The Book Keeper Sheperds SR Library Into the Future
November 6, 2017
Think back to the early and mid-20th century. The stereotypical library that we see in movies from that era has strict librarians who seem as though they haven’t had a hug in years, nerds, and well, books, and lots of them. Now take a look at the 80’s and 90’s: DVD movies and computers are added to the mix, giving the library appeal to a whole new demographic. And then there is now. The time of ebooks that can be read on mini-supercomputers that, for the most part, fit in our pocket. All the information known to man is just a touch or click away, doing away with the hours people used to spend navigating the maze of books in a library, trying to find the right encyclopedia so that they could have one piece of information for an essay.
As I waited outside the San Rafael Public Library, a few minutes before it opened, I was surrounded by a group of elderly people. When the doors opened we all flooded in and the people all rushed to computers that sat at desks scattered around the library, claiming their territory. I got the sense that people weren’t really coming here for books but for the free wifi and use of computers and maybe a little air conditioning.
Pamela Klein, a librarian at the library for 23 years, sat in front of her computer at the help desk. I introduced myself, telling her I was the one she spoke to on the phone, and she sat me down on the other side of the desk. Klein seemed quiet but was very observant. Every time someone would go to the librarian at the desk next to us with a question, I could see her keeping one ear on the question and one on our conversation. When she spoke she was so quiet I was afraid my microphone wouldn’t pick up on what she was saying as if spending so much time in a library had made her speak in an eternal whisper.
I had two goals for this interview: to understand how libraries are changing with the technological evolution that we are living in and to hear a little bit about how one ends up as a librarian. First, your stereotype for a librarian may be someone who is addicted to books and well, Klein definitely fits that stereotype: “As a kid, I was punished by having my books taken away.” But there is another part of being a librarian that many may not recognize: “What attracted me to librarianship was that it was multidisciplinary and you do a lot of different things. You are not doing the same thing each day and I wanted to do something that was constantly changing and that challenged me,” said Klein. Librarians have always appeared to be the strict bookkeepers who liked shushing children, but I have come to realize that librarians are interested in all things, and a library, which is essentially a hub for information, is a great place to foster the love of discovery.
Klein also discussed the fact that pay for librarians is not very high which is why there also might be a stereotype that only older people work at libraries because “there are only a few people who become a librarian in a first career.” With that said, Klein began talking about how the type of people who are attracted to the position has changed from when she first started: “Back when I was starting out people who were interested in books were attracted to the job, but now the job is more community and technology-oriented.”
The changing face of libraries has been occurring for a few years now. With new technology and fewer people reading for pleasure because of video games and Netflix, the need for hard copy books is decreasing, so libraries are moving in a new direction. “When I first started working here, kids would come here to do their homework assignments or hangout. But now that kids have their own computers or devices it has changed how and where they spend their time after school. The main groups of people that come now are the very young and the very old.” This change in demographic coincides with the new services that the San Rafael Public Library, and other libraries in general, are beginning to offer.
The groups of people that usually don’t have their own electronic devices are the very young or the very old which explains why those are the ones using the library. The library is moving towards acquiring even more tech resources that people can use. “We have become, in some ways, a portal for people’s online recourses such as downloading books from online. People may never actually enter the building.” This shows how the library is trying to adapt to the changing times. Klein emphasized that the library also does a lot to provide community events and workshops. She did say though that she doesn’t feel the San Rafael Public Library has the resources or size to live up to its potential: “If the library was bigger, we could provide the community with a technology lab, but the building prevents the library from doing a lot of things.”
Libraries and librarians are changing. They are now more specialized in the fields of technology and community services and are sometimes more of a gathering place than a place for taking out a book. That being said, Klein believes libraries will always have books because people will always be searching for a classic hardcover, with its old, musty smell, and people will always be looking to get lost in another world.