What do public library staff do word cloud

What Do Public Librarians and Library Staff Do?

This post was originally written as a response to a comment by the (ex)Mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, claiming that running a library and being a librarian isn’t hard and doesn’t involve anything other than stamping books, and that anyone would find it easy to volunteer to run a library. This really isn’t the case, but there aren’t very many resources to argue the case with solid examples of reasons why we need trained and qualified staff with abilities and skills that need and deserve to be paid for.

Council leaders, the DCMS, Arts Council England and other organisations with responsibilities for public libraries in the UK don’t have a clear idea about what paid library workers do on a day-to-day basis, or if they do, they’re not telling people who are being asked to volunteer to run libraries instead of local councils. As a result, people don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for and the inevitable result of this will be that libraries close anyway, it just takes a little longer and does a different kind of damage to communities. People who are considering volunteering need to be fully informed about the tasks that might be expected of them, or at least what library staff do that make libraries successful and useful to people, beyond just lending books.

I’ve written, with suggestions from contributors, a list of activities and tasks, some obvious and some not so obvious, that are often the responsibility of public librarians and library staff. These are all things that we know people working in public libraries are expected to do, whether or not we think they should be, and include all levels of work including some basic day to day tasks and some things that would best be done by trained and qualified members of staff. These are things that paid staff are able to do that volunteers might struggle with, need training for or be unwilling to do (for reasons like it’s against their beliefs, or simply because they’re working for nothing. Below is the still-evolving list. Please feel free to comment and I’ll add any other relevant suggestions.

Interacting With Library Users:

  1. Suggesting a book for anyone from an 8 year old boy who never reads to a 70 year old woman who has read everything;
  2. Being unfazed by complex enquiries which could be of a sensitive nature;
  3. Understanding how to help people with computers who have zero confidence/experience and believe they can’t use them;
  4. Dealing with abusive visitors;
  5. Dealing with young people behaving badly – police have been called to library branches when young people have been climbing on bookshelves, causing problems, refusing to leave premises etc;
  6. Dealing sensitively with people who have mental health problems or learning disabilities and may be challenging to help properly;
  7. Keeping user information confidential;
  8. Huge training requirement around legal/ethical issues;
  9. Understanding the issues around safeguarding children and the elderly;
  10. Providing a safe, friendly space that welcomes everyone;
  11. Directing homeless people to the nearest shelter;
  12. Helping people with little or no English to use the library service by translating, using translation services or taking special care and attention to ensure people understand information;
  13. Collecting knives and guns;
  14. Sensitively working with people who are distressed and may have mental health issues to find out their information needs and make phone calls on their behalf if appropriate.

Helping People Find Information

  1. Information literacy i.e. teaching people how to research, study and helping people develop lifelong learning skills essential for an informed citizenship;
  2. Understanding what users need and how they go about finding it (and working out where the problems are);
  3. Teaching people how to search effectively;
  4. Helping people organise information effectively;
  5. Helping people assess which information is reliable, for example the NHS expect patients to use online sources to find out about healthcare, but a lot of information on the internet is not reliable and can misinform people;
  6. Showing people how to find information about legal issues;
  7. Helping businesses find business information;
  8. Helping people research their family history or local history;
  9. Unearthing the needed information from the mounded heaps of print and electronic, free and subscription services, efficiently and accurately;
  10. Ensuring that less easy-to-find materials are available for particular groups – community langs, LGBT, people with/ disabilities etc;
  11. Being able to interpret research requests – working out what people want when they’re not sure how to explain
  12. Providing pointers on free and paid resources;
  13. Knowing how to do proper subject searches and suggest unthought of sources of information;
  14. Signposting to a huge range of services &say what they can offer: advice/help on immigration, debt, tax, legal, benefits, housing;
  15. Providing specialist information i.e. market research/patents/EU/law/health;
  16. Helping people if the library doesn’t have what they need;
  17. Understanding the need for access and negotiating access to information that may be blocked by council filters;
  18. Subscribing to information sources such as WHICH reports to help people make informed choices before purchasing goods and services.

Helping People With Research

  1. Teaching people how to research effectively;
  2. Current awareness services, all types of research;
  3. Personal training sessions on resources;
  4. Filtering materials for relevance.

