All the time I have conversations with friends where I mention something about work and they go “Wow. I didn’t know libraries did that.” While it’s very easy to respond when people ask me what I do, it seems that most people have no idea what actually goes on inside a library, or what librarians actually do (hint: we don’t read books all day).
Several times a year an article comes out with a title something along the lines of “Why do we need libraries anymore?”, causing librarians around the country to lose their minds with worry and exasperation. We know what we do, we know who we help, but it’s an unseen help, people expect us just to be there like the post office or the power at their home. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
In my relatively short career I have helped people work on documents to secure citizenship, find jobs, helped someone with no computer skills purchase plane tickets to visit her daughter, shown people how to use their eReaders and devices, helped people register to vote, worked extra hours to assist after a hurricane, helped someone write a book, helped people research their resent diagnosis, developed programs, found books for reluctant readers and the list goes on and on. These are not small things, these are things that keep the world turning that people would miss if they were taken away because “everything is on the internet now”. It’s not, and as it turns out a lot of things on the internet are complete and total garbage. What I do everyday keeps the world turning and offers a harbor of trust for the people who need it most. Yes, books are our signature product, but it’s not in the least the only product or service that we offer. As the director of my library often says, if we were just a place for books we would’ve been closed a long time ago.
Neil Gaiman once said “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” In the age where anyone can put out information as fact for the whole world to read, it’s more important than ever that libraries continue to offer help, information, and advice to those who need it most.