The Importance of Librarians in the Current Social Condition

An Editorial by an MLS

Employees who work the front desk bear the brunt of responsibility for helping those in intellectual, emotional and financial need. Those employees also, unfortunately, bear the brunt of the harsh reactions of seemingly ungrateful patron. Many front desk stresses are inevitable. As a rule, patrons do not like paying fines; do not like being told that a title is unavailable; do not like being locked out of a building whose contents are needed. In times of financial hardship, the numbers—and tempers—of library patrons rise.

Libraries may feel hard-pressed to navigate new roles: daycare centers for children, internet cafes for the unemployed, and the only location capable of providing information and access on local employment, medicinal providers, insurers and support groups. Employees may feel (perhaps rightly) that negative reactions from patrons is increasing and that any appreciation for the work of the public services librarian is decreasing at an inverse ratio.

One might not know what may set a patron off: a tone of voice, a language barrier, an accurate answer which is not the desired response, a technical glitch or even the presence of other patrons. It is these unpredictable elements which can create discomfort or even fear and anger within the librarian: the uncertain possibility of whether the patron in front of them might at any moment be asking for their employment’s termination. The rising stress levels of day-to-day life can be predicted to be a possible cause for quick tempers and exaggerated reactions. People will be rude. People will be harsh. People will be illogical. People will be quick to judge and criticize. People will be ignorant both unintentionally and because of a purpose. Most of all, people will be slow to understand.

However, it is in the midst of these actions, and because of these actions, that librarians should increase their resolve to accomplish their work. Librarians facing the mean numbers and (and mean reactions) of patrons should regard themselves fortunate not only to be employed, but to be employed within a profession that acts in all social and economic climates to better the people around them on an open educational plain. For it is these current times of concern and seemingly stagnant commercial progress that information and its access become the most valued of commodities.

A.D. Beman-Cavallaro, MLS, works at the University of South Florida Tampa Library.