Supporting People to Use Technology

  1. Teaching people to use the internet;
  2. Helping people set up email accounts;
  3. Showing people how to use online job boards;
  4. Showing people how to use online council & government services;
  5. Teaching people to use online resources e.g. e-books, e-journals;
  6. Giving people login details for library computers and helping them when they have problems/forget passwords etc.;
  7. Providing technical support on systems and tools (i.e. loading ebooks from something like Overdrive on to a ereader);
  8. Helping people use the photocopier/printer/fax machine;
  9. Showing people how to integrate emerging technologies into their daily lives;
  10. Helping people with online council housing lists;
  11. Explaining how wifi works;
  12. Helping people structure and write CVs using word processing software and online forms;
  13. Providing IT classes.

Organising and Running Events and Activities

  1. Organising/promoting events for kids/teens/adults that promote a love of reading;
  2. Rhyme time and story time sessions, increasing childhood literacy and promoting reading;
  3. Children’s activities;
  4. Visiting authors and poets;
  5. Book festivals;
  6. Gigs (such as Get It Loud In Libraries);
  7. Helping with homework and school projects;
  8. Running and supporting book groups for children and adults which includes activities, discussions and ordering/tracking down multiple copies of books.
  9. Doing the risk assessments needed to make sure everyone is safe and secure at events;
  10. Dressing the library for events, making it look attractive and impressive (professional);
  11. Organising school visits;
  12. Providing Bag Books (stories with props) sessions for adults and children with complex needs;
  13. Running a Home Delivery Service.

Working with Schools and Organisations

  1. A working and up to date knowledge and understanding of the curriculum and the way schools function;
  2. Working with teachers to improve reading skills;
  3. Working with schools & other community groups to promote the library and showcase all it has to offer;
  4. Visiting schools, talking to parents to promoting a lifelong love of reading with parents and children;
  5. Giving talks on request from teachers on referencing and the importance of bibliographies for GCSEs/A levels;
  6. Working with U3A and other community groups to help public with online information;
  7. Working in partnership with other organisations to bid for funding to offer additional services;
  8. Working with Adult Social Care to give feedback on standards in residential homes and sheltered housing.

Managing the Library

  1. Understanding how libraries work together, dealing with interlibrary loans and the British Library;
  2. Making sure that data protection rules are being adhered to;
  3. Reporting on library use and user needs;
  4. Using statistics to identify trends and assess levels of use;
  5. Managing electronic resources;
  6. Paying invoices;
  7. Making sure that the library is getting value for money via professional management, organization and promotion of resources;
  8. Promoting and marketing the libraries, including using social media to promote the library service;
  9. Attending training and events to make sure that the library service is keeping up with developments;
  10. Dealing with legislation including reproduction and attendant copyright law: photocopying/scanning for personal use, hi-res resources for publication/TV;
  11. Maintaining and building technical solutions for users’ needs;
  12. Maintaining a safe, interesting quiet environment;
  13. Being a premises controller: be responsible for a large public bldg, know what to do when heating breaks down, roof leaks etc;
  14. Training for fire marshals etc;
  15. Reporting to local Councillors, showing how libraries meet the wider council aims;
  16. Managing budgets and staffing, liaising with those who provide the funds;
  17. Managing a ‘community toilet’ because it is the only public toilet available, often requiring library staff to be in charge of giving out a key and/or cleaning the facilities. Some libraries require staff to escort people to the staff toilets for security reasons if there is not a public toilet.
  18. Doing market research to identify and understand customer groups, in order to serve them better. (Includes doing surveys, focus groups, and larger studies.)
  19. Writing strategic plans, marketing plans, communication plans;
  20. Keeping current on new technologies so you can choose the ones to buy, implement, and maintain;
  21. Fundraising;
  22. Interacting with other professionals around the globe to share best practices, implement innovations, and move the industry forward;
  23. Building and maintaining websites, blogs, and social media presence to promote the service;
  24. Reading and writing professional articles to publicise the work of the library and library staff so that other libraries can develop too;
  25. Participating in local, regional, and national associations in order to continuously learn and teach peers;
  26. Decorating the library – displays, posters and book stands, and seasonal decorating;
  27. Rearranging furniture and shelf stacks. Preparing for refurbishment (packing up stock etc.)

