The Purpose Driven Librarian

What makes a good public librarian? Purpose.

Over cocktails with colleagues last night, I got to thinking a bit deeper about what makes librarians good at their jobs. We discussed several points. The principle quality being a person who puts the community before self. I always say that I’m done doing more than my fair share, but I can’t stop myself from overachieving and striving to make things better for my patrons (and my neighbors).

It very much concerns me when other librarians consistently focus on self first through dedicating excessive time to library organizations. Participation in such groups is a great extracurricular activity, but not at the expense of dedication to one’s job and community. You want to impress me? Tell me a story about someone you impacted today. Because none of this is about you.

Anyone who more readily cites her/his involvement in national or state library organizations before s/he references involvement within their town’s organizations is a HUGE red flag. Instead of bragging about how many hours you’ve spent sitting through library association committee meetings, tell me about how much time you’ve spent sitting through a local organization’s or association’s meetings.

The best hires I’ve had rarely use “I” or “me.” As a profession, we need to get better about encouraging public librarians to be more selfless. In theory we all are, but we don’t always see it. Too many in this profession have tunnel vision toward being a supervisor or director as the end all be all. That’s not a helpful trait for running a productive, effective public service.

No matter what town you serve, your job as a public librarian is to improve the lives of its residents. If you’re career objectives do not align with this, you should consider a switch to the private sector. Only those who are driven to serve the public and put its needs first will truly serve a purpose.

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“Your” Librarian

An incredible thing happened tonight. One of my favorite library trustees and patrons told me that I’m known as “our Chelsea” around the building where she lives.

For someone with a goal to be known as “your librarian” in town, it was magical to hear. I’ve only worked for this community for a little over two years. I still have a long way to go when you consider how many residents have yet to be infected with my doctrine. (Side note: Peter Shankman’s Zombie Loyalists is a must read for anyone with the same goal.)

I want to believe that most public librarians are driven to this profession due to a personal urgency to be of value to a community. But I rarely see it. Yes, we have to deal with unfortunate situations –  mental illness, porn on computers, surprise poop on the floor (not a joke) – on a daily basis. Sometimes you have to turn to wine or you’ll surrender to the dark side. If we make it our personal missions to effect the lives of our patrons, however, the end result provides the perfect balance that will steel us for the frustrating episodes of serving the public.

So it may seem insignificant, but a minor comment like this makes a librarian feel that much more connected to the provided services. And thank you chocolates. We love those.

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Money Talks

Money Talks by Lauren Barack

Hooray for Library Journal publishing an article about financial literacy! Was happy to contribute my two cents about our participation in Money Smart Week.

All public libraries need to get on board with treating financial proficiency like any other form of literacy. Currently, only 18% of the public gets finance and financial management information from libraries. Let’s do better in 2016, yes?

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Local paper articles

One of the easiest ways to promote the library is to have a standing column in the local paper. With print news what it is, snagging a weekly article is difficult.

The library used to have a weekly column years ago, which made it easier to reinstate. We’re limited to a space only once a month now, but it will still be a great vehicle for communicating library activities.

Here is the first.

The director asked whether we wanted to put individual names on articles, or make a generic “library” byline. As we work toward putting faces to this building, and make the institution more vibrant and dynamic, I recommended naming individuals. I hope to recruit more librarians to help me out though to prevent it from being a “me” instead of a “we.”