We all know the inaccurate stereotype that exists about libraries and librarians; a quiet place, where people go to borrow and read books, overseen by a grumpy old lady who will scream “Shhh!” if anyone makes the slightest noise. Of course, this is just simply incorrect. Libraries of all kinds, are so much more than that.

But if that is the case, what does the work a librarians do actually look like? Guest writer and school librarian, Megan Hamilton, shares what her days in the library are like.

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I saw a screenshot of an article recently about being a librarian and it filled me with rage; it said that “there will be plenty of silence and reading” and that it could be a “viable laidback job for you.” Seems like the writer has lots of silence and reading time at their job, seeing as they clearly didn’t do any actual research.

I started my library career when I was seventeen, as a Saturday Assistant in my local public library and, ten years later, I’m the Librarian at a private school. I can say that, unequivocally, I do not have plenty of silence and I do not do plenty of reading. I fell in love with libraries as a kid, but my dream of working in a school library was born from working in the children’s section of the public library where, trust me, it was always noisy!

What it’s really like

Public libraries are so much more than just books. Librarians, managers, library assistants, and all the other wonderful staff that work there are Jacks of all trades; they plan and execute community events, they work with local businesses, they host authors, they do research on your behalf, they teach computer classes, they host groups and clubs… the list goes on and on. This is why libraries and their library staff are so important! Most libraries run music sessions or reading sessions for babies and toddlers, which is obviously fun and beneficial for the kids, but also creates a community amongst parents so they can help and support each other, especially as it’s free and accessible. Libraries are community hubs.

Our library had a club called Knit and Knatter every Wednesday lunchtime and this hilarious group of old ladies would get the bus in, rock up with their knitting and gossip. Loudly. It was my favourite time of the week because the library was so noisy! Everyone loved it. That group of ladies made me fall in love with the idea of loud libraries, and my school library now is rarely silent.

If my library is silent for a prolonged period of time, I have done something wrong. Our school has so many silent workspaces, and I have a separate room in the library for silent study, so I want the rest of the library to have noise. The main library always has a low background hum of quiet chatter. I love this because it covers the sound of my conversations with students; whether that be research and referencing help, or telling me some weird fact they’ve just learned, or asking for a book recommendation, or running up in an English lesson to tell me they stayed up ‘til 3am to finish a book and they need the next one because they must read it immediately or they’ll explode.

There’s no awkwardness of having to whisper a request into a silent room. There should be noise when I teach information literacy lessons, and run clubs, and try to convince year 13 to do their coursework instead of sitting on the sofa and drawing me into debates, and spend time with a teenager who tells me he hates reading but then reads five books in a term because he’s discovered he loves vampires – this is the job of a School Librarian.

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Yes, I do the things people think of, like stamping books, putting books in alphabetical order, and generally just running the library. I inherited a very poorly resourced library. There were hardly any fiction books, no displays, no posters – it was not a very inviting environment – which means I spent a lot of time and money creating a balanced reading and study space. I selected and bought fiction books, I catalogued and jacketed them, I age-rated and labelled them by genre, and I shelved them, all of which I still do but on a smaller scale. There are now posters on the walls, themed displays, a codex for how to use the non-fiction section, stickers and art on the walls. After exams, some year 13s and I spent a month drawing book covers on the windows with chalk pens. It is so much more inviting now.

I have regularly timetabled lessons with years 7-11 to teach basic information literacy skills, to give book recommendations, to check their reading level and stretch them with more challenging books if needed. I run clubs at lunch time and during our prep period, so it is always very noisy and filled with students. I run workshops and events, including author visits and World Book Day events. I work with departments to have available resources for contextual reading, I keep the physical and online library equipped, and I meet with sixth-formers to teach them how to research and reference for their EPQs and coursework.

What the most important thing is

However, I think the thing I do the most is spending time with students. Being a School Librarian is a lot more pastoral support then people think. I’m in a unique position of mostly always being available when you need someone, always being in the same place, and not being their teacher but still being a trusted adult. I have a glass office so I can safely offer privacy, and students feel like they can trust me, because the nature of my job in the library means that I have a fun and slightly less formal relationship with them than their teachers, but all the support and professionalism as an adult member of staff.

Even for students who don’t particularly need to talk but just want a place to hang out and feel safe, the library is a place for that; a place where the lonely and the “nerdy” can come and make friends with others like them. I have seen some wonderful friendships blossom between students who otherwise spent their time alone. Being a librarian is never just about the books, it’s about the people. We are here to serve you.

We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!

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