Friday, July 13, 2012

Behind the Reference Desk (2)

Today I'm going to address what I think are the major misconceptions about librarians and what librarianship involves.  Many of these are issues I've seen crop up around the recent fuss between bloggers and librarians as well as misconceptions I've personally heard from friends, coworkers, students, even family members.

Librarians sit around and read all day and/or librarianship is a profession that involves lots of down time and quiet.  I wish.  I'd love to have a job where I'm paid to read all day, but unfortunately that's not the case.  I may be sitting in an open room behind a desk and I may be on the computer, but I'm not just checking my email or reading an online book.  I'm researching, writing, documenting, purchasing, cataloging, reporting, etc, etc.  And while I'm doing anything and everything that goes on behind the scenes (database management, collection development, creation of original materials, keeping detailed records), I'm on call.  I have to be ready to stop at a moment's notice to help the student or patron find the information they're looking for, make a copy, cite a source, use a computer (sometimes for the first time), explain how to use the internet, etc.  Librarians are the ultimate multi-taskers. 

The main job of a librarian is to promote books and reading.  Librarianship is not just about getting books in the hands of readers.  In a very few cases at very large public libraries, librarians are able to focus solely on Reader's Advisory, which involves helping readers find books.  And many reference librarians and public librarians do this as part of their job.  But the poing of librarianship is not just to promote books for authors and publishers.  Librarianship is about teaching people how to find the information they are looking for.  It's about teaching others to think critically, to evaluate sources, to know how to find information (sometimes in books) for themselves.  In academic librarianship, especially, the focus isn't on connecting a reader with a book for pleasure, it's about teaching an upcoming generation of educated individuals who can think critically, find the information they need, and evaluate that information on their own.  Check out ALA's information literacy standards to see what we're really focused on, especially in academia. 

Librarians are people who love books so much they've decided to make them their job.  I'm not saying this isn't somewhat true.  I love books and I love that I get to keep up with the latest in the industry, but loving books isn't one of my job qualifications.  Nowhere in my lengthy job description is a love for books mentioned.  What IS required is a post-graduate education from an ALA accredited school, extensive technical skills and knowledge, and demonstrated management ability.  And that's just at my job.  Many librarians have multiple post-graduate degrees, specialized certifications, teaching experience, and multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals.  Basically, what I'm saying is, librarians didn't just walk into a hiring library and say "I love books, hire me!"  Librarians made a choice about their career and spent lots of time and money pursuing an education in that profession.  They've put hours into training, writing, studying, and working hard to reach their position, just like a doctor, lawyer, or professor. 

Most librarians work at public libraries.  There are many, many specialized fields within librarianship that librarians can choose to focus on.  In addition to public libraries, there are also academic libraries, research libraries, hospital libraries, law libraries, corporate libraries, and museum libraries.  People who get degrees in librarianship can also choose to go branch out into archival (government, academic, museum, etc), digitalization, teaching, and reseach.  Because most people only interact with public librarians, they don't seem to realize that there are librarians archiving museum collections, working with scientists in research labs, and digitizing the vast collections of materials (books, research, journals, pictures, government records, etc) that you can find on the internet. 

These aren't the only misconceptions, but I think I'm verging on text overload for this post.  I may address some others later, but these are the main things I think the general public (and many bloggers) don't understand about librarianship.


  1. Question for you...

    I am a HUGE reader and my dream job (& favorite place to be) is to work in a library. While I know working in a library consists of everything you mention (& probably tons more), I have to think workign with around books has to be nice.

    So my question... the community college by me doesn't offer Library Sciences. I have an AA in Public Admin & my goal was get my four year degree in Library Sciences but I can't afford to drive 2 hours to the nearest college that offers that degree, so do you think it is possible to get your foot in the door of a library without a specialized degree?

    My local library recently was hiring a part time position for a librarian assistant. I thought that was the opportunity I was hoping for and I was willing to take the pay cut but part time equals no benefits & home girl needs insurance. :(

    You are a lucky duck to be surrended by books. :)

    1. Hey Rella! First of all, I want to encourage you that getting your foot in the door at a library is absolutely possible without a library science degree. I started with my current employer as a Library Assistant without a degree. You can definitely get a job working in a library without the degree - but it might not be easy.

      Librarianship is a difficult field to be in right now. There aren't a lot of jobs available and there are a LOT of people graduating from library school. It's also a field that people tend to stick with as a career, which means if you live in a small town you might get stuck for years waiting for someone to retire. It's not impossible, but it is something to consider before investing the time and money into getting a graduate degree.

      Another thing you may want to consider is looking into online programs. I got my degree from an ALA-accredited online program at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. It was an excellent program and I feel like I learned just as much online as I would have in person. But it is VERY important to make sure you're not only attending an ALA-accredited program, but a highly-rated program.

      Let me know if you have any more questions! I'm happy to answer!

  2. Wow, I'm so glad to know all this information and wish more people realized this! Definitely makes me realize how serious the job really is. I remember when I first learned that you had to have a master's in library science I was surprised but that's because no one really realizes what all it entails! And I also didn't realize library sciences also had peer reviewed journals.

    1. Thanks Jenny! I'm glad you're enjoying reading about it all!

  3. Love this post! I'm graduating with my MLS in 10 months!! I am halfway done, woohoo! I also am going to Clarion online (I saw that you did in your above comment). :)