Tag Archives: social contract

Notes From an Intern

Today’s guest post is from Tanya, one of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Minority Interns for 2009. The CLP Minority Summer Intern program is a grant-funded internship program–courtesy of the Heinz Endowments designed to encourage minority participation in the field of library/information science. The internship offers students of varying backgrounds the opportunity to learn about and experience the internal workings of a dynamic library. The internship was directed toward students who are enrolled either in a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program.

So what’s a job at the library like?  Maybe you know the library from the few simple clicks it takes you to request the books and DVDs online that neatly end up on a shelf with your name on them that day.  Or perhaps you know the library from the attractive and abundant displays of bestsellers and online booklists created by a team of professional librarians.  Behind the scenes, myriad decisions are made daily just to keep the library humming at a pace that includes hundreds of new library card sign-ups and thousands of items moved around the system every month. 

I have never been witness to more individuals caring about the progress and development of the whole “library family” than during my internship.  Puzzled over a question about electronic resources?  A colleague will be by your side in no time.  Unsure about where to find railroad statistics from 1876?  A reference librarian who has worked with older periodicals will know.  This patient and caring attitude extends beyond customer service into the dealings between colleagues behind the scenes.

While at the Carrick branch, I faced questions like “How do I set up my DTV converter?” and “Can you help me find tax forms?”  I managed to answer both of these to the patrons’ liking.  While in Oakland I made my first booklist and book displays, and selected new titles for the upcoming year from small press catalogs.  My greatest joy, however, was teaching a patron how to request his own materials online.  This made my job worthwhile—the act of teaching people to help themselves is incredibly rewarding.

I met many people during my stay at the library and had many bits of essential information passed on to me.  The statement that stuck with me the most was that of a long-time manager telling me, “The library is the last great social contract.  You come in, you give us your address and phone number, and we let you leave with hundreds of dollars of materials, no questions asked.”  But the truth of the matter is that a lot of time and diligence goes into replacing, repairing and paying for lost, stolen, or damaged items.  What does it say about us—the citizenry—when we accept educational budget cuts in the name of something more important?  Or about the individual who returns an item tattered and dog-eared? 

If you are curious as to where the future of our country lies, morally and as a republic, I suggest taking a look at your local library and its future.  How important is your library to you, and what will you gain or lose should it no longer be “free to the people”?

I can’t be grateful enough to everyone and everything that made my internship possible, from the Heinz grant to my bosses, who trusted me enough to give me  real responsibilities.  In the future, the library will be in the forefront of my mind.  I hope that the library will continue to function in the capacity it does today, including the support of internships like mine.


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The lengths people will go to…

On a normal work day for me, the title of my post would likely refer to the many stories I hear each day from library patrons (well-meaning and otherwise) who have problems with their accounts: the reason they couldn’t return a book on time, or why they couldn’t pay a fine, or how the dog chewed a book, but it wasn’t their fault. Yes, the lengths to which people will go to avoid…well, you know…amaze me.

But not today.

No, today is a celebration of our patrons who go the extra mile on behalf of the library, the people who cherish the library and its collection, and the lengths to which they will go.

What prompted this change of view? It began with a wonderful little package waiting in my mailbox two weeks ago. It was wrapped in simple brown paper, hand-addressed in pen, and stamped with a modest airmail stamp…and a postmark from Korea.

Yes, Korea. One of our patrons had taken the time to mail back a Prokofiev symphony score. From Korea. A week early.

It's true!

It's true!


Can you believe it?

This reminded me of the books I’d received the week before that, from Hawaii, with a note from a student’s mom: “Sorry that my daughter accidentally brought these books home with her.” So far in the past month we’ve received items back from Michigan, Maine, State College, Erie, New Orleans, and–drum roll please–this week’s winner, China: another mom with books that her son, who was visiting China, mailed home. Yes, the books were late–but she did bring us the postmarked box as proof!

We also received a book mailed to us by an airline this week. Over the years we’ve had our share of packages from airlines as well as from rental car agencies and the United States Postal Service. Every time one of these parcels shows up at our door, my faith is restored. Someone cares. Someone understands that the library works only when we all work together, that what you borrow and return has an impact on what another person is able to borrow and return. It’s part of the great social contract.

So here are some thank-yous to people who have saved the library for me.

  • To the father who handed over his charge card to pay off several hundred dollars on his high school daughter’s card, even though the lost books were due to her allowing a friend to use the card.
  • To the person who found a young boy’s wallet with his library card and turned it in at Phipps Conservatory, as well as to the Phipps staff who e-mailed us so we could contact the cardholder.
  • To the stranger who came to the desk to make restitution for books he had stolen long ago–he handed over a $200 donation and left without revealing his name.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not about the individual book, CD, or DVD. Things will be lost, damaged, and spilled on. Things will be late. That’s okay. But each time you pay for that item, or accept responsibility for a fine, or return something long overdue, what you’re doing is more than just a simple physical or financial exchange.

What you’re saying is that YOU are a part of the library…that we are all in this together…that you share in both the joy and the responsibility of this great democratic institution that gives equal opportunities for learning, entertainment and wonder to us all…and that you do it willingly. And each time one of you does it with grace, or kindness, or enthusiasm (well, okay, nobody pays fines enthusiastically), you are affirming your connection to the library and all of its members.

So, thanks to all who “get it”! You often save the day!



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