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Library assistants assist head librarians, research assistants, and other library staff in organizing materials and helping the public find the information they need. They may work in the check out area, scanning books in and out of the library. They also may work in the shelves, pushing carts of returned and misshelved books and other material around and putting items back into their proper place. They may specialize in electronic media, helping to organize CD-ROMs, microfiches, DVDs, and other materials and make them accessible to library patrons. They also manage and update electronic databases and library Web sites.
Much of library assistants' work will depend on the type of institution in which they are employed. In a large public library, they might work in a variety of areas or be staffed in one area such as circulation or the children's library. In a research or medical library, assistants need to be knowledgeable about the specific material kept in the institution and more importantly, how to find it. Assistants might also be mobile, working in outreach libraries or bookmobiles, helping to bring resources to remote areas and communities.
In addition to checking materials in and out of the library, assistants also prepare and repair books so that they are suitable for lending. They may affix card pockets and barcodes to materials and also place protective book covers—usually made of a thin, but durable plastic—on all books and periodicals. Compact discs, records, and other irregularly sized items must also be prepared for the shelves and protected from the wear and tear that comes with constant handling.
Assistants that work in circulation stamp due dates on materials and collect fines for overdue items. They scan the patron's library card to make sure no items are overdue and then assign new materials to the card. Most modern libraries have computer systems that track due dates of books and help library assistants locate individuals who have past due items. Library assistants mail or e-mail notices to people who rack up large fines and collect smaller fines from patrons in person. These financial duties are crucial to helping the library remain financially sound and able to invest in more books and care for those already in the collection.
Some library assistants known as braille-and-talking-books clerks help those who are blind or visually impaired use library resources. They locate large-type or braille volumes and books on tape and give or mail them to the borrower.
All library assistants report to head and departmental librarians. All tasks are delegated to the assistants by these supervisors.