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The Important Emotional Labor of Librarians

28 October 2017

From Medium:

Most people intuitively understand the emotional load taken on by professions like social workers, nurses, 911 operators, and teachers. Rarely, however, do people consider the emotional labor of librarians. Spend a day at the service desk of a busy library and you’ll see people on their best and, too often, their worst days. Spend a few months and you’ll begin to follow the lives of your repeat visitors — you’ll be privy to, and sometimes help them solve, life’s hardest problems.

. . . .

There’s plenty of good, too, though. You get to see cute three-foot tall 2nd graders grow into furtive gangly young adult giants, seemingly overnight. You hear about (and sometimes get invited to) weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other important life rituals. And throughout all of that, you keep up a running dialogue about books, movies, vacations, life! You feed the curiosity of your community, and if you’re around long enough, they come back and tell you about your influence!

There were a few librarians that saw me grow up. I don’t know all of their names, but I remember their faces, and recall the joy with which they served. Ours wasn’t a large library, it was just a small branch library in a neighborhood. But a child isn’t very big either, so I was never at a loss for something to read.

It was Senior Librarian Hannah Kramer that put me on the path to becoming a librarian. She was kind, and paid attention to all of the kids. As I grew into my teenage years, she didn’t tell me how to be a yea-saying librarian, she exemplified it every day. Only later did I learn how hard she fought to establish a Russian literature collection for our community of Soviet refugees. It should be noted that Hannah did not read a word of Russian, but like a perceptive librarian, she noticed highly literate immigrant parents bringing their kids to the library and recognized a need. Thanks to Hannah, my father could relax a little after his 12-hour workdays, reading before bed.

Link to the rest at Medium


6 Comments to “The Important Emotional Labor of Librarians”

  1. This is so touching and true! Just last night I was at my local library, and had that experience of a librarian taking on my quest as if it were her own. I need a couple of sentences translated from English to Classical Latin for the book I am currently writing. Where to find a Latin resource for this? After running doggedly down a couple of alleys that turned out to be blind, she discovered that a Latin course is taught at a local university, and perhaps if I connect with the professor there…. Most of all, I was impressed with the joy on her face when she had solved my puzzle. I heart librarians.

  2. > the emotional labor of librarians.


    Next: the emotional labor of working the take-out window at Taco Bell.

    • Not the same.

      Emotional labor is the exertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, making people comfortable, or living up to social expectations. It’s called “emotional labor” because it ends up using – and often draining – our emotional resources.


      • Every tried sounding cheerful, helpful and friendly after having just gotten away from ‘the customer from heck’?

        Trust me, that can be a drain on your ’emotional resources’ too.

      • Emotional labor is the exertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, making people comfortable, or living up to social expectations.

        That sounds very much like retail, auto sales, insurance brokers, real estate agents, and the waiter who tells us all about tonight’s specials.

  3. A suggestion to writers: strike up a conversation with a librarian on how they help patrons find books that interest them. Many librarians and library staff take classes to sharpen their skills in this. It has a name “Reader Advisory”, often shortened to RA. They have diagnostic questions they use to determine where readers preferences lie and what will attract them.

    You might find it interesting to find out the circumstances under which a librarian would recommend one of your books to a reader looking for their next good book. You can put the librarian’s feedback into use in several ways. It can help you play on your strengths in planning your next book, how to ensure that your next book will resonate with your established readers, how to market your book to your natural audience.

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