The People Business

I’ve been running the near daily #andypoll on Twitter for a couple of months now. Sometimes the questions are goofy, sometimes they are serious, and most of the time they are just random questions that pop into my head. The question I asked today elicited all sorts of answers.

You should add your own answer below.

For this particular poll, I got a ton of answers. So many, in fact, that rather than highlight a few, I compiled them into a giant picture file.

Click to embiggen

They certainly represent a broad spectrum of views and beliefs as to what makes a librarian a librarian. If I was to generalize them, they hover around customer service skills (e.g. empathy, patience, kindness, and a love of people, to name a few).

But I was curious as to what non-librarians thought would be a quality that they would look for in librarians. So I (and a few other people) asked around. Again, I compiled it into a graphic (albeit a smaller one).

Click to embiggenWhile this does not meet any sort of scientific credibility at a glance, I thought even in the few answers collected that they lined up some of the answers given by my fellow professionals on Twitter. Moreover, it was a confirmation of the personal aspect of the service; that attitude and approachability have a higher importance to non-librarian library users than other proficiencies and knowledges.

While this isn’t a Will Manley poll, it certainly something to get conversations started. What do you think is the #1 quality a librarian or library staff member should have?

10 thoughts on “The People Business

  1. Now that I am retired and am a semi full time library patron, I abhor walking into a library where all the public services people are staring at computer screens and not looking at the public (and by the way this is the norm everywhere I go). So what do I value most in a librarian? I value the librarian who puts people over computers! How can you help people if you are staring at a computer?

    • I heard this tale from a librarian friends at a college library.

      When she was at the reference desk, she was not asked a question as much as when she was just sitting at the desk compared to when she was getting up or just leaving the desk. For whatever reason, the students felt that they would be interrupting her when she was behind the desk, but didn’t have an issue approaching her when she left it.

      I’m not sure of an answer: a way to look approachable and yet be able to have the computer there for easy reference.

      • The reason I’m staring at a computer screen when I’m at the reference desk is because it’s the only time I have to do my other work. The number of librarians here has significantly decreased over the past several years, which means a lot more time at the reference desk for the rest of us. When we’re not at the desk, we’re usually teaching library instruction classes. That leaves precious little time for things like collection development, answering work-related emails, and the million other things we have to do around here. (I’m on my lunch break right now, by the way. Fifteen minutes, if I’m lucky.)

        As for approachability: In the old days, when we had the luxury of having two librarians at the reference desk during peak hours, patrons would invariably approach the librarian who was already helping someone else, rather than the librarian who was free. When the unoccupied librarian (sitting behind the desk wearing a name tag) asked the patron if they needed assistance, many patrons would say, “Oh, I didn’t realize you worked here.” Compare this with Andy’s tale, and it can be difficult to tell if looking busy is a good thing or a bad thing.

        • To add a touch:

          I’ve heard tales of being told to never look you’re not doing anything or that you are bored. Some people take offense that they are paying your salary while you just stare into space, waiting for someone to help. It’s a strange double edged sword, I think.

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  3. A library staff member should have the same quality needed by anyone else in this crazy world: resilience. One of the best ways to be resilient is to maintain a good sense of humor amidst challenges and strife – admittedly sometimes easier said than done!

    rcn in San Francisco Bay Area

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