Interview of a Library Circulation Desk Clerk

Interview of a Library Circulation Desk Clerk


1. Vocation: What is your job title/position/job description?

Circulation Desk Clerk

2. Do you belong to a union?


3. Describe your physical work environment.

A small community (Borough) Library. I work at the Circulation desk most of the time, but sometimes on the library floor. It’s a typical library; shelves of books, videos, DVDs, CDs, 4 public computers…there is also a back office that has two desks, computers, and some small office equipment. Depending on how many people are working, I’m either in the back, or at the Circulation desk processing books… The Librarians do more of the cataloguing, recording, and the technical/legal details of how circulation is done. They know what books are permitted by the state to be on the shelves. They are overseen by the state and Federal government in addition to being a part of the ACLA (Allegheny County Library Association).

4. Please describe a typical day (do you travel, hours you work, etc)

It varies considerably. I usually work 23 to 36 hours a week depending on the availability of the others. I could come in to open the Library (9:03am); the Library doesn’t open until 10:00. The library closes at 8:00 during the week, and 5:00 on the weekends. I can work anywhere from a 4- 8 hour shift, depending on the day, and the number of other people scheduled.

I do many different things: assist patrons to acquire information they need, process orders, help people with research, job searches, resume writing, organizing materials, creating displays that will catch the public’s eye (the more materials we circulate the more potential funding we get) and I help people use the computers.

There are volunteers that do some of the more simple work such as putting books away, arranging flowers, straightening the children’s section.

5. How does you profession affect your ability to live a healthy lifestyle (exercise, sleep, nutrition)?

It’s very manageable. I could find the time to exercise if I tried a bit more. Some days are too busy…stressful, but most of the time it fits very well with my lifestyle.

6. Are there over the counter medications, alternative medications that are typically used in your profession (weight loss, tobacco, steroids, etc.)

Not that I know of. There’s a bottle of Tums and a bottle of Tylenol in the bathroom, and I know people use those regularly.

7. What are things that your friends find interesting about your profession (like how often do you shoot your gun if you are a police officer)? /what types of questions do you get asked by the public?

People usually assume they know what I do, and don’t ask too many questions. They are surprised at the stories of some of the people that come in to the library. People generally aren’t curious about it.

8. How did you get interested in your profession?

I love books, information, researching….it just fit in well with what I love to do for fun. I knew the regional manager/ Librarian, and he knew I was looking for work, so he offered me the job.

9. What do you like most about your profession?

I think in some ways libraries are one of the few remaining community centers. I like getting to know people in the neighborhood; their taste in books, who can joke, who can be teased, their kids, grandkids…I like showing them how to do things like building resumes, or doing research on the internet, and job searching.. I like teaching them how to use the computers to find what they need, so that they can feel more confident trying it themselves the next time. It’s very satisfying to have someone say “Wow, you’ve been a great help. I wouldn’t have known where to start!”

I think it’s sad that our society is losing touch with each other on that community level. The libraries help keep the community alive. Libraries are really one of the last old style community centers

10. What do you dislike most about your job?

We are funded in large part by the city councils, and boroughs. Many of the members of those committees are not themselves readers, and don’t see the value of books, and don’t understand exactly what libraries can offer, so maintaining our funding is very difficult. Funding is based to a great extent on quantity of circulation; the more people use our materials, the more opportunities we have to improve what we have to offer.

It’s sad to see people coming in and filling up their bags with DVDs and tapes….never even looking at the books.

I don’t like when people are in a hurry. When the public comes in, short of time, making demands, complaining about waiting in line, wanting a computer when they’re all being used, and not wanting to queue up ( put your name on the computer line) it makes things less pleasant.

Some of the patrons are odd. You get a lot of unemployed, disabled, and older people that can be unreasonable or have an aggressive side. We have to watch for predators…people who are there to find children or hit on women. Some people think that just because you work in a library you’re a” wuss”, and they can push you around or intimidate you. Some branches call the police frequently because of threats of violence. Our library doesn’t get that very often, but I’ve had to deal with people who are angry every time they come in, and swear at us when we have to say “no” to them about something.

11. Educational background

To be a Librarian in the State of Pa you have to hold a Masters in Library Science. That degree entails learning the technical details of the cataloguing of books, legal regulations according to state, Federal regulations, circulation laws, and acquisition laws…

In some states you don’t have to have this degree, and a lot of people that work in the Libraries know these things by experience. You can make a lot more money if you have the degree. I don’t have that.

12. High school


13. Vocational school or College

I went to college, but it’s not necessary to do the job. Basically, you just have to prove you have the ability to do the work.

14 Graduate school or special training

There was very poor training when I came…. and even now. Nothing was written down anywhere, so I had to ask a million questions and 2 out of three employees didn’t know the answers. The Librarian here is very resistant to any formalized training manual; she won’t let us write anything down…it’s very strange. I still haven’t gotten an answer about whether a 14 year old needs to have a parent’s signature or ID in order to get a card…no one seems to know.

There are classes offered at the Carnegie Library in Oakland. You can take a class in Circulation, or Cataloguing, which are both, helpful.

15. How does one obtain a job in your profession?

I knew the district Librarian, but most just apply or know someone that recommends them for the job. Basically you have to show that you are honest and conscientious, and can pay attention to detail. Most people here have integrity, and enjoy the public.

16. What previous positions have you had?

I wrote for a local paper for a while, worked in an office for many years, and ran an at home stock trading business. It didn’t go very well, but I just can’t work a 9-5-desk job, and my spouse has a good job with benefits, so this is fine.

