The Life of A Teenage Library Employee

What I've learned working at my dream part-time job

Photo by Lily Yates

Lily Yates, Quintessence Copy Editor

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I always knew that I’d do whatever it took to avoid getting a job in food service in high school.

Fast food and waiting jobs are high-paying, pretty straightforward, and heck, they hire sixteen year-olds – so I can see what makes students often choose dim steakhouses or drive-thru windows. Though I do count eating among my most treasured hobbies, I also enjoy the occasional book or newspaper article. And that’s where the library came in.

It’s kind of weird that I’m not an old lady with a bun on top of my head and a grudge against loud noises.

I get that. I’m with you. God knows before I started working for Omaha Public Library, I expected to come across a gaggle of old ladies in cat hair-covered cashmere sweaters who, I imagined, had perfected the icy silence glare years ago.

But the day I walked into the Bess Johnson Elkhorn branch nearly a year ago, I sat down to interview for the library aide position with an immediately cheerful, intelligent, and decidedly-not-elderly woman named Michelle who helped turn my summer into something actually pretty fun.

Library work seemed like the perfect solution for my empty pocket woes. After spending almost a year working at a car wash for my first job, I decided maybe air conditioning and an actual workplace environment might do me some good. And, I thought, just imagine all the wide-eyed kids I’ll probably, like, open the wonderful, magical world of reading to, or something.

And though some of my early conceptions weren’t entirely correct, my experience as a library aide has since then been nothing but fascinating. As an aide, I’m responsible for almost all basic functions keeping the system running. So lots of times, as other staff members work in their own niches, I get to work independently on a daily schedule I’ve memorized instead of worrying about a boss breathing down my neck.

If I’m working a standard eight-hour shift, my usual day goes something like this: retrieve, check in, and sort the two bookdrops from outside; scan, sort, and shelve the morning delivery cart of holds from around the city; assemble, then put in order a cart of a few genres to shelve; and spend some time out in the stacks. This general cycle then repeats all day long, but it is unexpectedly difficult to get bored with.

The library is a machine that literally never stops. There has never been a shift where I’ve run out of things to do, had time to sit down and do homework or, ironically, read a book. People often don’t realize how much actually goes on behind the scenes. I’m left constantly in awe of my spunky coworkers (all of varying ages, backgrounds, and genders) and their expertise in a multitude of fields.

The whole experience has been eye-opening for me in general, from befriending and learning from such amazing people and keeping a collection of interesting things I’ve found in returned books, to finding at least four new reads to take home every time I shelve in the non-fiction section. Seriously, who knew books existed on this stuff: travel-themed origami, a biography of Al Capone’s police officer brother, and street art from around the world?

So as the school year winds down, the library system is only just preparing for an onslaught of kids, teenagers, and adults alike coming to take part in its massive Summer Reading Program- for which, may I say, the prizes are actually usable (did someone say Dairy Queen gift card?).

If you stop by the branch, you might come across a high school kid working in the stacks instead of your average old lady. Or maybe, even better, at no cost you’ll discover what I did at the library: a world of wonder and intrigue just waiting to be read.

Lily Yates - Quintessence Editor-in-Chief

Lily became a member of The Flightline in August of 2015. She is a senior this year and enjoys an array of activities including choir, theatre and slam poetry. She is also on staff as a library aide at the Omaha Public Library. You can email her at [email protected]