Status: Bookseller Picks
I've worked for Barnes & Noble for almost eight years, and been employed as a public librarian for almost three. I love both my jobs, but I'll be the first to admit neither is perfect, nor did they exactly come as advertised. That's what I love about both of the books I'm recommending here: that they present the good with the bad, and present a warts-and-all image of both professions.
Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook is written by Norm Feuti, who is also the creator of the comic strip Retail, and draws from his years of experience as a retail employee and manager. The book is organized like an employee manual, covering broad topics like customers, co-workers, management, and store operations. Using his Retail strips to illustrate his points, Feuti humorously exposes the games people play to avoid work, get around return policies, and wield whatever power they have in their little fiefdom... I mean, area of responsibility. While he frequently cuts through a lot of bull, Feuti is never malicious or belittling, and has a great deal of respect for those who do what is often a thankless, high-pressure job; he has even more respect for those who try to do it with a minimum of shenanigans. Reading Pretending You Care was an eye-opening, side-splitting experience for me. Finally, here was someone who'd been where I've been, seen the same things I've seen, and was telling all of it, and not mincing words.
Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library is the memoir of Don Borchert, a library assistant in the suburban Los Angeles public library system. As a library assistant, he is not actually a professional librarian (the publisher reversed these words on the dust jacket, causing a great deal of whinging among library professionals), but because of the light staffing at his branch, he ends up doing just about everything except actually running the library. Filled with stories that run the gamut from hilarious to disturbing to heartbreaking, Borchert strips away the fantasies about a librarian's life being one of intellectual stimulation and quiet. His library is a raucous building where homeless people come to sleep, latchkey kids come to hang out, and oddballs come to congregate (one of the patrons spends his days surfing the internet looking for mail-order brides from South America; on my side of the country, they're doing the same thing, but looking across the Atlantic to Russia). Despite the insanity, it's clear from Free for All that Borchert loves his work, and knows he and his coworkers are providing a valuable, if underappreciated, service. I've recommended this book to several people contemplating a library career, not to scare them off, but just so they have a more rounded picture of what they're getting themselves into. To their credit, not one of them turned away after reading it.
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