Quiet, Please: Dispatches of a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas

Douglas_QuietPlease_mech.inddHave you ever wondered what it is a librarian actually does? When I started off as a page at the old Mary JL Black Library in 2006 I can tell you with all honesty I had no idea what a librarian did. It’s funny, but we think that librarians and libraries are a thing of the past. I cannot even count how many people asked me why I was entering the career path I chose, and if I would have a job at the end of it. However, libraries know how to adapt and change to fit the needs of the communities they serve. Quiet, Please is an excellent insight to the behind the scenes at the library, its employees and the world it serves. This memoir also provides the perspective of a male librarian in the female dominated workplace, which I can easily relate to by being a male librarian, (I have my big expensive piece of paper to prove it).

While Douglas doesn’t delve into his personal life too much, we see how the library shapes him as a person and why he feels that his job is sometimes boring, slow or just plain miserable. But, it’s the joys of being a librarian and serving a community that pulls him through his life at the Anaheim Public Library in California. The reader follows his life starting as a page trying to impress the librarian he works with by showing her that he reads some “high class” literature and sure enough she has never heard of the book. He continues his story though is time at school and working at the different levels of employment until he realizes how important his job is to himself and the community. There are the typical anecdotes about how patrons can sometimes get on our nerves and how we may sometimes dislike our work, but we will always help the community when questions, concerns and issues arise. There are the stories about his many co-workers throughout his years working as a page, a technician and finally as a librarian. You’ll see even the library is not without difficult employees, potential stoner student helpers and even uncaring supervisors. The library is not that much different from your regular workplace. *And as a note, we do not sit and read books all day –some of us may not even like books.

What really surprised me about Douglas’ life as a public librarian , and how bitter he is to the whole thing. You start to believe that maybe he really hate his job but it was in fact a funk and he needed to figure out and learn how important he actually is. I mean, no one (myself included) can feel great about their job when you have questions (referring to librarianship)  like these asked to you; “You’re joking, right?” “They have schools for librarians?” and my personal favourite “Do they teach you how to properly sssh people?” To clarify, yes they have many schools for librarians and no they do not teach us how to sssh people (however, they do teach us how to dress like a librarians). While Douglas provides a very cynical, yet hilarious view of the public library I can assure you the library is still pretty awesome.

So the value of this book not only comes from learning who and what a librarian is but also on the importance we have within the community and providing information. Included in the book are sections called “For Shelving” which provides the reader with brief bits of information on a bunch of different topics. It’s sort of like snippets of information that you can add to your knowledge base. As this is a review (well attempting to be aside from my rants) I feel like I should add something about the book being well organized and easy to read. Not that this really makes a difference as books can still be good without these qualities.

So to finish up this review, I will say that it is a very enlightening view of librarianship. While this book focuses on the role of the librarian, it can be applied to all library employees.  Personally, my favourite parts of the book is when they try to explain what a librarian is. Here is the short version of one of my favourite quotes from it: “I’m a celebrity to the community but to no one else – a librarian… Chances are I won’t be remembered at all, but for a small number of kids and adults I had made a difference. They might not remember me, but I played a part in what they will become.”

So if you are curious about the fascinating world of the public librarian and into libraries themselves you should check out Quiet, Please. I’m sure you’ll learn a thing or two, plus your patronage keeps us from reading on the job and allows us to enjoy the work we do!

-Eric Stein (wannabe librarian)

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