Managing the Library’s Resources

  1. Ordering database and journal subscriptions;
  2. Promoting/displaying/ weeding/ordering stock;
  3. Making sure the books and other items in the library are ones that users want/need/will benefit from;
  4. Reader and community development – encouraging people to read more widely and helping communities build knowledge and skills – matching resources to people’s needs;
  5. Describing/cataloguing/arranging physical or digital material in useful ways so that people can find it;
  6. Chasing and collecting books back and enforcing fines;
  7. Matching stock held with local community group(s) needs;
  8. Dealing with stock management / complaints etc. in accordance with international agreements on intellectual freedom.

Handling Archives and Special Collections

  1. Digitisation and digital preservation, making sure information will be accessible in future;
  2. Storing and conserving media (including old/rare books);
  3. Making sure the collections are stored safely and are not damaged.

Taking Care of Other Council Services Provided Through Libraries

  1. Dealing with people paying council tax and parking fines;
  2. Giving out condoms and bin bags;
  3. Issuing firearms certificates;
  4. Selling charity Christmas cards;
  5. Selling food recycling waste bags and garden waste stickers;
  6. Issuing blue badges;
  7. Issuing over 60s bus passes;
  8. Loaning electricity monitors.

What do public library staff do word cloud

65 thoughts on “What Do Public Librarians and Library Staff Do?

  1. Jon 'Jim'll' Knight (@GreenJimll)

    My OH (who is a public librarian) added:
    * collecting knives and guns
    * issuing firearms certificates
    * selling charity xmas cards
    * issuing blue badges
    * issuing over 60s bus passes
    * helping people with online council housing lists
    * explaining how wifi works

    Reply
  2. Richard Hawkins (@usernametaken10)

    Hi,

    You can if you like add something about this (apologies if I missed it in the list above):

    Help people with little or no English to use the library service by translating, using translation services or taking special care and attention to ensure people understand information.

    Also on a number of occasions I was required to direct homeless people to the nearest shelter – which if you ever try to do yourself is not an easy task.

    Reply
  3. Victoria Bird

    Perhaps if the Mayor thinks the job is easy, you should call his bluff and suggest that he volunteer for a couple of days and then give him some of these jobs to do (without any training, naturally). He couldn’t very well say no without invalidating his own argument and creating a media circus, could he?!

    Unlikely to happen, but amusing to think of some bloke in a ceremonial robe trying to explain to a bunch of out-of-control teenagers that they should be respecting a space he himself clearly thinks is worthless…

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Funnily enough, that’s what we’ve suggested he do on the blog, though it was a passing comment…I might actually push it! Alas, because he’s an elected mayor he won’t be robed, but I think it’d make for excellent copy!

      Reply
  4. Martin Owen

    Don’t get me wrong – I love libraries – but the above list just goes to show how inadequate a degree or diploma in Librarianship is as an education for working in libraries.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      I don’t think it does at all – a lot of the things on the list are things that you can really benefit from actually studying – cat & class, for example, and I found that studying issues such as the provision of resources about/specifically geared towards LGBT/ethnic minority/disabled groups really helped me to understand why it’s so important. When I did a public libraries module for my Masters I studied things like how prison libraries can reduce reoffending and the very specific environment you’d be working in within a prison library, ethical issues such as censorship, and stock selection for children and young people – what makes a good children’s book and what doesn’t. We also did a management module, in which we had to look at budgets, change management, and other management issues.

      Liz Chapman wrote a great blog post for Voices for the Library that goes into more detail about the value of a professional qualification: http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?p=708

      The career profiles on the University of Sheffield MA Librarianship site also give an insight into why studying Librarianship is a very relevant and useful education for working in libraries: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/is/careers/malib/profiles.html

      It’s important to remember that the UG and PG courses exist to give people some theoretical grounding and competence to work in a wide range of libraries, so of course it’s not all going to be public library related. And, there’s a difference between UG and PG programmes in terms of content. It’s expected that if you’re studying for an MA then you’ll be looking for jobs where you do need to understand things like database management, website design, open access resources, stock provision, budgeting, cataloguing and classification, handling special collections etc. This isn’t stuff that library assistants do on a day-to-day basis, but that’s why training and qualifications are geared towards work in different parts of the service.

