People are always surprised when I tell them I work at a library. They always tell me “Oh, that’s cool! But… what do you do?”
(or they really judge me and think I’m a total loser haha) I’ve been working at my local library for the last two summers, and this summer is going to be my third in a row! I’ve also been hired as a part-time Library Assistant during the year.
Today, I thought I would finally demystify my job as a Library Assistant!
I tried my best to describe things as accurately as possible, but since I work in a French-speaking library and don’t know much of the library vocabulary in English, please excuse any inaccuracy. I also have to mention that I don’t have that many pictures of the library itself, since it’s forbidden to take pictures inside.
People think that, because I work at a library, I always do the same thing. Wrong! Where I work, there are five desks to work at. There are also people working behind, in offices, but Library Assistants don’t do the same things. We work with the public, while those people work with books and catalog them! I actually switch up desks quite often, and we’ve all been formed to be polyvalent. Here’s what a Library Assistant at my local library does:
Return of books and subscription desk
That’s probably where I’m at the more often! As the name says, it’s at this desk that books are returned. We scan them and magnetize them. There is a magnetic tape inside each book that gets deactivated before the customer leaves with them. We simply reactivate it before placing the book in the trolley.
There’s three book trolleys: one for the adult section, one for children’s books and one for new books (books that we have acquired in the last three months). Each trolley has an organization system, to make sure everyone works the same way and to make things go faster. We don’t organize them with Dewey numbers just yet: that’s what people at other desks do! When the trolley is full, we send it to the right desk. It might seem like it’s not really busy, but on weekends, up to hundreds (thousands?) of books get returned. You’d be surprised at how busy it can get!
As the name says, we also take care of subscription and renewals. A membership lasts two years, so clients come to us when their library card is expired. Sherbrooke residents get a free membership. However, people must come with a residency proof (such as a driving license). People from outside of the city must pay for a annual membership.
Subscription is probably the most complicated part of my job. People often bring the wrong proof or have a complicated case that needs to be sent up to the person who is responsible for the day. Most of the time, it’s quite easy, but there are always a few exceptions that complicate everything.
The worst is when you’re trying to subscribe a family. We have to take pictures for each card and enter the info for everyone. It’s not that complicated, it just takes more time. Renewals are the best because they take literally five minutes to do (we only make sure the information we have is still accurate and make the client sign).
It’s probably the desk that gets the busiest on weekends, but it’s also my favorite! You never get bored. I’m glad that my schedule includes this counter so often!
This is where clients check out their books and board games. We demagnetize them and make sure they’re saved into their file. Each client can check out up to 8 books, 2 magazines, 2 board games, etc. Taking out books is free (except for certain books), but there are some documents that need to be paid for, like board games (1$ per game – you have them for 3 weeks!). If clients have fees on their file (because a book was returned late or was lost), this is where they can pay them. You can pay at every counter, but people usually do it at the circulation desk while they’re checking out their books.
There are only two people who can work at the circulation desk, so lines can get pretty long pretty quickly. You have to be fast, especially when you have families that take out 8 books each and board games!
When we’re not busy, we also laminate books so they’re ready to be used. I used to be terrible at it, but now I find it quite soothing! You can also laminate books at the return/subscription desk and the audiovisual one.
When it’s not too busy, one of the two people working at this desk get send to classify. We take 30 minutes turns and alternate, unless we get called down because it’s too busy. It works the same way for the return/subscription desk.
When there are no book to store, we do lecture de rayons, which means that we make sure books of certain sections are stored in the right order. I actually hate that, but it’s so useful when we’re searching for books! You wouldn’t believe the amount of books that get misplaced.
The audiovisual desk is basically the same thing as the circulation desk, but for audiovisual documents (DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, language methods, etc.). The machine used to demagnetize these documents is different from the one at the circulation desk, so that’s why there’s a seperate desk for that.
