All library workers are librarians.
To start, there are various departments in the library and various levels in each department. Some departments may not have librarian positions at all. Circulation clerks (the people who check out your books and handle your late fees), shelvers or pages (the people who shelve returned materials), and administrative staff (the people in accounting, HR, marketing, etc.) are not technically librarians, for example. They have special job functions and expertise, but they may not be as qualified to answer reference questions or do readers’ advisory as they are not trained in these areas. This is the reason stopping an individual in the stacks for an in-depth question may not be your best option–if this staff member is a shelver, for example, they might be instructed to refer patrons to the appropriate departments. You will have to walk to the reference desk, anyway.
Librarians are more likely the ones who do collection development (suggesting purchases and weeding or removing outdated, damaged, or irrelevant materials) and programming. They also answer reference questions and do readers’ advisory. In some cases, such as in smaller libraries or libraries that have moved to the one-desk model, they might also perform circulation functions. However, not all individuals who perform these functions are librarians. For someone to call themselves a librarian, they need to hold a Master’s degree in library science. Even if a non-degreed staff member has the same job as a degreed coworker, they are technically not a librarian.
If your library doesn’t have a book on the shelf, you can’t get it at all.
Interlibrary loan (ILL) is one of the library’s best kept secrets, possibly because libraries do not tend to advertise the service and most patrons who do not see a book on the shelf probably do not go to the desk to inquire about it. But most libraries participate in ILL, meaning that you can request a book and have it sent to your library from just about anywhere in the U.S.
This is not the same as requesting a book from your local or state consortium, which usually can be done by placing a hold in the catalog. Usually, a separate form is required, or perhaps a trip or phone call to the reference desk. The librarians then see which libraries are willing to lend you the book and it is mailed to your home library for pick up. Lending times might be shorter, with no renewals, and most libraries will not lend new releases. But ILL is a valuable service for getting books your home library may not have been able to purchase.
E-Books are cheaper for libraries than physical books.
Many people assume that e-books are cheaper for libraries than physical books because there are no printing costs involved. However, libraries typically pay far more than consumers for e-book licenses, which usually expire after two years or a certain number of lends, meaning libraries than have to purchase the license again. Here’s an explanation from a previous post we did on library e-book prices in August 2019:
High prices and metered access already make it difficult for libraries to build and maintain e-book collections. In October 2018, Penguin Random House changed from a perpetual access model to a metered model in which libraries can keep a copy of an e-book for two years. In the process, they also slightly lowered e-book prices (for an adult title) from $65 to $55 according to American Libraries Magazine; YA titles were priced at $45 and children’s books at $35. The move was appreciated by some libraries who feel demand for titles decreases over time, but was met with more hesitation from other libraries who worry about having to pay repeatedly for a popular book. Meanwhile, Hachette, according to a July 2019 article in The Washington Post, now charges $65 for most adult titles, also for a two-year period. And Simon & Schuster announced that they will change from one-year metered access to a two-year model with prices ranging from $38.99 to $52.99 starting August 1, 2019. Additionally, Simon & Schuster will end perpetual access to audiobooks in favor of two-year access. In each of these cases, libraries typically pay far more than the average consumer for a title that ultimately expires, making it a challenge for them to provide all the e-books their patrons might wish.
Library workers spend all day reading.
Most library employees seem to have heard a comment or two along the lines of, “It must be so nice to work in a library and read all day!” This is possibly one of the easiest ways to annoy a library worker, since most library employees are actually not allowed to read on the job. And certainly not on the desk where the public can see them and complain about their tax dollars at work. The library workers who seem to have read everything and can provide amazing recommendations for you based on what you have already read are usually reading on their own time. Maybe this should change, especially if we expect library workers to be familiar with tons of books and well-read on important topics. For now, however, the average library worker is probably going to respond to comments about reading all day with something like, “Actually, I am very busy answering reference questions, providing readers’ advisory, assisting patrons to use the computers and printer, purchasing materials, making sure our collection is relevant and up-to-date, performing outreach, planning programs, and earning continuing education credits, thank you very much.” And who could blame them?
Libraries and their patrons don’t pay for books.
Attacks against the public library are often from people who do not use the library and so apparently do not understand how it works. In the past few years, I have already seen two online articles attack libraries on purely economic grounds, suggesting that it benefits publishers and, I guess, capitalism, more if libraries would close and the patrons had to pay for their own books. In July 2020, for example, Kenneth Whyte suggested that libraries are a bigger threat to publishers than Amazon because library patrons aren’t paying for their books. Whyte proposed that library patrons should have to pay a subscription to access the library, or perhaps publishers will have to “ration” their books–putting a cap on how many copies a library can buy. But libraries and their patrons DO pay for their books. In the U.S., libraries are funded through tax dollars, usually at both the local and state levels–less so the federal level. The books are free to check out, yes, but publishers are still making sales. In this sense, Whyte’s proposed Netflix-like model already exists. I pay my yearly taxes, my “subscription fee,” and I get the library in return.
One could argue, of course, as Whyte tries, that each circulation of a book is a lost sale after the first one. But I don’t believe every library goer was ever going to buy all every single book they read in a year. Libraries help publishers in the long run by giving exposure to their books, letting readers try new authors they wouldn’t necessarily purchase on their own, and enthusiastically purchasing and promoting midlist books–the ones Barnes and Noble often does not even stock in -store. Libraries do have an economic benefit–it just is not one that is immediately obvious. And, yes, they do pay for their books. So do you, if you pay taxes.