*Post written by Shelby Gillam, student assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.
It is far too often that people use the term “library” as a blanket term for any place where one rents their books for free. Libraries actually exist in varieties, and despite what people may think, they are quite different from each other. This is especially true in the distinction between public and academic libraries. They share many similarities such as the opportunity for individuals to rent books, movies, and access to the Internet. These two forms of library have qualities that separates them from each other.
I have had a unique opportunity with my four years of working experience. I have had the experience of working at both a public and an academic library. For a few months, I was actually working at both at the same time. During this time, I was shocked by how different the two libraries were from each other. There are obvious differences: Rice Library is far bigger than almost all of the local libraries and it has more floors. The public library where I previously worked did not have multiple floors and it did not have an archives section like USI. Because of its academic nature, Rice Library has more resources to give students the best experience as possible while conducting research. Contrastingly, public libraries are usually more entertainment-oriented. Although the public libraries do not contain as many resources, the amount of leisure materials such as DVD’s, fiction books, and CD’s far outnumbers those of the academic library.
The work environment in each library is unique. Work in a public library is aimed towards developing their employees’ customer service skills. Schedules are strictly adhered to with no alterations allowed. This gives students experience with the working world which they will soon encounter upon their graduation. The emphasis at the public library is on development of skills that will benefit the patrons. Employees are rigorously evaluated by qualities such as promptness, politeness, knowledge of databases, and work-ethic. The public library’s strong points lie in the upholding of quality customer service.
The academic library work environment places value in the components of positive interactions between information seekers and information providers; however, the emphasis is on learning. Issues such as promptness and work-ethic are important to the academic library, but education takes priority. Academic libraries value knowledge above all other things. As a student assistant at Rice Library, I have learned copious amounts on varying topics. This enhances my experience as an employee, but it enhances the experience of any person who comes to the academic library in search of information. Academic libraries genuinely enjoy providing knowledge, and attaining their own knowledge through the assistance of patrons. It is because of this that both the patron and the employee have equally enjoyable experiences at the academic library.