Before I was a librarian I was a bartender. Or a mixologist as we preferred to be called. Most people thought the job was pretty easy. How difficult can it be to pour a drink, right? They didn't know that it wasn't really about the drinks. It was about making people feel welcome, listening attentively to what they were saying, and pairing them with the perfect drink to match their mood and meal. I loved the job, but sometimes at night I would ask myself if what I was doing really mattered. I believed in my heart that it did, but the fact I was asking the question was troubling.
Many years later, and quite some time after I first stumbled into a job in the library, I compared my new roles to those of my old profession. "We're information mixologists, really,"I told two librarian friends over texts one night as we talked about the future of librarianship. We sling information instead of drinks, but the rest is pretty much the same. And so it became an analogy for what we do, a broad way to explain to those who think librarians just read books in the same fashion that people think bartenders just pour drinks, what a mixologist really does.
Mixologists care about people: On a surface level bar tending is about drinks and librarianship is about books, but when you dive into either role you will find that you have to care about people more than product to excel in either one of these positions. The people are what drive our decisions, the people are who we design services around, and the people are what keep us coming back day after day.
Mixologists know a little bit about enough: The average day might vary from a Sidecar to a White Russian, or from 3D printing to homework help, but if Mixologists can't find the thing you need, they won't stop trying until you get your solution. Nobody can be expected to memorize all the recipes, but they should know where to look so they can get you what you need.
Mixologists understand when someone is ready for the next thing:
Whether it is moving on from a porter to an IPA or from leveled readers to chapter books, a mixologist can identify someone who needs more. Not only can they spot those learners (or drinkers) who are ready to be elevated to the next level, they can help build the experiences that will take them there. We are constantly pushing information, but we know when and where the timing is right.
Mixologists can garnish the crap out of things.
Here is the secret to bar tending-- no matter what the drink is, make it look amazing. The extra step is always appreciated, and it defines why you will continue going to a certain place. I watch librarians go that extra step every single day. I've seen them carry bags out to people's cars, I've seen them use their own money for supplies, I've seen them learn names, reading preferences, and educational interests for entire communities of individuals. I've seen them deal with inebriated, mentally or physically ill, neglected children, and extreme mess. I've seen them do most of it with a smile on their face. I've seen them find ways to say yes in even the most difficult situations again, and again, and again. I've seen them garnish every experience they can, to make the library that much more enjoyable for the public.
The question that seems to be floating around the internet these days, used for click bait or to stir up controversy: Do people still need libraries? Even more than they need a stiff drink! We still need libraries because employees want candidates who know the difference between a web search and research. Because more than ¼ of U.S. Households don't have a computer with internet connection. Because libraries don't just support the people and the communities they serve, they transform them.
At the heart of that transformation is a mixologist, that goes by the name of librarian. They work with a diverse menu, they have to be familiar with a variety of tools, and they rarely get the recognition they deserve. Plus, they don't get tips. Still, they are the ones listening, making people feel welcome, and pairing them with exactly the type of information they need. April 12th is National Library Workers' Day, and even though 69% of Americans say their public library is important to them and their family, very few will recognize their librarians on this day. So this year, give your librarian a coffee, a high-five, or heck, give them some tequila. They work hard, they aren't thanked often, and people don't usually realize the work they actually do.
I never anticipated that these diverse careers would parallel each other in so many ways. However, through my job transformations one things has certainly changed. I never wonder if what I'm doing matters anymore. That feeling is all the thanks I need. To all my fellow information mixologists, keep on slinging information, keep on using your many skills, and keep on holding people in the center of everything that you do. You are why libraries matter.