quasi-librarian (kwa-zai lye-brayr-ee-uhn): (n.) A library services specialist who does not have a master’s degree yet; the Diet Coke of librarians—only one calorie.
You never know who’s going to walk through the doors of your library. One day, I held conversations with different people about Weird Al, Airplane, Young Frankenstein, World War II, cookies, and World of Warcraft, all in one eight-hour shift. Then there was the one day I got to pretend to be a secret agent along with a little boy, just out of the blue.
During my time at my branch of the Cincinnati Public Library— of which I’m coming up on two years in February—I’ve had the chance to be a Jedi, a superhero, a rock star, an adventurer, Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and the commander of an exploratory space vessel.
Some look at that list and go, “That doesn’t sound like what librarians do. They just push books around and tell people to be quiet.”
That’s understandable. It really is. Not everyone grew up with this image of a librarian:
If you don’t know who that is— or lived under a rock during the entirety of the 90s and early 2000s— that’s Barbara Gordon from the Paul Dini-era Batman cartoons. As in, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. Also known as Batgirl, who later becomes Oracle— you know, “She Who Can Stop Bad Guys With Her Immense Smarts and Librarian Skills.”
Sure, I don’t go racing across rooftops in a cape and costume after the library’s closed, but the idea that I can “save” people through my profession is one that really sticks with me. Much like Oracle, I dispense information to people when they need it. Perhaps they’re writing a paper. Or tracking down a lost ancestor. Or building a new science project. Maybe they just want the latest news, or the ratings on appliances from a trusted source like Consumer Reports.
I connect people to the vast— and often confusing— world of information through traditional (e.g. books, newspaper and magazine archives) and digital means. It cracks me up when people ask, “Aren’t you afraid of becoming obsolete?” I just smile and show them how to access ebooks, downloadable audiobooks, interactive storybooks for kids, and magazines for free through the library. I’ve shown kids and their parents how to access academic databases online for research projects— much to their relief because the deadline is, usually, tomorrow.
I also get to share my interests with others. Once, when I still hung out on the World of Warcraft forums, someone posted a “Prove How Nerdy You Are” thread in the off-topic boards. While everyone posted a litany of games, tech know-how, and obscure sci-fi/fantasy trivia, I simply said, “I’m passing along my knowledge to foster a new generation of nerds and geeks.” With two astronomy-centric programs under my belt, along with a wildly successful May the Fourth Star Wars Day Party, I think I’m doing pretty well in upholding that promise. I’m the “best friend” of many kids because I know exactly where all of the Star Wars and Harry Potter books are. And I know the precise Dewey Decimal for graphic novels and comics.
Sometimes, it does feel like I’ve got super powers. A few simple searches and voila! your answers are ready, your problems are solved, and you leave knowing more than you did when you first walked in.
And it’s contagious, this desire to absorb information. I’ve picked up a sewing needle and taught myself how to make, not just one, but two costumes. My repertoire of “stuff I can cook” has probably doubled in the past two years. Heck, I even went back to my roots and started drawing again! The creativity I get to employ at work has spilled into my time outside of work, too, and it has produced some really great things.
As much as I’ve put in for this job, the job has given me so much in return. The library’s given me a whole new family to love, laugh with, and share life’s little moments, both in the patrons and the staff who work with me. My daughter has gained a few more honorary “aunties” and “uncles.”
It’s also difficult not to have some pride in my work when the library’s received multiple accolades in this past year alone, including the prestigious IMLS Award and, most recently, a five-star rating from the Library Journal. Earlier, in the last week of September when I had to go to California for a family emergency, I proudly carried my Mass Effect-themed messenger bag that had my university alumna and public library pins next to the N7 insignia. Fellow passengers who were curious would ask me my profession, and I’d proudly show them my bag, telling them I’m a quasi-librarian for an award-winning public library. I may have been beaming just a little bit.
I’m not saying every day at the library is sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. Like every profession, we have our down times and we have to deal with less-than-pleasant situations. The good times outweigh the bad, however, and the “bad” times are fleeting.
I’m proud to be a quasi-librarian for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and it’s not hard to see why.