The Secret Statistical Lives of Librarians

I’ve always romanticized the idea of being a librarian. In my mind, librarians get to hang out in buildings filled with books, spend their days reading books and talking about books, and, most importantly, make their living off of being a book nerd. That’s what really happens when you sign up to be a librarian, right?

Sharron Smith

Not quite, according to Sharron Smith, manager of bibliographic services at the Kitchener Public Library (KPL), who crushed my idealized notions.

“It is sadly a myth; librarians do not get to read on the job,” she told me with a laugh. “If I find that job, I’m going with it.”

Smith and her team are in charge of acquiring new materials for KPL’s collection: everything from new books to DVDs, magazines and more.

“We’re big on stats,” she explained. “Librarians love stats, and we’re constantly analyzing how the collections are being used.”

Who would have guessed that librarians spend most of their time analyzing statistics regarding which books are popular? Not me. As an avid book fiend, this took me by surprise, but after chatting with Smith it all began to make sense.

“We want to know where the trends are,” she continued. “We want to know where to place our emphasis.”

“Demand continues to be very strong for e-books, with thrillers and mysteries in the highest demand as specific genres. We are also continuing to see strong interest in audiobooks, both the physical format as well as e-audio,” she explained. “We are [also] seeing increasing interest in our print book collections, [which is] not really surprising as users consistently say that they love the access that libraries provide to books.”

Choosing materials to add to the library’s collection isn’t exactly easy. Smith and her team need to constantly know which new releases are on the way, which genres are currently in demand, and which library branches are in need of which specific materials. They also have to be aware of what the collection already contains to ensure that the materials are diverse, appropriate, and reflect subjects and opinions that the public are interested in.

While this may seem like a daunting task, there is one seriously awesome perk: advanced copies of unreleased books. In order to know if new books are worth adding to the library’s collection, Smith and her team are able to read books before they’re officially published. If that doesn’t make you want to become a librarian, I don’t know what will.

Smith expressed gratitude for the resources that allow them to purchase a wide variety of items for the library’s collection.

“We’re very, very fortunate that the city supports this library so well,” she said. “We do try to offer the broadest selection possible; however, budgets are not infinite and decisions have to be made.”

While some might think that support for, and general use of libraries, is declining, they couldn’t be more wrong. Despite the rise of technology, Smith emphasized that she, along with other librarians at KPL, embrace new trends and find ways to integrate them into the library’s collection and overall operations.Public input regarding the library’s collection is always welcome. Anyone can go online and make recommendations, which Smith and her team receive and review.

“We get, between fiction and nonfiction, and also multi-media, so DVDs and that kind of thing, we get hundreds of those a week,” she explained. “We go through those every week, and if an item meets our collection criteria, then we will certainly consider it for ordering.”

If an item is available, well-reviewed, and accurate in representing information, it’s fair game to be added to the library’s collection. Smith emphasized that the KPL is very open-minded and respectful of all opinions, so a wide variety of materials are available for the public.

“That’s what it’s all about: providing people with what they want,” she continued.

“We’re very customer-focused, and I think some people don’t always realize that, but that’s the whole reason that we do everything that we do, in order to meet the needs of the community,” Smith said. “We’re really passionate, and we really want [the public] to know what it is that we have, and also to know that the library staff really are experts, and we are here to help you find your next great read.”

While Smith may not get to spend her days reading, her passion for books is clearly evident. And after a mere 40 minutes in her office — which, yes, is packed with books — she revolutionized my understanding of what a librarian does: they possess all-powerful literary knowledge, and ultimately want to share that passion with the public.