17. Can you get promoted? If so, to what position and how?

Sure, you just have to outlast every one else. The only way to be a librarian is to get the degree, but you can get a raise, or get into budgeting, circulation or acquisition if you spend the time, and have the desire. There are several full time positions to be had through the Borough, but they’re harder to get.

18. What are the "perks" of your job?

I get the books and movies I want when I want them. I can be on top of the waiting list for the new releases, and the books I’m looking for. I have access to so much information; newspapers, magazines, CDs, Internet. I can find out about anything I want to know. I’ll often read or do research during the slow times. I love being around so much information.

I can also protect friends and family from fines. I like being able to use my judgment when I feel a fine is unjust, or when someone needs the help. There is something nice about being able to be fair, and you can tell that people are grateful.

19. How do you get paid (contract, per mile, per hour, etc.) How can you make more money?

My position is grant funded because it’s considered part time. I get paid by the hour twice a month. It’s $ 8.00 an hour. Librarians with some experience can make between $75,000 and $85,000 per year. The state and federal government provides the funding for their salaries.

I teach chess in the Library a couple of Saturdays a month, which is also a grant-funded program. I get several hundred dollars for a 3-hour class.

20. What is the most stressful part of your job?

Some days are too busy, with so many people here that it’s hard to keep up with everything, and keep an eye on what people are doing. Having to deal with the dangerous, violent people is difficult. They can be very threatening and abusive, and they think that because you’re a librarian you won’t do anything about their behavior. There is one man who comes in consistently that checks out vampire, homosexual, erotic books. It is difficult to be friendly to him. And then there’s Iris, an older woman, who gets angry and swears at someone every time she comes in. She’s not right (in the head), but we have to serve her.

21.What emotional problems are common in people in your profession?

There seem to be two types of people here, generally speaking. Some are truly here to serve and take pride in helping people to find the information they need. They get a thrill from the challenges of finding information. Those folks are generally happy, even if they are socially awkward, inflexible, or lonely. They are often quiet and shy. They seem to be like adolescents stuck in the technical thrill their knowledge; they’re are technically accurate to a fault. Then there are the mean, controlling “protectors of valued objects (books, videos….) and rules”. Challenging or questioning their knowledge is very offensive to them; they take personal offense at questions often. They seem to enjoy upholding the rules very strictly and will never give people a break on a fine, or extra time on the computer. They tend to be more rigid, insecure, judgmental, and lonely. I’ve noticed consistent problems with ulcers, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and psychosomatic disorders. I’ve also noticed a lot of depression. I would say they tend to bottle their feelings up quite a bit.

22. What type of physical activity is required in your position?

We stand a lot, which can be hard on your legs. If there’s a book sale, or if we’re moving items around there can be some heavy lifting of boxes and magazines. We do have a cleaning staff, so we don’t do any of our own cleaning, though I did have to unclog a toilet once when we could not locate the maintenance person. I’m not sure this is considered physical, but I do some maintenance work on the computers, photocopiers, and fax machines. It’s usually easier to problem solve yourself first. There is a help desk at the ACLA central office in Oakland. They can actually trouble shoot some problems from there, but I usually try to solve problems myself first.

23. What things happen that really make you angry?

The way some families interact with each other really bothers me. Some parents just drop their kids off here for hours at a time; they could be aged 6-17. They often misbehave, look at porn on the Internet, throw things, leave their things on top of shelves, talk on their cell phones, and make a lot of noise. I don’t like it when patrons are disrespectful or demanding, or when they ask you to do something for them that they could do themselves.

24. What other professions do you work with, and how do they affect your (make your job easier or harder)?

The librarians have to work with the State and Borough officials, in addition to the computer and circulation departments of other libraries. I don’t really have to deal with anyone but the public, besides the building maintenance workers.

25. What "health risk" behaviors are common in your profession? (Tobacco, alcohol, specific drugs, sex, stress, marital or family discord, etc.)

There are a lot of single people where I work. There is some homosexuality; mostly women, but there is one man who had a sex change operation. I hear a lot of the typical complaining about spouses’ poor behavior, but not a lot out of the norm. Most of the people I’ve met in this line of work live by individual codes and value responsible judgment.

26. How does your vocation affect the personal life of you or people you know?

I would say it’s had a positive impact on my family for the most part. I have some flexibility in my hours, and my health has been good since I’ve been working less than full time. My spouse has good benefits, so the lack of benefits is not a problem. My kids are a little embarrassed I think. It’s not the type of “career” they are proud of their Dad having, but I think they see it’s value.

27. What activities and/or hobbies do people in your profession like to do?

Reading books, being active in the arts (theatre, opera, ballet). I play chess, and I love to watch movies…especially foreign films. I also have a large music collection.

28. Are there any items of clothing, or props that someone portraying a person in your profession would use consistently? (Hats, keys, and stuff you’d keep in your pockets (or bags), day planners, work boots, particular “costume”, or types of clothing…)

I would say no, although I always have pockets full of notes I’ve written to myself. Modest dress would reflect modest living, and the driving of modest cars.

29. If a person in your position were to get fired, what would they most likely have done to justify the termination and what would the steps involve? Do lay offs happen in your occupation?

If someone were late consistently, slacking, insubordinate, or caught stealing they would be fired. I am in a grant funded position, so if the grant were not renewed, I suppose I would not be here.

30. During all of these questions, listen for “jargon” used by the interviewee…words they use that are “lingo” specific to their profession. Ask them to define those words if it is not clear to you.

ACLA – Allegheny County Library Association

Library Circulation Desk Clerk Vocational History Interview Evaluation Form

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© 2006 University of Pittsburgh School of MedicineRevised 8/18/2006

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