Library Assistant's Manual - A Retrospective

Sometimes it's a good idea to look back and see where we have been to know how we have gotten to this point and find additional insight into where we are going.

The Paris Review recently ran a post about a Library Assistant's Manual issued on the occasion of the 61st annual meeting of the Michigan State Teachers’ Association, Ann Arbor, October 30–November 1, 1913.

The Manual includes a portion on the qualities necessary to be a library assistant. "Qualities that unfit one for library work in general are physical weakness, deformity, poor memory, a discontented disposition, egotism, a lack of system in one’s method of work, and inability or unwillingness to take responsibilities, a tendency to theorize, criticize, or gossip, inability to mind one’s own business, fussiness, and long-windedness."

As I see it, many of these qualities unfit for library work still ring true. The Manual goes on to list questions to ask an aspiring library assistant:

Has she tact?
Has she enthusiasm?
Has she method and system?
Is she punctual?
Is she neat?
Is she kind?
Is she a good disciplinarian?
Is she sympathetic?
Is she quick?
Is she willing to wear rubber heels?
Is she a good worker?
Is she accurate?
Has she a pleasing personality?
Has she a sense of responsibility?
Is she patient?
Is she courteous?
Has she self control?
Is she cheerful?
Has she a knowledge of books?
Are her vibrations pleasant?
Has she executive ability?
Can she speak French, German, Spanish, Italian, Yiddish?
Has she social qualifications?
Can she keep a petty cash account?
What are her faults?

Notice the sexist language. Librarians are still seen as pink collar so not much has changed to that end since 1913. A lot of these qualities are still good qualities to have in the library-service profession. Although, I'm not sure what they mean by "vibrations." In my view, the necessity of speaking French and German has diminished, while the ability to speak Spanish has increased to facilitate the library use of a larger Spanish-speaking population.

While the field of librarianship has changed dramatically since 1913, the characteristics necessary to work in a library remain largely the same when taken in context.


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