The Unquiet Librarian: What do you do here, anyway?
BY VIRGINIA ROBERTS
Rhinelander District Library Director
When I was a young librarian, just a few years out of graduate school at the UW Madison, a student asked me what I did all day; if I actually had to go to school to get this job, and why I couldn’t just make her fellow classmates in that library be quiet.
With more experience and years behind me than I care to count, my colleagues and I still get those questions.
Yesterday was no different. The first question, while I was shoveling the back steps as the library opened, was, “I thought you had a woman who did all that?” Yes we do; she’s been here many years taking care of the physical plant with very little help, until recently. She just happened to be out yesterday, and it snowed. So rather than wait for someone to shovel for y’all (because that was happening), our morning page and I picked up shovels. You’re welcome. Another frequent question all of us have heard recently is: “Are the tax forms here yet?” On Friday, as soon as I had told someone not to expect them until February, state forms came in. The Wisconsin Homestead and Rent Certificate forms are in! This did make all of us quite happy. They are located on a shelf opposite the front doors near the front desk. But, you should know RDL has always provided these, the labor to request and display them, and the space to have them for free. No librarian, unless trained in tax law and accounting, may provide you with any further tax assistance other than finding the forms you require. Federal forms are still NOT available to us (really) until February.
The final question of the day was actually asked of our Adult Department head, and is asked so frequently, I am about to make a poster of the question and answer: “All your DVDs are donated, right?” No, no they aren’t. There is a budget to purchase the many items appearing before you, including DVDs. Things that have just come out, award-winning documentaries, block-buster movies, requests off the Hallmark Channel, and exciting television series all are part of a shrinking library budget. Does the library get donations? Of course! All kinds are greatly appreciated.
Many go into the collection to replace well-loved and already existing materials. DVDs in particular wear out and need replacing. Sometimes they just go missing—as several superhero adventure films and television series have this last year. (Do you like the Flash television series? Or Black Sails, Scorpion, or Independence Day?) A number of recent items have gone missing or not been returned cannot be normally afforded replacement unless the library is lucky to have someone donate a copy. That said, there is still a budget—and the library tries to “keep up” with the titles you request and like, along with everything else.
So, back to the original questions:
What do I do here, anyway? Besides answering questions, and do, please ask; if I don’t know an answer, we will find out together. A library director includes many duties covering all areas of the library and library business, much of which involves writing. This month is no different. Today I am working on this column, a few press releases on programs and new stuff you might want to know about, updating policy, and a couple of grants that, should RDL get them, will assist with programming and enhance the collection, and finally, writing thank you notes to folks who have generously donated their time, stuff, or hard-earned dollars to the library. Later this week, I work on, with the assistance of many of the librarians here and at the Wisconsin Valley Library System, a State of Wisconsin Report which gives them a snapshot of how Rhinelander District Library is serving the community—but just a snapshot. It’s never a complete picture. However, if the preliminary numbers are correct, your library has been very busy this year.
What do I do all day? Well, I wish I could say it was read, but I can’t get through a beloved book, let alone get caught up on all the professional information that comes at me daily so Rhinelander can be the best library for the community. A short answer is in addition to paperwork, I attend meetings, help folks find what they want and need here and online, answer questions from everyone, meet with people, and go through stacks of materials to see if they are still being used and should still be on the library shelves. This morning I checked in on someone, got a hug, and picked up the paper before the library opened, in addition to the items I just listed, and preparing for the Library Board of Trustees meeting this afternoon.
Other days, other situations. Everyday a new challenge. Sometimes technology doesn’t work well or someone gets ill and I’m calling for help or working at the front desk, ordering requested materials, or honing the collection from the shelves. It’s all in a day’s work for many of us here at your library.
Did I actually have to go to school to get this job? Well, yes. I am a proud University of Wisconsin—Madison graduate. For the population Rhinelander District Library serves, and the size of the library, I must have a master’s degree in this field. And there are several of us who received master’s degrees and quite specific training on library law, business, materials selection, care and preservation of historic materials, cataloging, literacy education and programming for all ages, child development, technology, researching and answering questions, along with so much else that ensures this library runs well. And education is continued all year, every year, online and in person, all to make sure you get the best possible library with the most up-to-date educated, well-trained people helping you here.
And that last question, the one about making someone quiet. The library has a policy for that. It requires those who come in the building not disrupt others. But this building, the hum of the lights, the computers, the “whisper zones” which in a hundred-year-old building make conversations carry—is not and cannot be quiet. If someone disturbs or disrupts you here, please politely say something to them or to one of the library staff so we may say something. Please don’t get angry. The Rhinelander District Library is a living community building. According to the rough statistics, there is much going on here, chess games, studying, genealogical research, all kinds of questions, tours given to new cardholders, and technology and study assistance to name a few—all told about 500 people (average) in your library daily. So all the noise—that lack of quiet—is the sound of your community growing, learning, playing—if you haven’t heard it lately, perhaps it’s time to stop by, take a tour, pick up a few tax forms, a book, a movie, ask a question or learn about your personal tech or the tech and tech resources at your library. We’re here six days a week and are always happy to see you. And then you can see what all the noise is really about!
The Rhinelander District Library is open Monday–Saturday, at 106 N. Stevens St. To contact Director Virginia Roberts, call 715-365-1070 or email director@RhinelanderLibrary.org.