April 6, 2016

ALL IN A DAY’S WORK: Kristin Friberg, Readers’ Services Librarian

all in a days

“GET A LEG UP ON LIFE”: Kristin Friberg, librarian at Princeton Public Library, loves her job and recommends a visit to the library to take advantage of its collection and its many other valuable resources. (Photo by Donald Gilpin)

“To Listen, to Engage, to Grow” — Kristin Friberg, Readers’ Services Librarian

Kristin Friberg has been a librarian at Princeton Public Library (PPL) for the past 11 years. According to Brett Bonfield, executive director of the library, “Kristin is an extraordinary librarian, a wonderful colleague, and terrific asset to our community. She clearly loves her work, takes pride in her ability to help people enjoy this great library and its outstanding collection, and brings other significant talents to our workplace as well. She’s a skilled, funny, and poetic writer and editor who helps the library tell its story through its blog and via Instagram, and, though she rarely needs to make use of this talent, at least during her desk shifts, she has a marvelous singing voice. The more I get to know Kristin, the more grateful I am for the work she does in our community’s behalf.”

Kristin lives in Hopewell with her 12-year-old daughter. Here, in her own words, she talks about life as a PPL librarian.

Becoming a Librarian

I was in New Jersey denial for about seven years. I wanted to live in the city. I grew up in the Bronx. When I got out of college I lived and worked in the city, in book publishing, with a record company, in public relations, but eventually I found my way over the bridge. It was a toss-up between librarianship and law, but I don’t think my personality is a lawyer’s personality.

I worked in a library in high school and I thought there were two things I never wanted to be, a teacher or a librarian, because everybody I grew up with wanted to stay where they were and be a teacher or librarian, and I thought, I want to get out. I never realized that this would be so exciting and fun. Libraries are such an important place of discovery. There is so much self-education that happens at libraries.

When I was working in a library part-time in high school there was a career education section. I would sit there and read: “So you want to be a …” It opened my eyes to possibilities that I could be anything I wanted. My parents didn’t really enjoy their jobs, and I didn’t want that life, so I completely appreciate the library for having those books, those resources that really opened my eyes — to infinite possibilities — yeah!

It took a long time before I found my home, but I absolutely love it here, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I love the Princeton community and everything that goes on here, with opportunities in the arts and literature and the mix of bucolic scenery. Who knows who could pass through the doors — Tracy K. Smith, Paul Muldoon? There’s so much energy here.

No “Typical” Days

There isn’t a typical day here. We’re scheduled very tightly — several hours at the public service desk and several hours working on our own. I could be at the desk helping people with computer problems or helping them download books or answering questions for someone looking to start a business. We have a service called Librarian by Appointment, where we’ll set up an appointment with you one-on-one for an hour to go over whatever you want to find out about. It’s great. A man came in and wanted to find out how many businesses were located in an area where he wanted to start an IT business. I showed him our data base so he could pinpoint the names of his actual competitors. He could start from there and do the research he needs to do before he starts his business and goes out on a limb.

You have to have this skill set and be ready for any question that’s thrown at you — which is an enormous amount of fun. And on top of that, there’s reading. We have to be able to give suggestions. People come up to you and ask, “What’s a good book to read?” I have to be able to answer those kinds of questions on the spot. People come in with all kinds of questions.

I’m designing training for staff to make sure everybody is at a particular level of expertise to recommend books, and I also coordinate the adult book groups and lead a fiction group, as well as overseeing and writing for the library blog and leading the Instagram team. We are expected to do everything every day.

I just love walking in here and working in this community. A lot of people love this library. I hated the idea of graduating from college because I love learning. I love having a job where I have to be learning every single day.

I’m not particularly an expert in any subject, but I’m able to find the resources that you might need on any subject. I used to say, “I don’t have to know anything. I just have to be able to find things,” but I actually do know a lot, and I usually know what I need to know to help people.

Empowering People

People come in with questions, looking for information, sometimes about sensitive, personal topics, and it’s just such a great thing for us to be able to help people who are in difficult situations. People are so thankful for what might seem like the littlest thing to you.

I love to be able to empower people, and I love to do that without them knowing I’m doing it. I like to teach them how to get what they need for themselves.

Facing Frustrations

The most difficult thing is being able to get done all the things I’m trying to do. There always seems to be too much that needs to be done, but I guess that’s a good thing.

Another frustrating thing is people not knowing what librarians are supposed to do. There are people out there — away from this building — who don’t believe that libraries should be funded and they wonder what librarians do. It’s hard for us to be spokespersons for what we do because what we do is constantly evolving. We’re lucky here that PPL has been able to continue to evolve because we’ve had good leadership and good support from the community, but there are a lot of libraries out there that don’t have that leadership and support. It’s disheartening to see funding cut and libraries closing, because in our democracy the library is the place where people of all types can come and attend classes and just be together and get what they need.

Getting a Leg Up on Life

If you’re not coming to the library, you’re completely missing out! There’s so much that we offer for so many different people, so many programs that we do here: Princeton Environmental Film Festival; English conversation classes, which are tremendously popular; tax volunteers preparing taxes for free, Book It, an online personalized reading service; technology classes; thousands of video tutorials on anything you want to know; job search resources; consumer resources. This is such a great place for community and for people who might not necessarily need a book but need human connection. We serve so many different perspectives.

We’re always coming up with new things. It boils down to a lot of one-on-one teaching. We’re doing that every day with people who come up to the desk. The library is the one place where anyone can come to get a leg up on life.

The Joy of Book Groups

I had never even attended a book group before I was scheduled to lead one here. I had loved reading books and talking about books in my literature classes in school. I was the nerd who actually talks to the teacher. For the first session here, just one person showed up, but the next month more people came, and it’s a regular group now with between 19 and 24 people. And the best thing about it is that everybody who’s there is focused on the book. It has been a joy to learn how to facilitate these groups. I’ve learned to condition myself to really listen to people and to move the discussion ahead.

One of the members of the group said, “I just love this group. We don’t read fiction. We read friction. But the best thing is we keep coming back.” They go out to lunch after the meeting, and I go to lunch with them when I can. They’ve formed such bonds with each other, and they don’t all have to agree, which is the most wonderful part. People actually say, “I came in here thinking this one way about the book, but I walked out with a completely different opinion.” They are people who want to listen and want to engage and want to grow, so I love it.

Recommended Reading

• Described by the publisher as featuring a femme fatale who will keep you guessing until the last pages, L.S. Hilton’s Maestra has already been optioned by Columbia Pictures and looks like it will be a hit with fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

• Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is a hilarious modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Think The Bachelor meets the Bennetts. Sittenfeld also happens to be this year’s featured speaker at the April 27 Spring Book Lovers Luncheon sponsored by the Friends of Princeton Public Library.

• Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest is already building a holds list. While readers may not exactly like the four NYC-based Plumb siblings, they won’t wont to stop reading about this dysfunctional tribe and what has become of their soon-to-be-disbursed inheritance.