Myths of the Underemployed Librarian #4: You only work Part-Time, so you don’t have any REAL experience

This happens to me a lot.  And I’ll confess, I do it too.  When you (or someone, or I — this is a universal “you”) meet a part-time librarian, you never really know what they know.  Sure, we all have the same 2-year Graduate degree, but not all schools were created equal and not everyone had the same grad school experience.  Some people did internships.  Some didn’t.  Some people have experience in public libraries, some in academic, some in archives, and some people got out of grad school with absolutely zero experience.  or, at least not enough experience to qualify them for certain positions.

Like me, for instance.  In the whole time I was in grad school, I only had 1 public library internship.  But, I also worked in a public library for 1 year prior to starting school and the entire time I was in.  And, while not at the librarian level, I sure as hell did a lot of stuff that would be considered “professional-level” work.  That’s just how life in a small branch is.  Everyone kind of does everything (even though you’re not supposed to legally).

So, without knowing my experience and just looking at my choice to only do one internship, someone might think that I’m fairly incompetent.  That maybe I don’t have a whole lot of library experience and that this part-time job is my first time around the library block.

But for me, and many of us part-timers, this is the millionth lap around the block – and, yes, I know how to use a catalog and look up books.  You’d think this was a given, that anyone coming out of library school can use a stupid catalog, but apparently it’s not, and I’ve been offered to be taught on numerous occasions.  I mean, I know that each catalog has its quirks and sometimes you need to romance it a little to get what you want.  But this isn’t the kind of help I’m talking about.  I’m talking about looking for things like “The very hungry caterpillar” by Eric Carle – which is kind of a no-brainer and really you should just walk you butt over to the picture books to see if its there since its 5 feet away instead of waiting to “double check” in the catalog.

But one thing that is a toughy to determine with part-timers is their programming experience.  Programming experience as in planning and implementing a program – whether it be an outside performer coming in or a homegrown program like “Wonk-a-licious”, a Roald Dahl trivia contest (which I’m quite proud of, thank you).  Or, programming like Storytimes and book clubs and read-alouds.  It’s hard to determine someone’s abilities and comfortableness as a part-timer.  If someone was (or is) a full-time Children’s Librarian, you know that even if they’re not competent in it, they’ve at least done all of the above stuff.  But a part-timer, who knows.

So this is where the awkward questions come in.  The awkward suggestions on the basics of things like storytime.  Like book selection or song selection.  Maybe they’re just awkward for me.  Because I’m the type of personality that doesn’t like to be underestimated and treated like a baby.  If I’m going to fall, I want to fall because I messed up.  Because I wasn’t prepared.  But I pride myself in trying to be over-prepared to prevent those falls from happening.  I know I’m oversensitive to these issues – especially because I feel like I am constantly trying to prove myself worthy of a full-time position.

But, I also know that these people are just trying to help.  They’re trying to suss out my abilities and eventually they figure out that mostly I can be left alone and the library won’t burn down.  That I have ideas to contribute.  And I recognize that in other part-timers.  I assume that everyone is capable of the job at hand and are probably more capable than me.

But, then, I observed a storytime not too long ago (in someone’s effort to school me on storytimes so that I can get a feel for people’s different styles), and I saw a storytime that I thought was borderline unacceptable.  The type of storytime was not a professional-librarian-level storytime.  It was like someone fumbling in the dark trying to do their best, but not really knowing what goes into entertaining these lovely monsters we call children in a specific setting called storytime.  And it was then that I understood that part-timers are not all created equal and maybe I have too much hubris and need to take a step back and really work on some stuff to make sure I’m not deluding myself and others.  There is always room for improvement in librarianship just as in life and maybe someone treating you like fresh meat will give you a perspective you haven’t had in awhile.

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One thought on “Myths of the Underemployed Librarian #4: You only work Part-Time, so you don’t have any REAL experience

  1. I understand how you feel, because I felt that way when I started my job too. I did not have nearly as much experience as you, but I knew how to make a flannelboard!

    On the other hand, I believe that any library system would be completely remiss in their duties if they didn’t provide training and support to new staff. Hopefully they will let you go on your own more once they figure out you are comfortable with programming. I completely agree with your last statement–we can always learn something new, no matter how many storytimes we’ve done.

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