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.