PLIG Presents: A Day in the Life…

‘A Day in the Life’ is a feature by BCLA’s Public Libraries Interest Group. The aim is to highlight interesting folks from around the province who are doing amazing things in public libraries. If you, or someone you know, would make a good profile, please email Heidi Schiller at [email protected].

Name: Natalie Porter

Job Title: Branch Head – Carnegie Library

Length of time in position: Since June 2014

Describe your job in three sentences or less: A combination of Branch Head, Librarian, community advocate, events coordinator, and a hint of social worker.

What do you do on a typical day?

8:30am: Arrive at the Carnegie Centre. Sometimes I have to wait for Security to be let in the building, so there’s some small talk with various homeless people waiting under the awning, drug dealers and users. Takes a bit of getting used to, but then becomes the norm.

8:30 – 10am: I enjoy the “calm before the storm.” I try to hammer out any reports to be submitted, respond to emails such as programming opportunities, and review Incident Reports from the previous night (we are open 10am – 10pm everyday). I check the Downtown Eastside (DTES) Seed Library tubs, and if we need more seed packets I’ll alert Hives for Humanity. Then I scan the collection and see where we might need to order more (e.g. Western paperbacks!), and do some weeding before the patrons arrive.

10am: We open the doors! A big rush for daily newspapers, and the photocopies we provide of crossword puzzles and Sudokus. There’s often jazz or heavy metal music leaking through the walls from the Carnegie theatre next door where musicians are jamming, to add to the ambiance.

11am: Coffee break in the Seniors’ Lounge! Down in the basement of the Centre there is fresh 50 cent coffee.

From 10am – 5pm my day is pretty packed with questions and requests since there is no dedicated catalogue computer (the space is so small that the 3 computers are swamped for internet use). Questions range from needing the answers to the previous day’s crossword puzzle, DVD orders since 60% of our circulation is for movies, finding a patron’s publication from 1959 when he wrote for a University Newspaper, placing interlibrary loan requests on the history of Liberia, finding Janet Evanovich audio books (but only if they feature the voice of Lorelei King!), looking up mailing addresses for petitions, photocopying Memorial posters, trouble-shooting mobile phones, etc.

1pm: If there is no line-up and I’m feeling social, I will enjoy a lunch from the Carnegie Centre kitchen upstairs and share a table with someone in the cafeteria.

Afternoon – 5pm: There are often meetings to attend like the bi-weekly Carnegie Centre Senior Staff meeting where we discuss issues in the building and updates like the kitchen renovation or programs like “Heart of the City” festival or “HomeGround” Homelessness Connect event.

The afternoon can also bring some rollercoaster drama. We have to make sure people are awake due to the seriousness of the overdose crisis. There can also be conflict among patrons, especially over computer usage so I am eternally grateful for our Security team. The other drama is when one must process really heart-breaking stories that people share about their daily lives – stories about childhood abuse or violence, residential schooling and the Sixties Scoop.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

The weekly Hastings Street Book Giveaway. Every Friday at 2:30 a co-worker and I take four totes of donated books / magazines / DVDs out to a table on Hastings Street and give them freely to people who may have barriers around coming inside or are just passionate about books! It is a highlight and the conversations can be pretty candid.

If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?

If we had the space, I wonder about having a full-time Librarian on staff, and if it would help alleviate some of the pressures? It’s fun to have a lot of say over the daily operations, but there are times that can be overwhelming. One tricky part is when certain patrons become very dependent on you, even to do basic tasks. It likely stems from trust issues, but it can feel a bit manipulative. Perhaps additional information staff would help balance this? I like to be friendly, but am always mindful of how it is being interpreted…

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about your job?

In some ways I feel safer and more supported here in the heart of the DTES than at a “stand-alone” library that isn’t connected to a Community Centre and surrounded by social services. Even when walking round the neighbourhood I feel safe since there are library patrons everywhere to say “hello” to.

If you weren’t in the library profession, what would your fantasy job be?

I love public-speaking. Last year I was a Storyteller for two Motorcycle Storytelling Nights (one was hosted at the Carnegie!) and I get a real kick out of entertaining people with various roadtrip anecdotes. That said I would also love to be paid to explore the world via backroads on my motorcycle with my husband.


Addendum: Natalie has since accepted the position of Assistant Chief Librarian at the Powell River Public Library, and is getting closer to her goal of riding her motorcycle along the forested back-roads of BC on a regular basis.