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5 Lessons Learned After Working at My Childhood Library

Abigail Clarkin

Staff Writer

Abigail can often be found holding a book in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other. When she is not devouring stories (or dessert), Abigail trains for marathons and writes poetry about growing up with eight brothers and sisters. She enjoys working in marketing for a real estate developer and creating Instagram content for fun (@marathonandmunch) about all the tasty eats found in Providence, RI.


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I am unable to pin down one specific memory of when I first entered my childhood library. I can remember other moments, though: asking the librarian for a lollipop after checking out, making the tough call between which Madeline VHS to take home, or sitting at the computers, watering pixelized plants religiously in the Webkinz world. The tale is still told of how I regretfully accepted second place in my summer reading program age group, after losing by a smidgen. (And how can I forget that day when the books were bringing me so much joy that I did not have time to take a break and use the bathroom…Thus leading to a thorough cleaning of an entire area of the library.)

But my last day working there? Closing the library for the very last time? The swipe of the paper towel across glass, the click of the key turning in one of the drawers, the thump of the shade closing and hitting the window sill…I can describe it all to you.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a piece called 8 Things I Learned Behind the Circulation Desk. I had recently started working at the library I frequented growing up, and I was overjoyed and tickled by the many lessons I was learning. Sadly, I recently left my position at the library to pursue another job. But my thoughts frequently turn back to the plethora of wonders I discovered while working circulation, reference, and communications.

Here are five sometimes strange lessons I will hold close and carry with me wherever I wander.

1. Surprise People With Something Sweet

Some days there were fresh bouquets or a new plant in thanks from a patron for some service rendered. Other days, an envelope and card waited behind the circulation desk, either outgoing or incoming in gratitude. During the holiday season, families from the community would drop off dozens of cookies and sweets in appreciation for library staff. (Yes, I was constantly on a sugar high and greedily devouring all the coconut macarons and biscotti.)

On occasion I’d rush into work, stressed, only to find one of my coworkers had surprised me with an iced matcha latte, just because. Before working at the library, I very rarely received any such simple gift in the workplace. But the simplest things can truly turn around a day and I appreciated every gesture, no matter how small.

2. Someone Out There Is Very Excited About Lamps (Probably)

Working with the public means I never knew who would walk into the library next. Would it be the elderly gentleman who was obsessed with the politics and intricacies of growing cannabis? (And obsessed with updating me on the daily.) Or the mother having nightmares of underwater sea creatures since her 5th grader wanted to solely watch shark movies? What about the war vet who checked out steamy bodice ripper paperbacks every week?

While at the library, I quickly learned there is a niche for everyone. No matter the subject, it was special to bear witness to all sorts of unique passions. How fun is it to consider that different interests make each person on earth light up with excitement?

3. Tell All the Fart Jokes

What do a poet, an aerial yoga instructor, and a retired major airline worker all have in common? Aside from working at a small public library? Apparently a refined appreciation for jokes centered around flatulence. I cannot tell you how surprised I was when, during one staff meeting, a fart joke was met with laughter that brought tears to all of our eyes. I know that there are appropriate and inappropriate times to tell jokes of any kind. But I think most anyone can enjoy letting out a good, childish joke in the name of joy. You never know who is going to laugh the hardest, or who needs a reason to smile.

4. The Kids Are Ready to Zoom to the Moon

I’m a huge fan of music. From opera, to indie folk, to pop, I have even been accused of giving my sister whiplash because of my interest in multiple genres and unpredictable nature when controlling the aux cord. (Oh well.) But not all music is meant to be listened to repeatedly. On the days when my schedule overlapped with storytime, I came to the realization that I did not indeed have any interest in zoom zoom zoom-ing and going to the moon. But guess what: it did not matter what I thought. The kids dancing their way through story time, led by the beloved and talented children’s librarian, reacted to the music like it was Puccini. The world might be a frazzled, complicated mess, but the kids are alright. They are learning and leaping and singing the songs that they love. How great is that?

5. Love All the People

I cannot begin to tell you the amount of times my coworkers would voluntarily and independently leave food items for members of the community who were food insecure or battling illness. When a particularly challenging patron needed a place to have an interview on Zoom, my boss went above and beyond setting up a room and all the equipment for them with no complaints.

Just as there was often a card at the front desk to be filled out in thanks, there were also cards of condolences. The function of the library and our roles as staff moved to accommodate the hardships facing those who visited. When I think of the goodness of those I worked with, of how many times their smiling faces greeted even the most ornery of patrons, I am humbled.

Now that I am no longer a staff member at the library, it is time for me to learn new lessons and meet new people. I will always miss my coworkers. No matter where I go, though, that library will always be home to me…even if I have to listen to someone mansplain about the newest updates on harvesting cannabis when I stop by.