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Day in the life of a librarian

Posted on May 16, 2019 at 6:00 am

By Dana Mannino

When kids tour the library, I like to ask them what they think a librarian does. Usually I get answers like “You tell us not to run.” I think to myself, “If I wanted to do that, I would have become a life guard!”

I don’t think kids are the only ones who wonder what goes on behind the scenes of a library. Here is an exclusive look at a day in the life of a librarian.


I arrive at work. In my mailbox is a handwritten note from a job seeker. A few months ago, he was new to the area and needed help getting the lay of the land. He set up a Book-a-Librarian appointment, and together we used the library’s online tool Data Axle Reference Solutions to identify area employers in his field of expertise. His note tells me he finally found a job. It’s going to be a good day.


Opening time. There are always people waiting outside the doors of the library. Today one of the people in line is carrying a box of 35mm slides—pictures of her grown children when they were babies. No one has seen these slides since the family’s slide projector broke years ago. Today she has a Project Memory appointment with me. Together we use the library’s equipment to scan the slides, saving them to a thumb drive. She looks forward to going through the digital photos with her daughter the next time she visits.


I’m at my desk. Behind me, my colleagues are packing books, DVDs, and audiobooks to bring to a nearby assisted living center. My office mate goes as well, to help seniors download eBooks and audiobooks from the free library digital resource OverDrive. Audiobooks and eBooks can be life changing for seniors who have difficulty seeing. They can enlarge the text, or listen through speakers, headphones, or Bluetooth hearing aids. Even technology wary seniors get excited when they find out they can read again—sometimes for the first time in years.

While my colleagues pack, I’m facing an email barrage. Time to connect with several local artists who will present live art demonstrations in the libraries next fall. I ask a potter how far the clay will fly when he demonstrates wheel throwing in the library. Then I check on what kind of sound equipment a local band will need when they play a concert in the library in November. Yes, I’m planning for November six months ahead of time.

Speaking of thinking ahead. Time to plan for the rest of my week. Here are some of the things on my calendar.

  • Wednesday – Family engagement night at a local grade school. Bring library cards for sign up, and give a presentation about how reading together as a family can boost children’s school performance.
  • Thursday – Set up the meeting room for one of STCU’s financial literacy workshops.
  • Friday – Lead a youth workshop at a homeschool conference. Bring materials for the engineering challenge Marble Roller Coasters.
  • Saturday – Storytime. Pick books and activities to engage young minds.


Lunch. As I eat, I’m reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The teenagers at Mica Peak High School picked it as this month’s book club title. I jot down some discussion questions as I read.


I’m on desk. A library is a place where everyone is part of the community, so in the course of an hour I talk to many very different people. I help a teenager print her food handler’s permit for her first job. I check in with one of our customers who is experiencing homelessness. He tells me that his pastor has a job lead for him. Later, I help a couple with limited English scan some immigration forms so they can submit them online. A grandpa comes in hoping I can point out the best picture books to have on hand when his 7-year-old grandson comes to visit. I ask him if he knows he can checkout bins of LEGOs, too. He leaves very happy.


Invasion of the 4th graders! These kids are on a field trip to work on a research project. Their school doesn’t have a school librarian or a library on site. I visit a couple of schools in this situation regularly. This school always opts to make it a field trip. I show the kids how to use their library card to access classic research tools like World Book Encyclopedia online from their homes.


I drive to Pope Francis Haven, an apartment complex for formerly homeless families. We are bringing Prime Time, a family reading program sponsored by Humanities Washington, to this community. Families, librarians, and teachers enjoy a meal together. Then the grade-school age kids and their parents engage in a book discussion led by a Gonzaga professor. My role is to present a storytime with the preschoolers.

First, we spend 30 minutes singing and reading together. Then—equally important—we spend 30 minutes playing together. This gives kids a chance to practice social skills (like sharing) long before they start school. Kids also pick up a lot of language skills while playing. I sit on the floor next to a 2-and-a-half year old who is completely absorbed in sorting small plastic animals into muffin tins. He only surfaces when he finds an animal he doesn’t recognize.

“What dat?” he asks.

“Octopus,” I say.

“Nock-ta-sus,” he says.

I can’t think of a better way to end a day than helping a two year old unlock the world of words.

Naturally, I think I have the best job in the world. It doesn’t look like what you might expect: my workplace is far from a sanctuary for silence, and I don’t get to read all day. Instead, I get to help people help themselves at several crucial points in their lives.

My work is at times noisy, even messy (ever read a book to a room full of toddlers right after a spaghetti dinner? I recommend casual attire.), and it is always 100% worth it.

Dana Mannino

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