Germantown librarians keep a popular place running smoothly

Danielle Switalski sorts through incoming materials from partner libraries through the Mid-Wisconsin Federated Library System in a workroom of the Germantown Library on Nov. 13.

Danielle Switalski sorts through incoming materials from partner libraries through the Mid-Wisconsin Federated Library System in a workroom of the Germantown Library on Nov. 13. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Nov. 27, 2012

"If only you could walk a mile in my shoes." We've all read it, thought it, and most likely said it, but how many of us have actually tried it?

Every day, each of us wakes up and tackles the day. Some of us head to an office and are inundated with phone call after phone call. Others don a uniform and ready themselves to help those in need.

Though it would be impossible for me to walk a mile in everyone's shoes, I am bringing the adage to life. From sweeping floors to farming, I am taking myself out of my comfort zone and being put to work like never before at businesses around Germantown and Menomonee Falls.

About a month ago someone asked me how libraries are able to remain open. In the age of technology, e-books and e-readers, keeping the doors of a library open would seem an impossible feat. I found this is a huge misconception. In fact, libraries have persevered, are busier than ever and continue to offer a valuable resource to countless people of all ages.

I found out firsthand last week when I stepped into the shoes of a librarian, thanks to Germantown Library Director Roberta Olson.

Libraries, just like the endless stories they hold, are timeless. If people need entertainment, they can go to the library. If they need free Internet access, want to read the morning newspaper, escape from the cold or heat, they go to the library. This has been true for years and remains true today. This past summer, the Germantown Library was busier than ever as people desperately tried to escape the heat.

As people continue to suffer from economic hardship and cut out entertainment from their budget, they turn to the library to escape boredom.

Because of this, the library staff is busier than ever. That meant on a recent Tuesday I was busier than ever.

Comfortable shoes a must

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As I arrived at 8:30 a.m., Roberta greeted me, looking down at my boots. She said my feet were going to get sore. I replied with a "Naah!" Wearing comfortable shoes is a must for library staff and it didn't take long for me to learn why.

Germantown is part of a 44-library system that shares books to ensure people can go home with what they want to read. That's a lot of books and a lot of patrons. It also necessitates extreme organization.

Books requested from other libraries need to be pulled from the shelves. On any given day, staff can pull hundreds of books. That's how I spent much of the early morning hours, scouring the shelves like a certified book hunter. My feet, and my knees were quickly sore from crawling on the ground, searching the low shelves. Roberta was right. I should have worn comfy shoes - and knee pads.

After we found every book on the list, I was sent to the children's section for children's story time that takes place at 10:30 a.m. every Tuesday. Stephanie, the children's librarian, was tailor-made to entertain the kids. I could not come close to matching her energy and enthusiasm. She was a prime example of a library employee - dedicated and who truly cares about her job.

The half-hour story time was spent singing, dancing and reading. Nervously, I read one book to the kids. No matter what age the audience, I panic when multiple sets of eyes are on me. My hands shook every time I turned a page. Thankfully, Stephanie took over and woke the kids back up.

Once story time ended, I needed a break. But, just like we had to find books to go to other libraries, we had to sort books that were returned to Germantown.

The library runs like a well-oiled machine. Not only does the small staff have to care for the dozens of patrons who come to the library each day, manage new and old materials, but keep up-to-date with what and how people want to read.

Roberta said it doesn't matter how kids decide to read, what matters is that they are reading.

Staff keeps up with the times

I, myself, have not succumbed to purchasing an e-reader. I love the smell of book stores, the act of turning pages and taking my favorite stories down from the book shelf to read once more. Many people don't share in my sentiment and unwavering loyalty to paperback books. Unlike me, the library staff has made sure it is up to speed with the times.

The Germantown librarians now manage two libraries - one physical, the other cyber, making their organization and time management even more impressive.

I learned a lot that day. My eyes were opened to a group of women who are both exceptionally hardworking and dedicated. They love their jobs and ensure libraries remain timeless.

Thanks to the library staff for letting me step into your shoes for a day, making me feel welcome and giving me a new appreciation for libraries.

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