This is an essay I’ve been trying to write since 2015, just before I really got into birding, and before I ever even knew what an Audubon society or ornithology center was.
It’s been emotional for me to write, but especially now, as I begin to back away from the library world, I want to reflect on why I wanted to work in libraries in the first place.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself in the past seven years of library work, it’s that I love working with patrons and I love doing storytimes.
I’ve worked in teeny tiny branches, I’ve worked in the largest branch in my city, I’ve worked where I didn’t have a physical public branch (AKA Outreach), and I’ve worked in libraries in between the three.
I’ve worked with primarily children, but I’ve also worked with my fair share of adults. I honestly love working with both.
There were elements I loved about working in all of those places and with all of those people.
But what drew me into the field in the first place was the allure of hours of on-desk time, where I could work one-on-one with patrons, some for extended periods of time.
That might sound like a nightmare to some, but that’s what I wanted to do. Work with people. Talk with them, be an ear for them, and learn from them.
And that’s what I still want to do: work with the public. Talk with them, listen to them, help them learn, and learn from them.
Mr. Walker was one of my first regular patrons, and he was an artist.
We’d spent many hours over several years chatting during my work shifts. He told me about his past. He told me about his current projects and upcoming shows.
He taught me about artists and styles he loved. He really liked Basquiat, and even though I had no idea who he was at the time, I listened. I learned so much from Mr. Walker.
He’d ask me to help him find images he could use to collage onto some of his paintings, and if I had time, I’d spend awhile searching, going over the images with him, printing, and helping him cut out the images (his hands often shook).
If I was busy, I’d get him started searching on a computer, and when things slowed down, I’d join him in the search.
Sometimes, I wouldn’t be able to follow all of his stories, and sometimes, things were too busy for us to catch up.
But, I’d buy some of his artwork (that still hangs in my home to this day), and I’d attend some of the art shows his work was in.
Mr. Walker passed away shortly after I transitioned to Outreach. I didn’t find out for months, and I feel so guilty for that. For not keeping in touch with him.
He was a wonderful patron to serve.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet many regular patrons over the years. Some of them worried me by disappearing suddenly (though that’s usually because something good had happened, and they didn’t have time to visit). Some I could count on visiting regularly, like a patron who picked up TV shows every week to watch during his workouts.
There are other patrons who I only met once or twice, as they came in for one specific thing, never to return on any regular basis.
No matter what, that patron interaction is why I love working in libraries.
I tried to give my all during every interaction I had. I relentlessly searched for the items and resources patrons were seeking, and I really did my best to make the most of every experience.
Even now, as I transition out of public library work and into naturalist (and other) work, I still have patrons who are seeking information.
Sometimes, I get busy and forget to really listen to what the patrons need, but I’m working on it, and I’m getting better.
And though my soul is currently being called elsewhere, I still use my local library, and I be will forever grateful for the patrons I met and may meet in future library work.
After all, without patrons, there is no point to a public library.