“What does that mean exactly? What does a librarian do?”
This is the question that usually follows up “It’s a shame libraries are ending” or “I didn’t know you needed a degree to do that!” when I tell someone I want to work in libraries. Since I decided to pursue a career in library science my senior year of high school, I have learned various responses to these questions. As a freshman in college I smiled and nodded, as a sophomore I would try to explain collection services, as a junior I rolled my eyes with impatience. As a senior, now, I turn to the wonderful experiences I have had, especially during the past two semesters, to learn just how much librarians do (spoiler: it’s quite a lot)!
During this past year I have had great opportunities learn more about libraries and prepare for my future library career. In the Fall, I took part in the Centennial Library intern program with Shaune Young and Laura Ullom and I am now taking an independent study about academic libraries. The more I learn about the field (and all the variety within it), the more excited I am about advocating and informing people about library work. Here are just a few of the alternative job titles that fit snugly within the umbrella of librarian:
1. Librarians are market researchers.
Okay, so last semester I got to explore academic, public, and school libraries as part of my internship. Some of my favorite moments were visiting the Greene County Library in Cedarville, working at an elementary school library, and working with librarian Julie Deardorff in Collection Development. Each librarian had to understand their communities to know what activities to hold, what books to collect, how to organize their libraries. Greene County library had a large inspiration fiction section while the school library had adventure chapter books and science books about sharks. While working with Julie I learned how she constantly reassesses the Centennial Library collection, staying aware of what professors are asking for and getting to know their topics to anticipate the kinds of books she needs to order. She keeps lists of books ordered and checked out every day.
Librarians must stay informed about the needs of their community and make sure their collection reflects its interests. Librarians stay in touch with their communities, understanding what the people are reading and what else would be helpful to them. There are so many steps in assessing, developing, and processing the books before they even hit the shelves!
2. Librarians are teachers
During my independent study this semester, I had the opportunity to help librarian Joe Fox teach an instruction section to a freshman year speech class. Research librarians regularly teach sessions like these. The students learn not only the resources available to them at the library itself, but how to evaluate and find information. While anyone can operate Google, most people have no idea how to see if the source is credible or trustworthy. Librarians teach skills beyond how to use OneSearch, like how to develop skills that will help them stay informed and competent outside the library.
3. Librarians are mediators
Librarians organize information in a way that makes it easier to access. They are trained researchers who know how to find the answers to difficult questions, and then display them in a way that any person can understand. During my independent study, I got to work with Luann Nicholas in her department of OhioLINK and InterLibrary Loan. As library staff, she helps find articles and books to share with the other academic libraries in Ohio. I am helping create a research guide on the library website and seeing how to locate and organize different resources in a way that is appealing and attractive.
Librarians act as mediators and conduits from information to people, finding the best answers and allowing others to access it.
And those just scratch the surface, librarians are also preservers of history, researchers, storytellers, technology experts, and the role is changing and evolving all the time! There is a ton of complexity and nuance to the role of librarian and her place in society.
So next time you wonder what librarians are doing all day, maybe stop and ask yourself, “What don’t librarians do?”