Like substitute teachers… in a library

This article by Nancy Bent and Meg Macleish was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on February 17, 2019.

In this month's Arizona Daily Star column, Nancy Bent and Meg Macleish share the joys of substitute librarianship.

Substitute librarians are a lot like substitute teachers—we fill vacancies at individual libraries on an “as needed” basis when full-time staff are not available. In a system as large as Pima County’s there are almost always times when libraries are short of personnel, and we subs come riding to the rescue. We are responsible for virtually all the same duties as full-time staff, namely to meet our customers’ needs.

With new technology and ever-growing resources, substitute librarians working even in the smallest library can answer our customers’ toughest questions.  Recently, Meg received a question—how many firefighters were working the Ferguson Fire and how current is the statistic? Within 5 minutes, Meg found credible sources and returned the customer’s call. The customer was grateful. She had a son on the fire lines and was worried for his safety. It may have been a small and brief interaction, but Meg was pleased to have found what this small-town customer was looking for.

Since substitutes work at lots of libraries, we get to meet different people, both staff and customers. We get to know how each individual neighborhood and its library work together. What materials are popular?  Which have heavy use of public computers?  Which neighborhood has active reading groups?  And finally, how can we help meet customers’ needs?  Each library teaches us different ways of doing things that make that location special, and successful. It’s truly an eye-opening experience.

We love answering questions, assisting with job searches, watching happy children during Storytime, seeing the wealth of knowledge on the shelves, and finally, we love books!  We love talking about them, helping people find them, suggesting the right order to read them in, discussing them, and learning about new books and authors from our customers. 

So, the next time you are in one of Pima County’s 26 libraries don’t be surprised if you note a face you haven’t seen before.  It’s probably one of us substitute librarians! Just like the folks you see every day at your local library, we’re here to help you… so come on over and say hi!


Meg Macleish has worked at Pima County Public Library since 1989 and, in retirement, works as a Substitute Librarian. Nancy Bent previously worked as a zoo librarian and a public librarian in Illinois. She has been a Substitute Librarian at Pima County Public Library since 2013.