13 Things Librarians Won’t Tell You (But Every Reader Needs to Know)

Updated: Nov. 04, 2022

Avoid late fees, get the most out of your library card, and find out what's really in those book drops.


1. Our most popular e-book? Fifty Shades of Grey. Everyone wanted to read it—but nobody wanted anyone else to know about it.

2. Sometimes I recommend books I haven’t read. I don’t have as much time to read as you might think, and there are some genres I’m not interested in. I may suggest something based purely on a review.

3. Have a question about something other than a book? Bring it. We can help with background checks, genealogy research, and formatting résumés. One time, a little boy brought in a feather and was so excited when we figured out what type of bird it had come from.

4. Go ahead and make a little noise. Just make sure you exercise proper cell phone etiquette. We allow cell phones and shush people only if we hear their conversation from more than three aisles away. Certain spaces are meant for mingling, like group learning and community events.

5. As author Neil Gaiman said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” A big part of a librarian’s job used to be finding information—now much of it is sifting the reliable information from the slanted. However, there is one thing Google can do that a librarian probably can’t: find you a job.

6. I’m really, really tired of people asking, “Are libraries obsolete?” There are more public libraries in the United States than McDonald’s restaurants—16,536, including branches—and 58 percent of American adults have library cards. Those numbers don’t even include school, government, or university libraries.

7. We never know what we’re going to find in the book drop. We’ve pulled out toys, trash, clothing, shoes, food, condoms, and even a dozen doughnuts. Once, there was a live raccoon in there.

8. A growing number of libraries are installing “makerspaces.” These labs provide materials, technologies, and tools for do-it-yourself projects. Come in and use a 3-D printer, a video-editing station, a sewing machine, or craft supplies—all free.

9. When it comes to waiving fines, most of us have unrestricted power. If there’s a good reason you’re late (say, you had a family member in the hospital) or if you’re especially apologetic, we can make them go away with the click of a button.

10. A lot of libraries are makeshift daytime shelters for the homeless, and we struggle with how to handle that. Some discourage it by banning sleeping; others have added social workers who can help.

11. You’d be surprised at how many people use their credit cards as bookmarks. Other unexpected choices: unfilled prescriptions, Band-Aids, photographs, notes and cards, and dollar bills. Check out these other crazy things librarians have found in books.

12. Americans ages 16 to 29 are just as likely to visit the library as are older adults. Surprisingly, fewer people 65 and older report having visited a library within the past year than younger people.

13. I’ve been an AmeriCorps volunteer, and I’ve worked for a nonprofit, but I’ve never had another job where I felt that I was making such an immediate difference in people’s lives. Whether I’m talking to the 95-year-old man who comes in because he’s lonely or suggesting a new book to the child who’s obsessed with spies, I love being able to help people in a concrete way.

Sources: Librarians Jenny Arch in Arlington, Massachusetts; Brita Zitin in suburban Chicago, Illinois; Laura Lintz in Rochester, New York; Rita Meade in New York, New York; Nanci Milone Hill in Dracut, Massachusetts; a librarian in Florida; Pew Research Center; reddit.com

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest