The Challenges of Being a Librarian

What are the most difficult aspects of librarianship?

Like all professions, librarianship has its cons.

Librarians are awesome and skilled professionals serving many community members and providing free access to important information. However, like any career path, it comes with its own unique set of obstacles. Here are some of the top challenges of the profession, according to librarians:

1. “Damaged books being returned”

Between spilled drinks, bugs crawling out of books, and torn-up pages, several librarians mentioned damaged books as one of the most common issues. When interacting with library materials, return them with the same care you would expect from someone borrowing your personal items. 

2. “Inadequate pay/benefits, especially for support staff”

One of the most common responses revolved around budget cuts and unsatisfactory pay. Many library positions require a college degree—including master's degrees—so understandably, there’s frustration when the salary doesn’t reflect that advanced education. To help public libraries overcome budget cuts, learn how you can advocate for your local librarians

3. “Recent book challenges”

Book challenges have been on the rise, especially for materials including LGBTQIIA+ and BIPOC content. The best way to oppose banned books is to read one yourself! Even so, if you’d like to learn more about book challenges, visit the website of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom

4. “Never having enough time to check in and reshelve books”

If you have a busy lifestyle, you can probably imagine how overwhelmed librarians must be when so many books are being returned at once! If you’d like to take some work off your local librarian’s plate, find out if you can volunteer at the library. 

5. “Coming back to a recently shelved section to find it in disarray”

This is the equivalent of someone walking through a recently mopped floor. Not only is this inconsiderate to librarians, but it also makes certain books inaccessible to other patrons. Treat your library like you are visiting another person’s home. You’re welcome to use its resources and lounge areas, but please be courteous and keep the area neat. 


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6. “Like many jobs, a dysfunctional work environment”

This is an obstacle that many employees can relate to. When you don’t feel supported by your work environment, completing your job duties is difficult. You may not be able to help directly as a patron, but making conversation with your librarians may raise their spirits during a difficult time. 

7. “Taking on several roles for all people: social worker, homelessness advocate, caretaker, and emergency shelter from the heat or cold—librarians love helping people, but everything we’re asked to do takes us away from what we do best: connecting people with quality information”

Many librarians expressed concern about this obstacle. One of the best characteristics of libraries is their ability to welcome and serve many different community members. However, it’s understandable that this can sometimes be overwhelming for librarians, especially when they don’t have degrees in social work or mental health. 

8. “Getting harassed and yelled at by the public”

Librarians may have a job to do, but dealing with rude and inappropriate patrons shouldn’t be one of them. Follow the golden rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated, and be respectful to your librarians!

9. “Not enough time to read all the books that look interesting”

If you have a never-ending book list that only seems to get longer, you can relate to one of the biggest challenges of being a bibliophile! Nevertheless, you can always find enjoyment in discussing recent books with your librarians. If you’ve been trying to narrow your book list, ask for recommendations from your local librarian! 

10. “From a school librarian perspective: fixing computer/tech issues, the library being shut down for testing, lack of funding, and never-ending job advocacy”

Did you know that school libraries are often one of the first resources to be dismantled if a school is experiencing financial insecurity? While it’s understandable that difficult decisions need to be made during hard times, these come at a cost. Research how you can advocate for school libraries. 


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11. “Having to be a defender of intellectual freedom”

Although many librarians are passionate about intellectual freedom, they shouldn’t have to be sole defenders of the topic. Reading is a First Amendment right coinciding with the Library Bill of Rights. Don’t let librarians carry the weight of intellectual freedom; find out what you can do to protect your right to read

12. “Never being able to spend as much time as I want prepping storytime because of being understaffed”

Being understaffed is never convenient, especially when you’re passionate about your job. No matter where you work, low staff numbers decrease efficiency, employee morale, and customer satisfaction. If you’d like to help your local librarians, find out if you can volunteer or apply for a part-time position!

13. “Being unappreciated, undervalued, and misunderstood”

It’s unfortunate to learn that so many librarians feel undervalued. The next time you visit your local library, take a moment to say “thank you” to your librarian!

14. “Lying about what happened to your item—please be truthful; we’ll work with you!”

If something happens to your item, just be honest, especially if it was an accident. Your librarians may appreciate that you were truthful and might be able to waive your fines in some cases. 

15. “That one squeaky wheeled book cart—my true nemesis!”

You can imagine how annoying this is if you’ve ever picked a grocery cart that squeaks the entire time you’re shopping. Unfortunately, budget cuts can make it impossible for some libraries to replace items like these.



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