Thursday, February 09, 2006

Still Water Runs Deep (or, "Wet Blanket Question")

A few days ago, on the eve of the Lunar New Year, 'Blogreader' left a question (one which s/he says was a "Wet Blanket"):

This is a wet blanket question for you. My friends said that a librarian's job is a slack one. How would you respond to that? Is it really slack?

The question was unrelated to the preceding conversation, but I decided to respond since this blog is about generating conversations, questions and awareness about "being a librarian".

Maybe 10 years earlier, my response to such a question would be: "Slack? I dare you to try my job for one day! I dare you!!!" :)

But I've since mellowed (for the most part). I thought it was best to first understand what made her/ his friends think that a librarian's job was "slack" before shooting my mouth off. BlogReader' subsequently clarified:

My understanding of slack is, slow-paced, do very little things, not stressed, hardly work long hours, sit at the counter do nothing etc.

Now, I am not saying NLB is a bad organisation or that being a librarian has no prestige or pride to talk about. Personally, I am quite interested in this job. But I am not able to explain to my friends or family what a librarian does. I heard there are several kinds of things that librarians specialise in.

It was an MSN conversation that I had with a friend that prompted me to ask this question to you. In fact, there are many people who actually think librarians shelve books and keep people quiet, and is hardly busy. In fact, I was teased by some people when I told them I thought of becoming a librarian.

Ok, 'Blogreader'. Let me give you a rambling answer:
Don't let your friend's unqualified remarks get to you. Perhaps the best way to explain to your friends is for you to volunteer at the library (just to get a taste of how working in a library setting is like) or maybe you should just join the profession and then explain to your friends.

I believe that kind of perception is still quite prevalent. It's not unique to the library profession. I'm sure some people think the job of cleaners, taxi drivers and car park attendants are "slack" too. They probably wouldn't stop there. They might also think certain doctors, managers, police officers and those who work in the military are also pretty slack (I mean, no war to fight, right?).

Or how about an airline stewardess? Some people might think, "They're just glorified waitresses who walk up and down the airplane cabin only. Pretty slack right?"

See my point?

I'm not sure about other libraries in Singapore or around the world, but where me and my public librarian colleagues and I work, the only thing the word "slack" has in common with our pace of work is that it has the same number of letters in the word "hurry".

Check out the job description for a Librarian and Library Officer in NLB. We also have Library Assistant posts (whose main general function is to shelve books -- not the librarians or library officers).

I think in any job, there are "slack times". No doubt about it. We all need breathing space, some time to relax. However, I don't believe any job today is 100% slack all the time. Not in the globalised economy where everything is about efficiency and competitiveness.

If you really want to be a librarian (or work in a library), you first have to understand your motivations in the first place.

I can understand how you feel. When I joined the library profession 10 years ago, I also had some reluctance to tell people I was a librarian. It didn't sound prestigious enough. Even today, people still don't quite understand what is it that a librarian do (I think librarians should be more accessible to the public, but that's another story).

With 10 years under my belt, it gives me some leeway to say that after a while, job titles don't mean anything. It's job satisfaction that's more important.

Same applies to cleaners, taxi drivers, car park attendants, doctors, managers, police officers, those in the armed forces. And yes, airline stewardesses too.

I truly believe it's never about the job. It's all about the attitudes we have in carrying out the job.

If all the above doesn't make sense to you, I apologise. I didn't call myself Rambling Librarian for nothing (I considered "Eloquent Librarian" once but it was too pretentious).

Allow me this last attempt to respond to your question:

Ask your friends if they've ever heard of the phrase "Still water runs deep" Tell them that just because there's no ripple in a pond doesn't mean that there are no undercurrents flowing beneath.

Never judge the depth of a pond just by what they see on the surface.

Oh, and thanks for the question.



  1. Anonymous9:39 pm

    Nice answer, Ivan.

    To Blogreader's credit, I get the same incredulous reactions from people when I tell them I'm applying to be a librarian. Seems to be somewhat misunderstood as a profession.

    In any case, to find out more about the job, I went sniffing about for libarian blogs so I that could get the news straight from the horse's mouth.

    What I've found is that librarians are far from slack, and are really as much multi-taskers as teachers have to be, without the benefit of being able disciplining their charges, or it seems, the respect accorded to a teacher as well.

    Turns out being a librarian can be stressful and very unpopular, but I've since learnt that it can be truly rewarding work as well.

    Check out these librarians, Blogreader - might give you a better idea.
    Feel-good Librarian
    Library Avengers
    Tinfoil + Racoon
    walking paper

    Hope we both get in, yeah?

  2. Anonymous10:54 am

    Actually I use the term "librarian" to
    1) scare people away when they look like they're going to be boring or too stimulating
    2) to be cryptic - since if I told them what a wonderful, exciting, diverse and death-defying job I have - they'd all want one!

  3. Serene3:56 pm

    Hi, I've applied for a job at National Library Board a few months back, got shortlisted for an interview and had a writing test just before the interview. The interview went ok (in my opinion). 2 weeks later, they called me back saying there were too many people applying for this position and there wasn't any suitable candidates selected. I wasn't pleased with this as it merely shows they are just patronizing me. When I applied for this position, I am honestly and sincerely interested in working as a Librarian, but the replies they gave me were really unacceptable. What should I do?

  4. Serene3:58 pm

    By the way, I have an O level cert, a diploma from the local polytechnic and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. I am currently a full time teacher.

  5. Hi Serene, sorry to hear that you didn't get the job you wanted. In your shoes, I can only say that if you really want the job, try again. This sounds generic but it's my honest answer. There are many reasons why job candidates are not selected. I think it's always a good thing a prospective employer calls back to inform that you're not shortlisted. Some don't even do that. The staff who called you may not know the reasons for rejection, and maybe wasn't prepared for your question (I'm guessing here, since I'm not privy to the interview). No job application is easy. Best regards.

  6. Serene10:24 am

    Hi Ivan,

    Thanks for your encouragement! That's true. No interview or job application process is easy. I've been through so many interviews to know that. However, I'm just a bit disappointed that NLB doesn't seem to appreciate me. I wonder what is the point for calling me up for an interview then? I'm still going to try apply to NLB. Thanks for your words =)


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