Empowering Patrons, Tongue-In-Cheek Sci-Fi, and Discworld’s Orangutan Librarian

From Secrets of Librarians:

Welcome to Shhh…Secrets of the Librarians, a new series (inspired by our long-running Secrets of the Book Critics) in which bibliothecaries (yes, it’s a real word) from around the country share their inspirations, most-recommended titles, thoughts on the role of the library in contemporary society, favorite fictional librarians, and more.

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Book Marks: What made you decide to become a librarian?

Audrey Barbakoff: I’ve always loved stories, and the power they have to bring people together and create transformative experiences. I started out in a very different field—theatre lighting design. When I wanted to change careers, I thought about what it was that really made theatre meaningful for me, so that I could hold on to that core value. I realized that I cared about creating community and personal growth through inspiring ideas and shared experiences. Who else does that? Librarians do.

BM: What book do you find yourself recommending the most and why?

AB: Oh my goodness—how could I choose? There isn’t really one I recommend more than others. When I’m helping someone connect with their next book, I try to get to know a bit about them and what they want in that moment. As a result, my suggestions end up being different for every person. By the way, your local librarian is an expert in this. If you’re not already asking for personalized book recommendations, you’re missing out! Of course, there are always a few titles I’m enjoying so much that I can’t help gushing just a little bit. Lately, I’ve loved the tongue-in-cheek science fiction of Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series and Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers books. I also just finished Tommy Orange’s There There on audiobook, which was beautifully written and recorded. 

BM: Tell us something about being a librarian that most people don’t know?

AB: I don’t read at work! I’m amazed how many people think that’s part of the job. I often tell them that public librarianship is more about people than it is about books, which seems to really upend their idea of what a librarian does all day. Libraries are active, human-centered spaces. Our days are full of kids and families playing and learning, teens meeting with tutors or hanging out in a safe place after school, entrepreneurs working on their laptops, retirees staying engaged by volunteering or attending a lecture, people asking for a good book to read on their vacation… and usually that’s all happening simultaneously.

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BM: Who is your favorite fictional librarian?

AB: I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, so I’ll have to pick the Librarian at Unseen University. Being accidentally transformed into an orangutan only made him better at his job—it’s so much easier to reach those high shelves. But whatever you do, don’t call him a monkey…

Link to the rest at Secrets of Librarians