Public vs. School vs. Academic Libraries

I recently had the opportunity to shadow a public librarian, an elementary school librarian and an academic librarian. I shadowed each for a day and was able to glimpse what their job was like and see the differences between each of the jobs. On the first day I shadowed a public library director and it was not a business-as-usual day. First up on the agenda was a city council meeting to get funds approved for a survey that would plan out a new library. I enjoyed my first trip to city hall, watching the proceedings and presentations. Because the right political prepwork had been done, the funds were approved! Following the victory we returned to the library for a Board of Directors meeting. New fees were debated and a new awareness program “Geek the Library” was discussed. Next I followed the director around the library as she was interviewed by a local  news station. I was also able to talk to the Programming Director who coordinates events between several branches and investigates leads on possible new events or presenters. Overall, it was a full-packed day that allowed me to see many aspects of a public library director’s job.

The next day I was shadowing the librarian for an elementary school.

My first impression of the school was…AMAZING! The building is new and the school has an environmental focus. There were recycle bins everywhere and even a giant mural about saving the manatees.  My first duty of the day was to help  with some shelving which meant looking over some of my favorite children’s books. The librarian told me she labels her “easy” books as “everybody” books that way older kids don’t feel bad checking them out. I think this is a great idea, no one should ever feel bad for reading beneath their reading level, whether you’re a kid or an adult.

Throughout the day I watched as the librarian read to kids and told them about summer reading programs.

The following day I shadowed an academic reference librarian. He showed me how he chooses books for the collection in his area of social science, mainly how to interpret the credentials of authors and publishers. He also told me about his research project that he is currently trying to get published. Working with students one-on-one as well as in classrooms as an “embedded” librarian is also a large part of his job.

I came to distinguish these areas of specialization by the auxiliary skills needed to perform them. As a public librarian you are also a public figure who advocates for your library. As a school librarian you are also a teacher. As an academic librarian you have many of the same duties as a professor, you must publish and work with students.

The area that most appeals to me is the public library sphere. I love that at a public library you work with all age groups and can create programs. I love the aspect of advocacy most of all. The three days of shadowing showed me where I fit best and gave me a broader understanding of librarianship.

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3 Responses to Public vs. School vs. Academic Libraries

  1. Lesley says:

    Sounds like you had a really interesting three days! 🙂 Your post reminded me of how great it is that there are so many areas of librarianship! I’m so glad there are librarians interested in each area! One thing I’ve learned in the past year of library school is that advocacy is important across the board, no matter where you land as a librarian. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the skills and knowledge I should hone to become a better advocate, both at work and in library school.

  2. How did you set up these shadow days?

    • Hi Evelyn! For the public library I just called up the main branch in my town and asked to speak to the director saying I would like an opportunity to shadow her if that was possible. Luckily, she is very open to sharing knowledge of the profession to newbies like me so it worked out. I then called up a local elementary school and asked to speak to their librarian, she was a little more hesitant but agreed to let me shadow her, you might have to call a few schools before you get a positive response. As for the university reference librarian, I set up an appointment to see him and then made my ask to shadow him for a day. Hope that helps!

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