When people hear the word “library” a few things typically come to mind, namely librarians and books. But a library is run by people working in many different roles. They’re all helping community members with much more than book recommendations. Our series Spend a Day with a Library Worker takes you inside the lives of our library staff in different roles and follows them on a typical workday.
Books and libraries have been a constant for most of Elle Mott’s adult life. Elle grew up in Oregon and got her degree in Seattle in the late 2000s. By happenstance, she landed in Northern Kentucky in 2013.
"I had gotten tired of working dead-end jobs, barely making ends meet. While attending college, I worked in the library, doing circulation, shelving, and other duties," she said.
"My graduation came during the time of the 2009 recession, and no one was hiring, let alone hiring someone fresh out of college with no experience. A job at the Goodwill thrift store, processing book donations was the best I could achieve. The transient drifter in me provoked me to move on in hopes of a better outcome."
"My second time ever into the big city of Cincinnati was for an interview with the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library. I got hired part-time in a support position in the Cataloging and Processing Department to unbox brand-new books. Outside of my scheduled working hours, I worked extra hours in the Outreach Services department and where I am now, the Sorting & Materials Retrieval department. The extra income helped, but dually, I appreciated getting to know many great coworkers and gaining an understanding of our library-wide workflow."
What Is a Library Page?
Elle has been a Library Page in the Sorting & Materials Retrieval Department for six years. You might be wondering, “What exactly does a page do?” To put it simply, pages are on call to get what you need or want as fast as possible, most often in under 15 minutes.
“Your first point of contact might be the librarian who is happy to greet you, yet they then let us know your needs or wants and we get it for you,” said Elle. “Or it might be that you request an item through our website or through a phone call and again, we are on call for you. You ‘page’ for an item, whether it be a book, DVD, CD, record album, map, or something needed for research and we get it for you.”
The biggest challenge comes when Elle goes to retrieve items and they aren’t located where she expected them to be. This part of the job is called “reverse searching.”
"Just because it is not on the shelf, doesn’t mean I won’t find it for you,” she said. “Sometimes the item is in an obscure place in our non-public stacks, and sometimes it is, well, who knows where, but I set out to find it! You want it and I do my utmost to find it for you."
Elle’s typical workday is not necessarily the same as other pages.
"What is common is that our priority is ensuring we retrieve and process items you request and make those items available for you as fast as possible, ideally in the same day," said Elle. "After checking for new messages and emails, I start my day with a random pull list. There are several pull lists for us pages to choose from with each pull list as being computer generated daily based on your recent online requests and divvied by library area location. After pulling these books, media, and other items, it takes time processing them, which means, we reserve them for you to check out while logging the process into our computer applications."
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
In addition to retrieval, each page takes an hour-long "paging shift" where they monitor incoming emails from librarians.
“You want something and these librarians let us know so we can get it for you, making sure you have it right away,” said Elle. “These requested items are often in faraway places," walls and on staff-only floors to make room on our public floor."
“Pages know where to find anything and everything, from books to microfilm, from maps to auto manuals, from an Iowa road atlas to a 1964 Beatles album, from the latest Steven King novel to an 1837 city census, and more. We don’t want to let you down. Although we take turns at this on-call paging duty, sometimes requests come in so fast, that it can become harried for any one page, so another page joins in, so to not to cause a delay. All-in-all, it is a team effort to make it happen, and all with camaraderie.”
Pages also assist teams in other departments, like helping shift children’s books from the Downtown Main Library’s North building to the South building, fixing bad barcodes, or tracking down a book that’s reported missing.
"I like to help the area which serves the inter-library loan system, Search Ohio,” said Elle. “Here, we help in the sharing of materials state-wide between libraries and universities."
If you can't find a book in the Library's catalog, or if all of our copies are checked out, SearchOhio and OhioLINK allow cardholders to borrow material from the collections of over 140 Ohio public and academic libraries - free.
Rewards and Resets
For Elle, the most rewarding part of her job is the people she gets to interact with every day. Whether it be coworkers or customers, they give meaning and purpose to her on a daily basis.
"The current pandemic brought on [many] changes," said Elle. "It is bittersweet. I miss the days before the pandemic, in which our library was crowded with activity, which our much-needed health and safety rules just can’t allow for right now. I miss coming to know people who were down-and-out and who would frequent our library for a sense of belonging. I would talk with them. I was once in their shoes. Many public libraries cross-country had seen the likes of me in my struggling days when I would depend on them for internet access, to apply for jobs, and to get a book for lack of a TV. I would share with these folks that change is possible."
Elle experienced tough times between college and moving to the Tri-state area, moving around to different states, and couch surfing. Today, Elle owns her own house (no mortgage!) and further creates purpose and meaning through her job at CHPL. She even wrote a memoir about her life, Out of Chaos in 2018.
"Through sharing my experience with down-and-out folks, I hope I have instilled a sense of possibility for them," said Elle. "I wrote my book to show that no matter what hardships we go through, we can, through our own action, make a meaningful life. Yes, today life is good living in Northern Kentucky and working at a 5-Star Library. I wouldn’t ever trade the jobs I've had in the past for the job I have today."