Chapter 3 – On being a librarian, part 1

Librarians understand that we’re not in the business of information – we’re in the business of people. Our jobs revolve around connecting people the resources, on providing them with service, on safeguarding their privacy (and as follows, their emotions), and just being a trustworthy and reliable figure for them.

Of course, I’d be lying if I said I liked all my patrons just the same.

Especially in the public domain, you get your fair share of patrons that just make you so completely and utterly exasperated that you just want to run into the back staff workroom and scream (silently, of course. Or not, depending on the soundproofing – I work in a older facility, so no obvious cries of frustration).

Then, there are patrons that give you all the validation you need.

This particular post is about a patron, T!

Some background info – last summer

T was then a 12-year-old that I had met last year at an elementary school Career Fair. His assignment, as a 5000 Role Model member, was to escort me around the building and make sure I visited all my classrooms, and got a lunch break. T observed the schedule that was handed to him and immediately got confused.

“Ms. Ricci, I’m sorry, we actually don’t move anywhere in the school. You’re scheduled for the media center all day today.”

I told him that was OK, but he had even wondered why he was even assigned to me if I wasn’t moving around in the building. I cringed inwardly; I know being assigned to a librarian may not be the biggest appeal to a kid when there’s a fire truck demonstration going on, or police squad cars or doctors or scientists or blah blah blah. But I told him that for the day, I’d be doing a bunch of storytelling, and talking about what its like to be in the library. I told him that I hoped he wouldn’t be too bored, since much of the books I brought were for kids much younger than he was.

It turned out, however, that T was just as entertained as the kids with my tall tales (although he definitely did not do the Freeze Dance with the rest of the kids), and with each 25 minute session, he told me which was his favorite story of the group, and which one I should read to the next class. He informed me that he wanted to be a scientist and (if memory serves correctly) go into space, change the world.

In the next moment, between classes, I told him about the teen program in the library, I told him about the robotics program going on for the summer. And I told him that the library should and would try to provide him with what he wanted and needed to geek out and find his passion.

T, with that excitement that makes it so awesome to work in youth services, was thrilled, and vowed to come into my branch the following week to join the robotics program.

Winning! Take that, awesomely cool firefighters and police officers! Librarians are super duper cool, too!

T, as he said he would, came to the library, and stayed with us for the remainder of the 10-week session for our Lego NXT workshops, and with unparalleled determination, built out many different models, including an electric lego guitar that played some notes with the ultrasonic sensor and two touch sensors.

He routinely came back to us and the volunteer instructors each week, ready to build and learn and grow. And when it came down to the final class, all he wanted to know was when we would do this program and again, when he could join the teen program and start learning digital media production software—and even, with the most self-motivation I’ve seen any kid display—how he could learn robotics himself.

Volunteer instructions exchanged contact information with him and his mom—I couldn’t believe how awesome it would be for him to have these kind of mentors—and his mom told me that should we continue this program, or if there were any related programs, to let her know right away – but for now, she’d have to buy T an EV3.

Fast-forward to Summer 2015 –

It turns out that T had enrolled in a robotics class himself in a nearby magnet middle school – self-motivated as ever, with the essential support and love from his parents. Between going to another department for a short stint, and life, I had not been as good as a librarian that I wished to be to those I had met at my original branch location.

I called his mom to tell them about an “Engineer for an Hour” program that we would have in July. She immediately signed him up and his cousin up for the registration list and said that we’d see them soon!

July 20th came, and I had a full auditorium of kids, T included. The assignment for the hour was to build a bridge with dots candy and toothpicks—and we would try out the stability of the bridge by seeing how much weight it could support.

I was admittedly excited – I mean, hello, gum drops. The kids had fun (one was a bit too young, and gobbled up the gum drops rather than building the bridge [made for a cute picture, but a bad bridge]). T, however, stayed behind, the program a little juvenile for him.

Still, he stuck it out, and told me about how he’d been doing at school, and about how he pretty much took over the class, and how some of his classmates call him a show-off. But he said that he knew just to brush it off. He talked about others who were bullied, and how he tried to help this one girl by telling her that it was OK to be herself. He talked about his total fascination with Japanese culture and their breakthroughs in tech, and how he wants to go there in the future.

Then, he said:

“You know, Ms. Ricci. Its all because of you that I’m where I’m at today, so thank you.”

T, now 13, was usually in the habit of saying profound things. I figured him to be a kid that would indeed, change the world – and I’m sure he continues to positively effect the lives around him. I was lucky to meet him during an outreach, but never thought he would feel lucky to meet a librarian.

So why be a librarian?

Not every patron is going to be the bright-eyed, happy individual, grateful for access to free information, resources, and community.

But sometimes, you might get the chance to positively influence at least one person – and that makes it all worthwhile.

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