      It’s also important to remember that these courses ask applicants to have at least one year of experience of working in a library/information environment, because they appreciate that without practical experience, studying isn’t going to help you apply any knowledge in real-life situations. While I was doing my MA I was working in a few different libraries, including public ones, and I did find that studying helped me to do my job better. Training for some things, like customer service, and working a library management system, can be taught on the job. Some stuff can’t. One’s not a replacement for the other.

      Reply
  5. libraryhelen

    I would also add organising school visits – we often have classes coming to visit the library and we have to show the children (of any ages between 4 and 16) how to use the library for fiction & non-fiction. Explaining Dewey to 6 year olds can prove very challenging! We also do outreach visits where we visit schools and talk to parents to promote a lifelong love of reading with both the parents and children. I have also had teachers request talks on referencing and the importance of bibliographies for GCSEs/A levels. All quite varied and challenging which I wouldn’t be able to do to my best ability without my MA!

    Reply
  6. Meg

    This is a wonderful list. One thing I would add is SCHEDULING volunteers. Most people who volunteer do it because they want a whole lot of flexibility in their schedules, and there is little to no flexibility in a public library. Where are you going to find people to work nights, weekends, holidays, etc. for no pay. How to do you fill a roster with one person who wants to take off the month of August, another who can’t work between Thanksgiving and the New Year and others who need 3 weeks off here and there for traveling.

    Reply
    1. |M

      Exactly ! There is a dangerous myth being pedalled that volunteers will simply add to capacity and not need any support or managemnet from staff . I think that they are hoping lots of ex – library staff will pile in to help. We cannot expect people to put up with the things we do and to turn up in bad weather etc. Reliability will be compromised.

      Reply
    2. Martin Cove

      Exactly. Volunteers will absorb the time of the smaller number of paid staff remaining after redundancies not free it as many politicians would have us believe. Should we expect them to come in through ice and snow etc like we do ?

      Reply
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  9. Suzie

    Could you also add the delivery of the national Bookstart scheme , Gifts and BookCrawl to pre school Childern 0-4 years.

    Reply
  10. Susan Pieper

    Could I use part of this list in the next issue of the Rural Library Services Newsletter? I will send you the edition digitally. Will credit you, give you a byline, etc. This is a wonderful list and with a few minor edits (leaving out tasks related to the more urban library), would be a great source for those working in rural U.S. libraries! Please e-mail me at susanhillpieper@gmail.com or reply here if you grant permission. Thanks a million!

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Hi Susan,

      I’m more than happy for you to use it – it’s what it’s here for! Will email you too so you definitely get the response.

      Lauren

      Reply
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  12. Working Librarian

    What about developing new services or technology. Do you think a volunteer could have figured out this even existed, let alone found funding, get it set up, train staff, etc.? And this is only one example.

    Reply
  13. Joyce A. Tuining

    At the Sabah State Library (Malaysia), they also did:
    1.Reading habit survey
    2. Newspaper cuttings according to the current issues so school children can get the info thy needed for their school projects
    3. Provides services for the visually impaired people by proviidng special equipments thus have to know how it works and teach them how to use the equipments to their advantage – special braille and pc that reads out text fr the monitor screen and allows one to surf the net. Hence providing equal opportunities for all
    4. Useul and informative exhibitions or displays based on current issues within our country or state
    5. Keeping up to date with the latest library technology or latest information technology in order to serve the patrons better e.g. keep improving their library management system, using social networking such as FB to promote their library services,
    6. Promote reading habit by organizin various activities that could enhance reading habits – they do that during the yearly Reading Week
    7. Do story telling to children at the library as well as in hospitals and schools
    8. Conduct briefing or special talks to school children at the library and schools on how to use library materials and how the internet can help them with their school projects/ research. That would inlcude the dos and donts of using the internet resources
    9. Promote the use of different languages by providing books of various languages i.e besides Malay, English and Chinese, they do have collection on other etchnic languages such as Kadazan – they do help organize activities during Kadazandusun Language Week

    Now tell me, don’t you have to be trained to be able to do all those (which are by the way may not be all that thy do..thy could be doing more today)? That just show how ignorant he is about the profession which is utterly annoying !!

