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.