I believe the best work is work where there are no typical days. I’m lucky, because I have that kind of work. I’m a Business Librarian.
Like most librarians I juggle between time at the reference desk, classroom teaching, outreach, and various other activities. At the root of them all, we want to forge new things for our communities — create something groundbreaking.
When I started as a business librarian at the Grand Rapids Public Library, I began doing consultations with patrons in three areas: workforce development, nonprofit grant-seeking, and of course, entrepreneurship.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about this. It’s just reference service; people come to us with questions or problems and we provide answers and solutions, or refer them to someone who can. Librarians have been doing reference since humans were keeping records on clay tablets. But it’s easy to be terrible at it. In the beginning, I was. Sure, I had basic reference down, but it’s only through constant practice that a librarian can get to the heart of an information need, shape it, and connect the patron with the right resources.
There are tactics that help: open-ended questions, reading a patron’s concerns, breaking a question down into its constituent parts.
To me, concept mapping was a revelation, especially with entrepreneurs. Oftentimes, their information needs are going in a thousand different directions at a thousand miles an hour; keeping what they need straight is half the challenge, and the fun.
But what really helped was the realization that people are asking me an implicit question when they come for a consultation:
“What should I be doing with my life?”
People feel frustrated, or hopeful, and they want to make a change. How they make that change involves how they work. This is a big decision. After all, a full-time job is a third of any given day.
What makes it all the more difficult is that it’s a big decision people are not well-prepared to make. Many feel like they should already know the answer. Most are afraid of being wrong.
And why wouldn’t they be? Being wrong gets you bad grades in school. It gets you laughed at by your peers. It puts you in a vulnerable spot, which is why so many people refuse to ask for help when they need it the most, especially in terms of work.
As a librarian, it’s my job to break that cycle. It’s my job to help people understand what they need, to communicate that being wrong is an opportunity to grow, rather than an opportunity for others to knock them down.
Even in a classroom you can do this. I swear, one of the easiest ways I’ve found to put a classroom at ease is to admit that I don’t know something.
Libraries, of course, are built to support self-driven learning, which is often the most compelling kind. It is what allows our patrons to make decisions that have no objectively right answers — only answers that are right for them.
And librarianship itself becomes endlessly fascinating when you use it to help someone realize something they didn’t know. Or even better, something they didn’t know they needed to know.
If I were to tell you, I’d say that my typical day is spent helping people find good work.
Which is good work, in and of itself.