For almost 5 years, I worked at the Hatcher Graduate Library while I was studying at the University of Michigan. As a freshman, I was poor and needed to find a job. I called up one of my Grandmothers and talked with her about what she did while she was in college and how she made it through. While she studied at Denison University, she worked in the library part time and loved it. With my love of reading, books and organization, I thought it would be a great place to try.
Luckily there were work-study positions available at the Hatcher Graduate Library. I hadn’t had a job before applying, so my interview at the library was my first exploit into the “real world”. I interviewed with the Head of the Circulation Department and started a week later. Since I was taking classes full time during the day and I was a night owl, I offered to work the night shift. I quickly learned that these were the best shifts and that I could work on my homework while still helping out. I was a staple of the night shift Sunday-Thursdays, 8pm to 2 am. As my schooling progressed I was able to pick up additional shifts throughout the day and help out at the Undergraduate Library (which we affectionately call the UGLi), giving myself a taste of the library during “real” work hours.
Over time I started to learn more about the library system, and myself, while at the library.
- People actually do check out a suitcase full of books, but generally only if they’re working on their dissertation. Coming from a public library that only allowed a certain amount of books at a time, it was crazy that people would take out tens or hundreds of books at a time. One of our patrons came in three days in a row with a standard carry-on-sized suitcase full of books; he said he still had books at home too.
- Ask your patrons about the topic they are working on. Sometimes they’ll be more reserved about sharing what they’re working on, but for the most part, they’re glad that you took the time to ask. I learned so much from other students and faculty while I was working there, just because I stopped and asked “Hey, what are you working on?”
- Librarians don’t actually live at the library (but they pretty much could). As a child I thought that librarians lived in the library; it made sense to me, since they were always there when I’d go. Then one day I saw the librarian at the grocery store, and I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t at “home”. My grandma explained to me that librarians don’t live at the library, they just work there. Since the Grad was open from 8am to 2am most days, it pretty much seemed like some of the librarians lived there. During finals, we’d only be closed from 4am to 8am; there were a few times my supervisor (jokingly) offered to let me use a cot in our downstairs lounge.
- In Academic libraries, during Rush Week/Campus Tours/Orientation Week, be prepared to know your facts. People will come into the library and ask random facts; sometimes while on a scavenger hunt, others while taking campus tours. Be ready to be asked lots of random/campus/not-so-general knowledge questions. “Who sculpted that fountain that you walk in during orientation?” Which would be in reference to the “Sunday Morning in Deep Waters” fountain by Carl Milles, that U of M students walk in at their orientation and after graduation. You start to learn these facts, memorize them. Other questions are easier, “Where can I find books about Latin American History?” They’re in the 5th floor stacks in the South building. The fact is, you will learn a lot, all the time.
- Students don’t like to use the catalog to find their own books, they’d rather come to the circulation desk for that information. I became a pro at using our ExLibris Aleph catalog system to find books for patrons. I knew how to search our software, as well as the patron facing website, like a pro.
- You become a pro at alphabetizing, and searching through the stacks at lightning speed. When you have over 3.5 million items in your collection, and nearly 70 thousand people to serve, you’ll learn the stacks quickly. If you happen to grace the Graduate Library, when you’re in 1N, the yellow line will direct you to the elevators, while the white will take you to the South side of the building. And yes it can be very confusing in there.
I learned that this is what I want to do with my life: I love working in the library industry and working with books. I love my position at Boopsie, because this company connects libraries and technology.