Things I’ve Learned While Volunteering at the Library

bookshelf

I began volunteering at the local library last August. I’m in the circulation department, and once a week for about an hour and a half, I shelf-read and clean books. I also help shelve some paperbacks and organize carts ready to be shelved, things like that. And contrary to belief, it’s not only elderly people who volunteer at the library. There aren’t many of us younger ones, but there are some, including my supervisor, who is my age, and has been working at libraries since high school. I may be one of the youngest volunteers, but being at a library is like another home to me. So getting my library fix once a week and supporting the system? A winning combination for a book lover. (Bonus: I even met a wonderful woman at the orientation who has now become one of my closest friends here in San Diego. We talk about books, knitting, Downton Abbey, and desserts. It’s perfect.)

Shelf-reading basically means making sure the books and other materials are in order on the shelves. You literally go book by book and read the spine label, re-shelving any books (or DVDs or audiobooks, etc.) that are out of place, and aligning them all on the edge of the shelf so it’s pretty and upright. So for instance, in fiction, you follow the spine label by author, then title. In nonfiction, you follow by the Dewey Decimal number, then author, then title. Some sections are nearly always perfect, making for a boring (if not fast) review, while others seem to always be out of sorts (children’s, new fiction, some non-fiction sections).

For most people, volunteering at the library may seem like a very mundane and rather uninteresting activity, but for book lovers, it’s a nice escape to the world we love, and a continual learning experience. Here are a few things I’ve learned from volunteering at the library:

  • Children’s books are filthy. I don’t mean the content. I wear gloves and use a household cleaner and microfiber cloth to clean books. What appears on the cloth after just one cover of a kids’ book is absolutely disgusting. (Note: there are Purel sanitizer stations all throughout the library. This is an important feature.)
  • The children’s books are also always the last to be organized. The volunteers will go through all of the rest of the library each month, shelf-reading anything but children’s, until we have to do it before starting any other section again. Said one volunteer recently, “I don’t do children.” (I wondered after if she meant that specifically for shelf-reading or in a larger life sense.)
  • Mystery and thriller series have all sorts of interesting title themes. I’ve never read mysteries or thrillers, so for a long time I thought that Sue Grafton’s alphabet series was somewhat unique. Or that whole “The Cat Who…” series. But when I started shelf-reading, I realized there is an insane amount of theming that goes on with these titles across the board, some of them kinda cool, and some that are lame. The alphabet thing is quite common, actually (i.e. Capital Killer, Capital Larceny, Capital Murder), and then there’s overplayed themes like baking or holidays (Carrot Cake Murder, Red Velvet Cake Murders).
  • Patrons still rely on old services. When I’m in the circulation room cleaning books or doing other tasks, at least three to four calls come in with a request for renewals or someone wanting to know when their books are due. This is despite a printed receipt system when you check out your books that show when they’re due, and an online renewal system that is quite easy to use. I think it’s an interesting example of how even though libraries are instituting technology to streamline processes, many patrons still prefer traditional methods.
  • People still use libraries to get work done. Or play games on the computer. Believe it or not, people don’t exclusively go to coffee shops now to hog the Wi-Fi and work on their paper (or check Facebook). Even on Tuesday afternoons, the library is full of people getting work done on their laptops at study tables, doing research, and whatever else they need quiet space for. But a fair number of people come to the library to make use of the computers for job searching, playing solitaire, and watching YouTube videos.
  • Library book sales are hard to beat. If your library has an ongoing bookstore and frequent sales, take advantage of it. On any given day, I can buy a newer paperback, a great biography, a classic cookbook, or a fascinating non-fiction book for anything from $1-3. Many of these books are in near perfect condition. Consider donating books you don’t want to your library, and buying from them, too, if that’s an option. Keep the cycle going.
  • You can never run out of new material to read. If you’re open to expanding your literary horizons, the library is a perfect place to try new genres, new authors, and new subjects – all for free.

Have you volunteered or worked at a library? What you have learned from your experience?

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Delighting in discovery

My first car!
My first car!

