I remember when i was in library school and (as i think i might have mentioned before) everyone wanted to be a reference librarian (well not everyone, obviously) and i guess that doesn't always mean in a public library but i DEFINITELY DID NOT want to be a Public Reference Librarian, i already knew what that was like:
by Chip Ward"Welcome to the Salt Lake City Public Library. Like every urban library in the nation, the City Library, as it is called, is a de facto daytime shelter for the city's 'homeless.'"***Although the public may not have caught on, ask any urban library administrator in the nation where the chronically homeless go during the day and he or she will tell you about the struggles of America's public librarians to cope with their unwanted and unappreciated role as the daytime guardians of the down and out. In our public libraries, the outcasts are inside.***Serious respiratory problems among the chronically homeless in a shelter are as common as beer guts at a racetrack. If an epidemic strikes, the susceptibility of the homeless will translate into an increased risk of exposure for the rest of us and, eerily enough, our public libraries could become Ground Zeroes for the spread of killer flu. Librarians are reluctant to make plans for handling such scenarios because we do not want to convey the message that America's libraries are anything but the safe and welcoming environments they remain today.
But here's the thing: It's not just about libraries. The chronically homeless share bus stops, subways, park benches, handrails, restrooms, drinking fountains, and fast-food booths with us or with others we encounter daily, who also share the air we breathe and the surfaces we touch. When sick or drunk, they vomit in public restrooms (if we are lucky). Having a population that is at once vulnerable to disease and able to spread microbes widely to others is simply foolish -- and unnecessary -- public policy, but in the library we focus on more immediate risks. We offer our staff hepatitis vaccinations and free tuberculosis checks. We place sanitizing gels and latex gloves at every public desk. Who would guess that working in a library could be a hazardous occupation?
This was the library i had worked at as both a volunteer and a shelver before i went to library school (although that was years and years ago before the internet and before they built the big new shiny library but it was still where the homeless hung out because it was the only place they could go.) As i said, i think experience with the public is crucial before library school~there is only so much that can be taught~i was amazed at how many of my fellow students lacked "real-world" experience~tho my school was very good at offering practicums, internships, etc. If you have never worked with the public i can imagine how shocking it would be (and then there's me who knew i was not that fond of the public~there's some old commercial with people going on about how they were "people-persons" and i would always think "I am so NOT a people-person"~somewhat ironic then that i have spent most of my adult life with the public and mostly enjoying it, eh?)
Anyway, beyond that, even if you have worked with the public, The Public Library is a whole other world unto itself and experience there before you decide that's what you want is a Good idea.