This is the first post in my series "Library Team Task Force", a description of roles performed by librarians (sometimes the same one!) so that we might come to a better understanding of what our colleagues do and so students might have more realistic ways to potentially decide which track to focus on. I hope you enjoy them!
The quintessential librarian is somehow audibly linked with the noise of a scanner (or a stamp, for those of us who remember card catalogs). Those noises come from circulation. The time-honored function of a librarian, allowing patrons to borrow books for a set period of time, seemed like a good place to start because most people, librarian or not, have a basic understanding of what a circulation librarian does in the average day.
But aside from checking out books, the circulation librarian is the one who processes late fees, overdue notices, and makes sure they're sent out in a timely manner. This means they're also the ones dealing with upset/angry patrons who find out they can't borrow a material indefinitely, or that missing pages are in fact the responsibility of the borrower when it's the borrower's child who tore them out. Or that waiving fines because someone "forgot" is an unacceptable reason.
I think, as far as abuse goes, it's split pretty evenly between reference and circulation librarians. You need a thick skin to deal with frustrated patrons, and the patience to try and help them work through whatever their problem is, regardless of cause or fault. You have to be willing to be the bad guy, too, telling parents they don't have a right to their 8-year-old's library records because their child is protected by the First Amendment, or defending some material selection because you're the convenient person to whom venting outrage is easy.
It's fun helping people find materials; similar to a guessing game, you find out what they like to read and then make suggestions based on that, or point them toward a previously-unconsidered genre. It's not fun dealing with those same people when they're frustrated and having to be sympathetic, because as librarians we can forget that it's not always as easy for our patrons and that our systems don't always make sense to anyone but us.
Like being on the front lines? Consider circulation.