Posted by: Burlington Public Library (WA) | November 15, 2010

So what do you do?

For better or for worse, it’s the definitive question of our culture.  You meet someone new, and they ask, “What do you do?”   They don’t even have to specify “What do you do to make a living” — it’s just understood.  I long for the day when someone asks me, “How do you be?”

This question becomes even harder when you work at a library.  For one thing, there are a lot of stereotypes out there!  Why, one person I know refuses to buy one of those beaded leashes that go around your neck to hold your glasses, because  she feels it would complete her “librarian appearance.”

But irregardless of stereotypes and old jokes, how does one describe what one does in a day?  Check out books, unplug a toilet, help a woman research trash compactors, tell people where the bathrooms are, fix the copier, hook someone up with fiction that may change their lives, call to replenish our supply of voter registration brochures, prevent a youngster from climbing shelves, help someone create an email account so they can apply for a job, find a fairy book for a seven-year-old girl, prepare for a program, train a new volunteer, listen to someone vent about the entire world, order new books, give a new card and orient that person to some of what we offer… and that’s only the afternoon.

This has got to be one of the hardest jobs to describe.  Until I happened apon www.savelibraries.org, a blog which “grassroots effort to compile information and advocacy resources for libraries that are facing devastating budget cuts.”  And there I saw this blog, which models a response to the ubiquitous question “What do you do?”:

So here’s my ten-second elevator speech:
“I help people change their lives, connect with their community, and boost their local economy, while enjoying the present and preparing for the future. I do this without a charge, because you have already paid for my services.”

Chances are, they will say, “Wow. Tell me more.”

And that’s my golden chance to tell them all about the wonders of public libraries, which can be summed up (and expanded upon) with four simple messages:
1. Libraries change lives.
2. Libraries build community.
3. Libraries mean business.
4. Libraries are a smart investment.

Now that sounds even better my list. 
                      — gratefully, Mary Beth

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