A Librarian’s Ten Commandments

Here is what I’ve learned so far during my time as a librarian at the Ellsworth Public Library:

A Librarian’s Ten Commandments

1.  Thou shalt not be afraid of technology (from any era)

As a digital native, I feel pretty comfortable with technology.  In fact, I feel a little uncomfortable without it.  I am by no means a tech wizard, but I have a good working knowledge of computers, and can usually intuitively figure out the solution to small glitches.  However, I was still a little apprehensive about one machine in the library: the microfilm machine.  It doesn’t act like a computer…it’s from a time before computers.  Every so often, someone will come into the library and ask for help with the microfilm machine.

The former bane of my library existence

In the past I was quick to say “oh, I’m not sure how to use the machine.  Let me find another librarian to help you with that.”  After avoiding it for a while, I decided it was time to learn the ancient art of microfilm.  Once a fellow librarian showed me how to load the machine and scan through the articles, I realized it wasn’t that hard–I had been intimidated by the loud whirring noises and the possibility that I could irreparably damage the film.  Now I can not only use the machine myself, but I can actually teach someone else how to use it.  I’ve heard that is the mark of absorbed knowledge–if you can explain it to someone else, you probably know it inside out.  Librarians must strive master all technology, from microfilm to microchips.

2.  Thou shalt read and read and read

I have always loved to read, but now I read more and for different reasons.  Yes, sometimes it’s still for pure escapism, but more often than not, I’m reading up on something that I want to learn more about (see commandment #7), or, I’m reading YA novels so I’ll have a good one to recommend to our regular teen patrons, or I’m going through a stack of picture books to pick some out for story time.  Reading has become another form of communication as well as a networking tool.  I ask “oh, have you read that, too?” many times each day and forge new connections through common reading preferences.

3.  Thou shalt be prepared to ask for help

Every day at least one question comes my way that I have no idea how to answer.  I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with asking someone for help (usually a coworker) as long as I’ve given it my best shot first.  Fortunately, I work with very helpful people who are used to my plentiful questions, and who know how to follow the next commandment:

4.  Thou shalt have patience

People can be frustrating.  Some of them don’t listen:  if they don’t hear what they want to hear, they ignore you.  I have learned that it is best just to remain calm and try to understand when dealing with an unhappy person.  After their rant is over, I try to get more information, and sometimes I can come up with another solution that helps the situation.  When the patron clearly doesn’t want to work on an alternative solution, having patience is still the best choice.  It doesn’t help either of us if I lose my temper.  I like to assume that everyone has a bad day once in a while and mentally give them a “get out of jail card.”

Image from: nowpublic.com

Some people seem to need more of those cards than others.

5.  Thou shalt not stop until thou findeth the answer

Before I became a librarian, I might google something and then move on to something else if I didn’t immediately find the answer.  Now I won’t rest until the “mystery question” has been solved.  Patrons come in with all sorts of questions (everything from “Can you freeze corn chowder?” to “Where can I find out more about Vermeer?”) and I use all means available to me to answer those questions.  In the digital age, librarians may no longer be seen as the “keeper of the keys” to knowledge, but we can still help people navigate the overwhelming wealth of information at their fingertips.

6.  Thou shalt not be partial

Yes, I have favorite patrons.  I brighten up when certain people come through the door, but I try not to treat anyone better than anyone else.  Everyone who comes through the library doors deserves to be treated equally and deserves the same level of attention and assistance.

7.  Thou shalt be inquisitive

The wide variety of reference questions I hear every day has inspired me to ask more questions (a real feat considering that I ask a lot of questions to begin with).  I find myself googling for my dad during our conversations and going out of my way to look things up for myself.  During my day, I tend to file away questions (like, “how do murmurations work?” and “did David Foster Wallace ever write an autobiography?”…the answer to that one, sadly, is “no”) to look up during a research session.

8.  Thou shalt keep an open mind

The old adage don’t judge a book by its cover is a multipurpose one in libraries.  Whether it means trying a book that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea or refraining from judging people based on first impressions, an open mind is essential.

9.  Thou shalt change with the times

This one is closely related to commandment #8.  As librarians, we must strive to go with the flow and adapt ourselves to the changing times.  For example, the popularity of ebooks suggests that it is a trend that will grow in the future.  Personally, I was raised on real books, and I still prefer them.  But, I also realize that I should try to jump on board, if not in my personal life, then at least in my professional one.  At first, it was extremely difficult for me to imagine a world without real books.  Nostalgia for the “classic reading experience” aside, what would happen to libraries?  After reading up on the subject and hearing what others in the library community have to say, I can picture libraries with plenty of sunlit rooms for studying, reading and visiting with others.  I can see the reallocation of resources to provide a wide variety of programs and other resources to our patrons.  Imagining this kind of library makes me look forward to the future. Sometimes it’s just about allowing yourself to open up to a new idea.

10.  Thou shalt remember how much we can learn from others

Sometimes the answer can’t be found in a book (or even on Google).  Sometimes the answer lies in a person, it’s just a matter of finding out who you need to talk to.  Literally, this could relate to a reference question (for example, asking someone who was around during the time of the Ellsworth Fire to see what she remembers about it).  Or, more figuratively, for me it means it’s important to look at people and really try to listen to what they have to say.  I spend all day with stories, but no matter how fantastic or believable they are, there is something static and finished about them. We can learn so much from others if we take the time to stop and really listen to the constantly evolving stories that each of us is living out each day.

I linked the example questions in this post (which are, by the way, either real questions from patrons, or myself) to their respective answers.  I couldn’t stand the thought of using a question (even just as an example) without providing the answer! 🙂



Filed under library life

13 responses to “A Librarian’s Ten Commandments

  1. Mamie Anthoine Ney

    And, thou shall end each post with an Absolut ad (even though I like Cold River better!). In all seriousness, an excellent post.

  2. Dianna Leighton

    Perfection! I feel that this really emphasizes one of the most consistent roles of a librarian: community detective. As our roles, collections, spaces, and community members shift and evolve, it’s so critical for us to be experts at assessing and responding. The real nitty-gritty of this skill isn’t always presented in the blogging community, but I think you did an excellent job here. Champion! 🙂

    • Well put, Dianna! Now I want a t-shirt that says “Community Detective.” As I’m sure you’ve noticed in your community, the library has so much to offer even if society is trending towards ebooks and other online resources that are easily accessible from home. Sometimes it’s just a matter of discovering a need and coming up with a creative way to fill it-something you do often, I’m sure 🙂

  3. Nice post–with 18 years in as a Library Specialist I live your points,and agree with each of them.Thanks. Franque23

  4. Linda Becker

    In all seriousness, I was going to mention the cool ad, too! Mamie stole my thunder ~ but the article was “absolut-ly” perfect. So relevant to libraries, of course, but to working with the public in general. Bravo & thanks for the humor 🙂

  5. Don’t forget Ranganathan’s laws from nearly 100 years ago. They still apply to libraries no matter what format we use. . .
    First law: Books are for Use
    Second Law: Every reader his [or her] book
    Third Law: Every book its reader
    Fourth Law: Save the time of the reader
    Fifth Law: The library is a growing organism

  6. mary morrow

    Your commandments are ‘spot-on’—not only for the life of a librarian, but perhaps for anyone’s life. Always look forward to reading your blog at the end of the day! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

  7. Great list of commandments! Especially the reminder to be patient. I needed that.

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