    P/s I was trained as a librarian but no longer work in a libary environment but my library skills have definately been helping me a lot in my current work especially in terms of finding reliable resources.

    Reply
  14. Lori Hayes

    Thank you for the list!
    There is reading the shelves to make sure things can be found because patrons get upset if what they are looking for isn’t where it belongs because a previous patron put it somewhere else. Also the phone side of things. I’ve had to walk people thru our website over the phone because they couldn’t do it themselves.
    Policing the restrooms and, believe me, there is more to that than just turning the light on and off and making sure there is TP in there.

    Reply
  15. Kristen

    Thank you for including information about helping the homeless find shelters and promoting their use of the library!

    Reply
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  19. Amy

    LOVE this list. May have missed this, but please add summer reading programs for children, story times babies-4 years old, outreach to children in preschools who otherwise can’t get the library and homeschooler information and events and homework help for school projects. Often when libraries weed or have Friends of the Library Booksales, the public and teachers get books for their classroom libraries for dirt cheap.

    I am a school librarian and often coordinate and promote things going on at our local county library branches. People forget that many children have school projects they work on at home and need resources from a library that’s still open after 4pm or the weekends,when mom and dad are off work. Local libraries also provide internet access to children in poverty who only see a computer at school or on a phone.

    Reply
  20. Nancy

    Please add handing out voter registration applications.

    Writing grants to find funding for programs and services you will never have otherwise.

    If you are a non-profit and not a department of your city/county, you are also your own accounting services, (which includes payroll reporting, IRS requirements, and unemployment),
    HR department, Insurance department (health, building, error and omissions, etc.), maintenance department (hiring plumber, electricians, landscapers, etc.), grant administration and reporting services, etc.

    And yes, policing the bathrooms and property for thugs and drug exchanges.

    Confronting and asking people to leave for inappropriate use of library public computers; asking parents to please watch their children (I know, I know, you only have 2 hours on the computer per day and well, it just takes time to manage your property on Farmville, so we seem to be cheap babysitters for you.)

    Thank you! What a list! I’ll be bookmarking for sure.

    Reply
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  22. Linsey Chrisman

    Hi Lauren, the list is great and I love the wordle. Reading through it again, I’d like to add that for working with children and schools, a knowledge and understanding of the curriculum and the way schools function is essential. When doing school visits, you need to understand what children and young people will be studying at different stages, and therefore what information they will need. You also need to have an understanding of how reading is taught (quite differently than it was 10-15 years ago!) in order to be able to support the development of literacy properly. This includes not just helping children directly, but helping parents to understand what they can do to help their children learn. Curriculum understanding is also essential when buying stock for children’s libraries – if you don’t know what children will be studying and how, you have little hope of buying non-fiction stock which is relevant to them.
    In my library service, some Children’s Librarians, including myself, have teaching qualifications and/or experience working in schools. Those who do not have received training from Senior Children’s Librarians on the National Curriculum and understanding the school context. We keep up to date on developments in education by reading the Times Educational Supplement and curriculum reviews published by government, and share current awareness information with each other. You can’t rely on an understanding of the curriculum and schools based on when you or your children were at school, because things have changed and will continue to do so.

    Reply
  23. barmybex

    Add runnning book groups for both Children and adults which includes activities, discussions and ordering/tracking down multiple copies of books.

    Escorting people to the toilets. (ours isn’t public so we have to show them through for security and health and safety reasons.)

    Decorating the library – doing displays, posters and book stands, As well as doing seasonal decorating eg Christmas.

    Rearrange furniture, shelf stacks.

    We had a refurbishment in our library and we had to do all the boxing up of the books, moving the boxes and we even took down the old shelves and had to assemble the new ones. Then unload everything again.

    Great list. Great to see how versatile we are and it shouldn’t be taken for granted!

    Reply
  24. Clare Foyer

    Just read “What do Public Librarians Do?”
    The thing is you could just go on adding to this list!.
    I work as a Senior Library Assistant In Bromley
    We sell Food Recycle Waste Bags (The Council require people to use these and the Library is the cheapest source .)
    and Garden Waste Stickersl.

