Preparation work for this blog assignment was actually great fun. For starters, it admittedly wasn’t work. Secondly, the intersectionality and general coolness of the place I chose freed it from any tedium. For this assignment, I got to follow and observe the work of my best friend, Mr. Seth Persons, a librarian at the MET. Seth works at both the Thomas J. Watson Library, an art history and research-geared space for college age-patrons and also the Nolen library, which is more oriented toward the general public.
For membership at the Watson Library, the requirements are minimal. There’s the age-restriction, but any photo or student ID will get you in. The Nolen Library is even more inclusive—anyone can get a membership.
During my brief visit, I got to observe first-hand both the excitement and minutiae that Seth gets to experience everyday–both as a desk librarian at Nolen and a systems librarian/all-around tech wizard at Watson. Seth wore many hats throughout the day, and in him I saw all the versatility and mental acumen that the job really requires. It was exhausting and intimidating, both to his credit.
Libraries from my childhood often felt authoritative. Whenever I went into one, the atmosphere could feel stifling and almost judgmental. I felt out-of-place — as if a stern figure was always seconds away from pointing a finger and forbidding the most minor of infractions. But the libraries where Seth works aren’t related to those horror setting from my childhood. They were much more open and less restrictive. Since I am an aspiring picture book author/illustrator, I was especially interested in the Nolen library, which is 1/3 picture books and is noted for a story-time for ages 3-5 every morning. There is also a story–time for aged 5-8 in the evenings. I didn’t see young people scared to talk there. That was cool. It wasn’t a repressive place, by any stretch.
There was a welcoming atmosphere in the Nolen Library that was mirrored by the staff. Which is amazing, given how busy these librarians often are—given the multitude of varied pressures and stresses that I witnessed them experience in just my short time there.
It wasn’t a particularly busy day. I wanted to chose a low-key time, so the library wasn’t packed with story-time listeners and parents and nannies, etc. I chose a time when I wouldn’t be impeding my friend from doing his work. As I often hear about the emotional duress that being a public servant can bring on, this was really the only thing that made sense.
As I toured the stacks at the Nolen Library, Seth told me about a particularly eventful story-time that’d recently happened in the very room. I am aware, as I wrote, of how stressful it can be to be any librarian. This story and Seth’s descriptions related to it made me respect fully the emotional demands placed on anyone running a story-time, be it a children’s librarian, a volunteer, or any staff member.
Managing a library, especially a story-time, seems akin to being a ring-leader in a circus. You don’t just manage the little ones, commanding respect, but maintaining a balance that doesn’t turn you into a jerk. That’s one level. But, according to Seth, it’s also managing parents. Managing nannies. Managing volunteers. Making sure the kids don’t idly destroy the legitimate artworks on display near them. All of this during story-time.
But story-time doesn’t swallow the Nolen Library completely, despite picture books being so large a part of their collection. While story-time was happening on that particular day, a group of high-schoolers were also having class in the library.
The library is never a static place and different groups often have to be managed at the same time. But a librarian like Seth also has to contend with a lot of behind-the-scenes technology stuff. In addition to having to fix the circulation desk scanner like every single say, he is also responsible for devices that I wouldn’t even begin to know how to approach, much less turn on, much less operate correctly.
The day left me with a renewed admiration for librarians, volunteers, and everyone involved in any large story-time ever. These people manage so much stress, both for other people externally and also for themselves internally, and are so infrequently lauded for it. People like my best friend, in my humble opinion, are literal unsung superheroes.
After our observance, me and Seth at chicken salad for lunch. I looked at art when he had to go back to work. It was a great experience and day.