Why you don’t need to be a great reader to work in a public library

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When I did my library masters in 2002 we were told never to mention at a job interview that we loved books or reading because this would put the interviewers off. My heart sank but I took it on board and managed to get my first post as an academic librarian without once mentioning books. But several years later, at my public library interview in Sandwell, they asked me to tell them about a book I’d read recently and explain why I liked it so much. I told them all about Happenstance by Carol Shields and felt really pleased that I could be open about my passion for reading at last.

Most of the public library staff I’ve worked with have loved reading and that’s brilliant, because it’s much easier to sell a product you like (and we’re certainly in the business of “selling” the library services). But it’s more important to be warm and welcoming to library users, to listen to them, to help them find out things or access a job application form or set up an email account, than it is to be the best-read person in the world. If you listen to people talking about books they’ve read and keep up to date with book reviews and the new books in the library, if you use book choice websites, then you’ll be able to recommend books to people.

Now that my children have grown up, I read fewer children’s books, but I read articles about children’s authors and literature and look through all the new books that arrive at the library, so I can talk to kids and their parents about which books they might enjoy. Above all, I listen to the children who tell me about the fantastic books they’ve just read.

You don’t need to be a great reader to work in a public library but you do need to be interested in reading.

Recommended article:

Will Manley’s Magic Bullet (mlissinginaction.wordpress.com)

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5 thoughts on “Why you don’t need to be a great reader to work in a public library

    1. blackcountrylibrarian Post author

      Reading your article made me think more about the topic – that’s why I decided to write this post. Ten years ago I think libraries were desperate to get IT literate staff so perhaps they tended to play down the reading aspect, whereas now they can take the IT part for granted and look for more people-centred skills. I don’t know if library schools still tell people not to mention reading books?!

      Reply
      1. Emily@HiringLibrarians

        I don’t know about library schools, but I’ve seen that “don’t mention books” advice given over on my other blog, Hiring Librarians. I think it’s still considered a little naive/gauche.

  1. Farah Ng @ Broken Penguins

    I’m not a librarian… but I imagine you’d fall in love with reading after working for a little. You can’t help but take interest in the material you’re immersed in day-in and day-out. I once worked in the marketing department of a plumbing company — by the end of my contract, I was fascinated by plumbing. True story!

    Reply
  2. blackcountrylibrarian Post author

    Yes, I think that does happen to lots of us and we all love unpacking the boxes of brand new books as soon as they arrive! Working in a public library certainly widens your range of reading material. I love that you became fascinated with plumbing – your natural curiosity and enthusiasm come across in your lovely blog!

    Reply

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