    Clare Foyer

    Reply
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  26. Virginia Allain

    I’m a retired librarian and remember over the years that people have very little idea of what it takes to run a library and how valuable it is to the community. It can literally turn people’s lives around. It’s important to use public relations to keep the public and the funders aware of the value of the library. Sad to see these attacks when libraries are vitally important as people struggle with the economy.

    Reply
  27. Kathy Dempsey

    What a fantastic post and list! I just discovered it via a CILIP post on Facebook. I’m going to link it to my library marketing / PR site on Facebook, called Libraries Are Essential. Here in the US, as everywhere, we need to justify our value more all the time, and a comprehensive list like this will help.

    If I may still suggest additions… Under Library Management:
    * Doing market research to identify and understand customer groups, in order to serve them better. (Includes doing surveys, focus groups, and larger studies.)
    * Writing strategic plans, marketing plans, communication plans
    * Keeping current on new technologies so you can choose the ones to buy, implement, and maintain
    * Fundraising
    * Interacting with other professionals around the globe to share best practices, implement innovations, and move the industry forward
    * Building and maintaining websites, blogs, and social media presence
    * Reading and writing professional articles
    * Participating in local, regional, and national associations in order to continuously learn and to teach peers

    Let’s see the Mayor handle all of this!! Harumph!!

    Reply
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  29. Sherry

    I just found this list…and would like to add an unpaid job that every library and library patron benefits from…

    Librarians read. We read everything. We share our reads with our patrons even though we don’t get paid to read. We read in our spare time. I’ve had people tell me how nice it would be to work in the library and be able to read all day. I never get to read at work unless I’m on break or lunch.

    Reply
  30. Julie O'Neil

    What a fantastic list! Don’t forget that underlying everything listed above, libraries are a haven, a neutral space for free speech and democracy and our resources enable people to develop their skills and improve their quality of life for a tiny amount of Council tax. Libraries are a bargain!
    (I am a Librarian)

    Reply
  31. Ann Craven

    This is an enhancing site in times of bleak news. I was a librarian for 35 years. To add to your list – on the BBC news the other day (can’t remember where) the libraries were loaning plug-ins to monitor which equipment was using most electricity.

    Reply
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  34. John Kirriemuir

    WHICH reports contain independent product reviews and information. They aren’t free. Some public libraries carry them, which means people can use them – especially those who cannot afford to subscribe and to whom a purchasing mistake would hit financially hard – in order to make informed choices before purchasing goods and services.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      I’m going to have to write a new list of what public libraries do beyond providing fiction books, aren’t I? :)

      Reply
  35. John Kirriemuir

    Probably :) This list may be 2.5 years old but it’s still far more useful and comprehensive than anything I can find from the ACL or ACE on what public libraries (the proper ones, not the fake “community” ones), and the librarians within, actually do.

    Reply
  36. nirgunapa

    Managing a ‘community toilet’ because the Council has closed all the public toilets to save money. As my wife’s library is next to the closed toilets and is therefore the nearest ‘community’ toilet. this has put a considerable extra strain on library staff and the cleaners which wasn’t taken into account by councillors when closing the public toilets.

    Reply
  37. Julie O'Neil

    Brilliant List! We also:
    Loan electricity monitors.
    Our Home Delivery service, (delivering books to people who can’t get out to a library), is working with Adult Social Care to give feedback on standards in residental homes and sheltered housing.
    Work in partnership with other organisations to bid for funding to offer additonal services.
    Tease out sensitively the information needs of people who are distressed and may have mental health issues and make phone calls on their behalf if appropriate.

    provide Bag Book (stories with props) sessions for adults and children with complex needs

    Reply
  38. Frank Daniels

    Can we add to the list of things librarians do the following? If you are a chief librarian you privatise the professional work of librarians working under your direction because local councillors toldl you to sell off this work to the lowest bidder. After that you retire on a very nice pension, leaving those former collegues of yours with ruined careers. Yes, can we add that to the list of things librarians do???

    Reply
  39. Mike Perry

    Designated First Aider, car park supervisor (if your library is in a town centre, this can be quite significant, I understand), child minder (while parents are browsing shelves or internet), bouncer, contact for third party suppliers (IT, coffee machines, local information/tourist guides, etc.)

    Reply

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