Audiobooks and language methods are free, but DVDs and CDs are locations. You have them for a week and there’s a fee when you check them out (2$ per DVD and 1$ per CD). There are 2 for 1 cards available for clients who think they’ll use it often! It can also be used with board games and book locations.
We also insure the return of these documents. The person working at this desk also classify them and does lecture de rayons for these documents. If you’re really bored
(which happens all the time at this desk), you can also laminate books.
The audiovisual desk also takes care of computers. Members have 6 hours of Internet for free per week. We also have wifi for those who prefer working with their laptops or cellphones. Wifi is free, but if you use our computers, you have a limited time. You have to pay (3$ for 30 minutes!) if you want any extra time. Visitors and non-members need to pay (same price as the extra time) to use our computers. If people have problems with the computers, they come to the audiovisual desk.
The adult section is upstairs. There are two persons working at the desk. People assigned there go through a variety of tasks, but our main job is to help clients. We help them find books in the catalog or to locate a book in the library. Some people even recommend books to clients, but that is not in our job description.
Other tasks involve: contacting clients (whether it is by phone or email) when a book they reserved has arrived, adding fees to clients’ files who did not pick up their reservation within the five days given (1$), answer the phone (which you do at every desk, but the adult section is probably where you do it the most), preclassify trolley so the people assigned to storage can go do just that, etc. Most of our computers are on the second floor, so the people assigned to the adult desk also take cares of computers, just like at the audiovisual desk.
The children section is basically the same as the adult’s one, but with lower shelves. It’s probably the desk I hate working at the most, because I always end up the day with a back ache (because I’m tall and the shelves are low).
The only distinction with that counter is the public you work with – children (but also with parents and teachers!). Working with them requires a lot of patience, because not all of them are really autonomous when it comes to book searching. Sometimes, parents help, but not always (and sometimes parents are even more lost and confused than their children).
We ask people not to replace the books they don’t want on the shelves, but rather to leave them on the different tables of the sector or on top of the lower shelves. That means that it can get messy quite quickly. The people assigned to the children desk must often pick up the books left here and there, otherwise it’s a real mess.
As I mentioned, it’s possible for people to check out board games. People are not allowed to play inside the library, but they can take the board games home. When games are returned, we must count the pieces to make sure the game is complete before completing the return process.
People who are not assigned to any counter are what we call en mobilité. Basically, it means that if we need help at one of the desks, we’ll call you. Usually, people who are mobiles cover a desk’s lunch breaks, and then, that person is storing books or doing lecture de rayons for the remaining hours of their shift. They also normally cover the desk’s break during the afternoon.
The thing with my library is that students don’t get regular schedules right away. During the summer, you get regular shifts and can even add some extra up to your schedule because most of the regular employees go on vacation for a few weeks. That gives a great opportunity to students and part-time employees to get some extra hours and money. Your entire summer is scheduled in advance.
However, things don’t work the same way during the rest of the year. I was what we call an employée sur appel during the first year after my first summer working at the library. That meant that the only shifts that I ever got was those they called me for. So no regular schedule. You know only a week or two in advance whether you will be working or not. That’s not ideal, but that still allowed me to work almost every weekend.
It’s only this fall that I got some regular shifts. I was able to snatch a Saturday every other week. This spring, I was offered every Friday nights.
I’m now considered a part-time employee, but they still call me every time they have any openings (someone calls in sick, asked for a day-off, etc.). I take almost every opportunity that passes by, so that means I’m working almost every weekend. This is an example of the work days I had last month. Every time “travail” is written, it means that I’m working that day. As you can see, I had very little days off.
As for my summer schedule, I was lucky enough to get a regular one with enough hours. I was worried that because I was going to uni full time this summer, I wouldn’t be able to work as much, but I was able to get a schedule that fits me perfectly!
As you might be able to guess, between work and uni, my schedule is going pretty tight this summer! I’m going to need to be super organized if I want to pull this off, because I won’t get much days off!
I love my job and am so thankful for the opportunity I was given. It can get pretty crazy some times, but that’s how I love it!