Monday, May 28, 2007

What Makes a Librarian?

Every one has a "trigger" for reflection in his or her career. Mine came relatively recently when I was confronted with an interesting commentary made by a young bookshelver at work. It was during a break when we were sitting around and talking about the library. The library is currently hiring new reference clerks to do both circulation and reference. My friend curiously questioned the purpose of having librarians when the work was seemingly so easy. He said something to the extent of:
Why have [librarians]? Anyone can do searching on Google. And anyone can point out which area the books belong to...

To a certain extent, he's right. I'm glad I had heard this comment. There are many who echo his sentiments. And in many ways, it should force us in the profession to reflect on what we actually do. Why are librarians important? Why is it necessary for professional training? Why should we be compensated well for what we do? Here are my reasons:

(1) Management - Not just staff, but also the collections, the buildings, the budget, openings and closings, conflict resolutions, and just about anything else related to the running of a library. There's a lot of responsibility involved, and the higher up one is, the greater the pressure. If not done properly, your position is on the line, and the library's as well.

(2) Knowledge -
Effective reference work means effective retrieval and searching skills. That means having a deep understanding of precision/recall, different commercial databases, boolean searching, reference titles, good memory, insatiable curiosity. Above all, it means intelligence. You can't be an effective librarian without a broad knowledge background, and that is why librarians need at least six years of education and a master's in order to be a librarian. All librarians are well-read, intellectual, and extremely creative; there's a reason it's a graduate programme.

(3) Bibliographic Control - Librarians may not all be cataloguers, but at the end of the day, effective searching means a solid understanding of MARC records and controlled vocabularies. Regardless of which kind of library, librarians need to have a good grasp of vocabulary in order to do competent searching on databases and search engines.

(4) Information Technology - Librarians have always been underestimated in their technological savvy. But I am always surprised at just how much of it is required in their work, and most librarians if not all do an excellent job despite the lack of formal training. Librarians have always been ahead of the game in technology, first with huge computers, then OPACs, then then databases, then finally the Internet. Now with Web 2.0, librarians are once again at the forefront with integrating blogs, wikis, and social software into their work.

(5) Teaching - I am forever amazed at the amount of teaching that librarians perform in their work. Yet, much of this teaching is unrecognized and underappeciated. Librarians teach a lot: from using a mouse, to writing resumes, to using Web 2.0 tools. Much of the time, librarians are not even formally trained with the pedagogical theories; they teach well based on their intuitive intelligence and passion for their work. So with that said, librarians deserve a pat on the back. Bravo to you all!

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