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By Todd Wildermuth/Public Information Officer, City of Roswell
Each day that Tomás González takes his place at the reference desk of the Roswell Public Library he knows he will be dealing with lots of different people and a wide variety of information. His challenge is to help each person find the specific information he or she is looking for.
The needed information might be found within the resources of the library itself – from the books on the shelves to historical records on microfilm to online research opportunities – or it might be found through other sources such as local community organizations that focus on specific topics. Whatever the case may be, González, one of the library’s several reference librarians, takes great pleasure in “getting people the right information.”
It is not rare for a student to show up at the library after procrastinating on a high school or college paper that is now due the next day. Such library patrons often don’t know where to begin looking for what they need, and the information may not be that easy to find, but with González’ help, the right resources can usually be located, leading to “that satisfaction and the happiness that comes over that person,” notes González, who also enjoys each moment like that.
“It’s a good feeling,” he says, “just helping out other people.”
That could mean pointing the inquiring person to the right section in the library or maybe to a source outside the library. González explains researching is an important skill for him and other librarians so they can determine the best sources for different information and services local residents may seek.
Patience is another key part of the personality of a good librarian.
“Something that’s easy for you, like perhaps helping someone on the computer, is going to be a totally new experience for that person,” González says. “So just kind of having the patience to explain to that person, ‘This is the process,’ and not getting upset with them if they don’t know what’s going on or they have a lot of questions.”
González began working at the Roswell Public Library in August 2007, two years after graduating from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s degree in history. Returning home from Albuquerque following his college days, the Roswell native worked a variety of jobs before landing in his initial part-time position at the library. He became a full-time member of the library staff in 2015 after earning his master’s degree in library information science from the University of North Texas. Today, González is in charge of the library’s reference area, periodicals, large-print section and interlibrary loans, the latter being a program that allows the Roswell library to send out and receive books to and from other libraries nationwide to fulfill requests from library patrons in Roswell and elsewhere.
The Roswell library receives a lot of requests from other libraries wishing to borrow its books, a testament to the wide variety of titles and topics it maintains. González plays a key role in keeping the library’s collection at a high-quality level by constantly researching new books getting ready to be released and trying to predict their popularity among the public.
“It’s kind of a hit-or-miss sometimes as far as what’s going to be popular,” González says. “We don’t always get all of them, but we do a pretty good job as far as getting what’s going to be popular.”
One thing González has seen become very popular in the nearly 12 years he has worked at the Roswell library is the electronic services the library now offers. People can find information and entertainment options through ebooks and emagazines by accessing them on their computers, cell phones and other mobile devices without even coming into the library building in the 300 block of North Pennsylvania Avenue, on the outskirts of downtown Roswell.
González expects the growth of resource digitalization to continue, just one aspect that is further defining the library as “not just a place where you can get books, but more of a resource hub where you can come use your computer, use your scanner, use a meeting room.”
Roswell Public Library Director Enid Costley says González “has been and continues to be an important part of the services we provide to the community of Roswell even when those services have evolved. Traditionally, reference librarians locate and provide accurate information to those requesting assistance. With search engines increasing at people's fingertips and pockets, library reference staffs have sought a new service model. Rather than ask ‘What information do you need?’, reference staff now ask, ‘What problem are you trying to solve?’
“This service shift allows the reference staff to continue to provide accurate and valid information, but to also allow reference staff to take on other roles, such as an instructor to assist with technology, create informational webpages, provide suggestions as to the next book to read or audio book to listen to, as well as take on new services such as providing online books, graphic novels, magazines and audio book collections and informative programming.”
Even the atmosphere of a library is changing, González believes. He concedes library patrons should not be disturbing others, but adds people don’t have to be “completely silent.”
Then there is the very perception of how a librarian acts and the personality someone in that position would have. González is well aware of the librarian stereotype of “a quiet older person running around shushing people.” He quickly notes, “I don’t fit into that.”
González considers himself outgoing, a characteristic that can come in handy when dealing with the wide variety of people who make their way through the library on a daily basis. That range of people – and personalities – with so many different questions and a myriad of informational needs brings a challenge each day. So while some people may think a job in the library would be boring, González finds his work always has the potential to get “pretty exciting.”
“Every day is different, so you never know what’s going to come in,” he says, “what type of questions you’re going to get, what type of situations you might face for the day.”
In the end, González’ goal is always to do his best to help library patrons find what they need. He doesn’t claim to know it all, but he appreciates the trust people put in him to be able to help them find the right resources to help them accomplish what they need to do.
“They always come and say, ‘You’re the man with all the answers,’” González relates with a smile, “and I always say, ‘I pretend to be.’”