Tuesday, September 27, 2011


The McPherson Square Branch Library was closed today so the LA 1 from there was sent to our Richmond Branch.  What a pleasure to have a full complement of workers.  I am so far behind that I put myself on the desk only once, Diane and Marquita twice and our visitor Karen three times.  Karen was so good, she even shelved all my books that I hadn't been able to get to.  I, on the other hand, was able to get two huge piles of work off of my desk.  We are having her come again tomorrow and we might have her on Thursday also if the ceiling in her branch isn't finished being repaired.  If we have her for two more days I will be completely caught up, something that hasn't happened in two months.  In any case I will take what I can get.  So much pressure has been taken off of my shoulders by Karen being there even jus one day.  I can't wait until there is enough money in the city's budget so we can hire another person.

Bonnie over at whataboutpie.blogspot.com asked me today if I would describe my job.  I think it would be really interesting to do that because people tend to think that all we do is check books in and out and shelve them when they come back.  There is so much more to the job than that.

By the way, if you haven't visited Bonnie's blog you really should.  She writes and photographs so well and it's always interesting to read what she's been up to.

OK.  Back to an ordinary day in the life of a Library Assistant in the Philadelphia library system.  When I first get there I sign in, and then go to the desk to record the statistics from the day before.  I write down how many people came in and out (we have an automatic counter), how many people requested new library cards, how many requested a replacement and how many were adults or children.  Also how many phone calls we received and how many questions the librarians were asked.  Then I get the money out of the safe and put it in the cash register and make sure each station has pens, pencils and markers.

The next thing I do is see who is in, what time the part-timer is coming in and make up the desk schedule.  I have to make sure that everyone has a fairly equal number of hours on the desk and is not working through their scheduled lunch time.  Sometimes this is tricky to do.  Today I had to do it three times before I got it right.

Then I take the newspapers that have been delivered, put a target in them so they can't be stolen, stamp the branch name on each section, pull the old newspapers off of the rack and put the new ones on.

Next I try to shelve my books.  Lately I've had time to shelve only some of them before we open to the public.  I do the best I can, but sometimes the books just have to sit there until later.  Each of us has a different part of the library to shelve.  I do the non-fiction, Diane does the children's and Marquita does the fiction and teens.  Our volunteer Tom does the DVDs, CDs and McNaughton (rented) books.  Sometime during the day I try to shelf-read three or four bookcases.  This means you look at every number on every book and make sure they are in the correct order.  I have not been able to keep up with this at all because it takes a lot of time and that is something I just don't have lately trying to keep up with both my old and new jobs.

When I am on the front desk I check in the incoming items and check out items to the patrons.  I send out books to other branches, both the ones people are waiting for (on hold) and the returned books to the owning branches.  They have to be wrapped up and labeled so they get to the right place.  I also go through the shelves of books on hold for people, pull off the ones that have been there for three weeks without being picked up and send them back to their owning branch.  We have a drop box where people put their books when we are closed.  I backdate those books and put them where they belong or send them out to the owning branch.  We also have to answer the phones and make computer reservations for people.  If there are angry, upset or confused patrons that the library assistant on the desk cannot handle, I have to leave what I am doing and try to calm things down.  If I can't, then they get passed on to the librarian.  Also if there are problems with the computers or with the printer I try to fix it.  I say try because I can't always and pass it on to someone else.  Same with the copier.

There are times I have to go to meetings outside of the building and then it is up to me to get my library assistant staff together and convey to them what is going on and make sure we are all on the same page with what we are doing.  I also have regular meetings with the librarian as to what is happening in our branch.

We all make up new library cards for the patrons.  We have to look everyone up in the computer and then enter the new information.  You can't always count on them telling the truth when they say they have never had a card.  Some people just don't remember that they had one several years ago.  Others are trying to get one over on you.  And then you have to tell them when they have fines.  Sometimes huge fines.  And they don't want to hear this.  Some of them argue with you and not very nicely either.  But most of the time it's a simple matter of "here's your new card...You may have two items today since it's your first time."