 

When you hear or see the word “discovery,” you may automatically thing big, bold life-changing things, like finding new species, coming up with a scientific equation, or unearthing centuries-old artifacts. But as I’ve learned in the last few months, discovery can also mean the everyday little things that we might take for granted until our life situations force us to look at them in a new perspective. Discovery doesn’t necessarily have to mean completely new, and it doesn’t have to be important to everyone or even understood by everyone; it can be something that’s just for you to marvel at and cherish.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered recently:

  • Getting your first car ever just before turning 30 can be just as exciting and life-changing as it is for a teenager. When I drove home in my newly leased reflex blue Mazda3 two weeks ago, I had that feeling — the one in songs and road trip movies. It’s been a long time since I drove around town in a car, and now that I am doing it in one that’s all mine, well, it’s just wonderful.
  • Volunteering at a library does make you more well-read. Heck, even having a library card makes you more well-read. I hadn’t used a library since college until about a year ago when I moved to California, and now I’m volunteering at my library in town, keeping the books in order on the shelves, and cleaning the gross ones. It’s unbelievable what’s out there (many times I ask myself, “Why did someone write about this? Why would someone want to read this?”), and it’s making me expand my reading horizons a bit more each week. A library is a perfect place for discovery.
  • Meeting people in a new city in your late 20s is harder than it looks. Especially when you start out without a car (problem now solved) and you live 45 minutes from downtown. You have to make things happen yourself. This means going on Meetup.com and joining running groups (have done one run so far), or signing up to be a volunteer (check), or taking on a part-time gig (check), or joining Match.com again (reluctantly, check). It’s not like arriving in the city fresh out of college when friends fall into your lap at networking events, happy hours, and work gatherings. This is where “pounding the pavement” becomes a thing again.
  • Your parents are always going to be worried about you. That’s their job. After living away from mine for several years, they got used to not knowing every detail of my life. But now that I live with them, things get scary again, when you throw in driving around a new city, meeting new people (men!), etc, etc. Best way to work through it? Talk it out, and get everyone on the same page about feelings, expectations, and needs. Then just know that they’ll still worry, and you all have to live with it.
  • It’s easy to get comfortable. But it’s better to challenge yourself and be true to yourself. Between moving forward in my new career path, making choices about people from my past, and not falling into old habits and emotional setbacks, I’ve been constantly reminding myself to keep my eye on the prize. So I cold called a tutoring center down the street and convinced them I would be a great addition to their team despite having no educational background — one step in the right direction for following my passion. I’ve turned down consulting projects that don’t align with my interests or my availability. And I’m striving to stay true to my needs when it comes to relationships of all kinds.

As I continue to explore my new world and my new lifestyle, I’m sure I’ll continue to make more discoveries, big and small, that play a role in what happens next. What are some things you’ve discovered?

My first love: books

IMG_8178Today I headed to down to the Mall for the National Book Festival. I arrived with hopes of getting one of my Nicholas Sparks’ books autographed by the author, but my spirits quickly sagged as I saw six lines of people waiting for him, and was promptly told by an event staffer that Sparks was only signing his newest book. So much for bringing my copy of The Wedding. I couldn’t just jump the book sale line either – people stretched around the corner of the tent for that, too.

I picked up my token festival poster and checked out the Target dog, Spot, and headed back home before the rain hit. Annoyed at first because the event was so packed that I would have had to arrive at 8am if I wanted a shot at hearing anyone speak or sign a book, I left happy that so many people were there, because after all, it must mean they love books! There were tons of kids, too, which pleased me, because you hear so much these days about kids not reading as much, or reading crap like Gossip Girls and the like. But here you could find works by authors like Judy Blume, Julia Alvarez, Sue Monk Kidd, and Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried by this last author is one of my favorite books).

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The little things

Isn’t amazing how after a bad fight, a bad day or just feeling bad, you indulge in some of your favorite things and you feel 100 times better? Yesterday morning, the day started off poorly. But I decided to get past it. I went for a walk outside in the sun. I called my dad and immediately was smiling. I stopped in the Cleveland Park library. I didn’t get anything, but since I was in a little girl, being in a library or bookstore has always had a calming, rejuvenating effect on me. It’s like a home away from home.

Then, I picked up some fresh bread, a coffee, and headed back home. I worked out and read more from a new book, took a bubble bath, and had a good dinner. And smelled my beautiful roses from my boyfriend.

By the end of the day, I felt sooo much better, all because I was indulging. It wasn’t a gallon of ice cream. It wasn’t a whole pizza, or an entire bottle of wine. But it was all good, little things that made me feel better.

If you’re feeling bad, remember to indulge in the little things. I promise you things will look and feel better after that.