainty; I wouldn't have my world any other way.

Adult Services Dept.


Blogger Librarylion said...

Yes! And another yes--to everything here. Here is what it's truly like to work in the public library. Anyone who thinks that it's all about the shushing and books or who is suprised that there is such a thing as an MLS because all we do is read/stamp cards/judge folks harshly for late items and unpaid fines should be made to read this entry immediately! :-) Thanks for such a thoughtful piece!

11:17 AM  

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