Hello and welcome to Stacking Up, a blog for the "modern" librarian! The great thing about today's librarians is that we are so diverse: different ages, backgrounds, personalities, looks... this blog is here to share this diversity with ideas, insights, stories, experiences and opinions for anything and everything having to do with being a librarian!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Joys of Being a Substitute Librarian

OK, it's definitely not nearly as bad as being a substitute teacher. In fact, I like being a substitute librarian and it's probably one of the best starting-out jobs a newly-graduated library student can get (besides, you know, a full-time job) because it really gives you the chance to see all the different aspects of many different libraries serving unique communities- their programs, their layout, their policies... but the job still requires a good deal of patience and a high level of adaptability in order to make it and not get too stressed out- rolling with the punches is kind of par for the course in any kind of substituting-role...

I have been subbing at the city libraries for 7 months now, and have been to at least 7 out of the 11 branches in my area. This has really broadened my scope of how libraries function in a very short period of time. However, the job is not without it's share of difficulties. Case in point: yesterday.

I was asked to fill in at a branch I had never been to yesterday at noon- it was an easy 3 hour shift and I always like working in a new environment, switching things up a little. I was asked to sit at the Reference Desk (with a nice big friendly "Ask me!" sign on it, which kind of made me feel stupid). It was a pretty easy day except for this one phone call. A lady called in and said she was with a task force that was supposed to meet the next day. Apparently one of the librarians-- named "Jen"-- was supposed to be sitting in to moderate the meeting. Now, based on my limited knowledge of this particular branch, having worked there a total of 2 hours and 20 minutes, I assumed that the woman was talking about "Jen" the branch manager. Jen was on vacation and would not be back until next Monday...

This information did not please my patron. "I don't understand, I need to get Jen a message, this is urgent, I need to postpone the meeting." At this point I put the woman on hold to figure out what the heck I should do, since telling her I'd leave a message for when Jen got back was not at all what she wanted to hear. So, the clerk said there was no way Jen could get any message- she was in Texas forcryingoutloud- and the lady from the task force was just out of luck. Crap. Back to the phone. This repeated message did not make task force lady any happier and she hung up.

At this point I tracked down the only other librarian there, who, nicely informed me that there were TWO "Jens" that worked there-- yes, two Jennifers who both  happen to go by the name "Jen." Turns out, Branch Manager Jen is not who was sitting in on the meeting it was--aha!-- Young Adult Librarian Jen.

About 20 minutes later, task force lady calls back. I apologize profusely for the confusion and explain that "I'm new." Like she didn't gather that already, I'm sure. I probably gave her a near heart-attack when I told her her meeting-moderator was somewhere in Texas all week! Oops...

So anyways, it all worked out: the right "Jen" got in touch with the woman later in the day... but it just goes to show some of the frustration and confusion that can go into being a substitute librarian. It's a great experience but I suppose there's a "paying your dues" aspect to it, I mean it's not like I want to be a sub for the rest of my career. Moving about from place to place not only makes it so a librarian can never get comfortable with the rules and policies and norms of one place; it also means that I can't have a consistent presence at any one place long enough for me to start a project or program or really get to know many of the patrons at that location. Which is kind of sucky. I want to get involved and be connected with a community of people, and have some permanent impact, which is nearly impossible to do as a sub. But for the time being, I will try to enjoy these experiences-- even the confusing, awkward ones that make me feel like a bumbling idiot-- and chalk it up to being in "new-librarian boot camp!"

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