We get approximately four large cartons of new books each day.  I open them, sort them, and put them on the shelves to be entered into the computer database.  Again, each of us has a certain section of books to enter:  children's, adults, paperbacks, McNaughtons.  We have a program to use where we put in the title, author, owning library, where it is shelved, the price, etc.  It takes awhile to get through a hundred books.  We get about 60-100 new books a day.  Of course we need a place to put these books, so we have to withdraw books that are damaged, too old to be useful, not circulating, etc.

Lots of people give us books they no longer want.  The librarians go through these books, decide which ones to put in the book sale and which ones they will add to the collection.  When something is being added, it is given to me.  I put all the labels, call numbers, etc. on them and then enter them into the library data base.  Then I put them out on the new books table.  It is a slow process because there are so many steps.  I also put on clear plastic bookcovers if they need it.

Many times the call number labels get light.  I have to make new labels for them.  I am redoing the Biography section with all new labels and we are putting all new labels on the McNaughton books.  Hundreds of them.

The McNaughtons are rented books.  Libraries all over the country rent from the McNaughton company.  They are the bestsellers and the newest books in print.  When they come in I have to enter into the database that we have received them, put the new labels on and put them out on a special shelf.  After a year, we decide whether we want to keep them and pay for them or return them.  I have to discard in the database the ones we don't want, pack them up, and send them back.  The ones we are keeping have to be entered as our books and relabeled.

There are also some reports I have to do.  If we have to go to another library or run a work related errand we get carfare reimbursement.  I have to figure up how much each person gets and send a request for the money to be refunded to them.  The end of each month I have to make a statistics report -- how many people entered the library, how many people got new library cards, how many hours we were open, how many programs we had, etc.  I also order supplies we need and put them away when they are delivered.  So naturally I have to keep an inventory of what we have on hand also.

When the mail comes each day I have to open it, sort it, and get it to the right person.  There is also filing of various forms.

At the end of the day I have to empty the cash register.  I count the money, enter some statistics in the computer, enter some into a cash register log and put the cash in the safe and lock it.  Then I have to sign a form that the safe is actually locked.  Once a week I have to prepare a deposit and give it to the librarian to take to the bank and then make a report to accounting on how much we deposited and what accounts the money goes into.

So, Bonnie, I hope this answers your question.  It was a good question and I'm glad you asked.  Yes, there is a lot more to what I do besides checking in and out.  I hope you have a greater appreciation for us poor overworked and underpaid library workers.


  1. I have been a library patron for years & never knew any of this! It made me tired just hearing about it, especially all the detailed ledger work. I will certainly have a LOT more patience when I next go into a branch

  2. Kathy, what an awesome description you gave of your responsibilities as a library assistant! That is definitely way more than I realized. I know that each little thing takes time too. Just wrapping a book in clear cellophane would take about 5 minutes!! So, that's one book...60 or 100 more to go! There are a lot of details to your job that patrons would have no idea about. That is why I wanted you to do this post and I am so glad you did. You have solved all of my curiosities about your job. I learned a new thing...the "rented" books that the library can decided later whether to keep...very interesting...I had no idea! I will be making a post on my blog to refer my readers to your post by using a link! I know they will find it very interesting!! Thank you!

  3. Found your blog through Bonnie.

    It is amazing how much you do... I guess in my mind I imagined a librarian having the time to read in between customers.

    I do have a question though, do you ever get first dibs on a book that comes in? There is a few books at my local library I am on the very bottom of the request. I have had Crank on my list over a year & I doubt I will see it anytime soon.

  4. Hi, Martha Complex. Thanks for stopping by. To answer your question, I don't know where you live and it might be different in your library. But in Philadelphia the only advantage we have is we get to see the books first and if no one is waiting for them, we can take them out first. If someone has a hold on them, they go to that person. A year seems excessive to wait for a book. Why don't you ask for an inter-library loan. That way you can get the book from any other library in the country.

  5. Hey Kathy, I stopped by Bonnie's site today and found myself on your page. .sounds like a job that would certainly make the day go faster!! My mom works as a library aid in a much smaller library. .but she loves it very much!

  6. @Melanie, thanks for stopping by. I love it too. I knew when I was 12 years old that I wanted to do this.

  7. Hea Kathy, Bonnie told me to stop by and say hello and check out your blog. My oh my you are a busy girl. Thanks for all you do.


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