The Modern Librarian Does More Than You Think
The modern librarian does more for their libraries and patrons than reading books and restocking shelves. Librarians are qualified, educated professionals encompassing a wide variety of skills and an even wider variety of roles — many often don’t work with books at all! But yet to many, a stereotype about librarians persists. A plainly-dressed clerk, likely with glasses. They’re carrying a stack of books somewhere, perhaps restocking a shelf. If approached, they may tell you where to find something, or perhaps look up a title in the computer before heading off once again into the labyrinth of shelves or back behind the mighty fortress of the desk. If you make too much noise, they’ll get cranky.
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To many, this image or one similar to it might come to mind when considering what exactly a librarian is and what they do. It is a stereotype reinforced by countless books and films, where they often serve the role of background characters meant to literally deliver exposition or to usher a comically loud shush in the direction of an excitable protagonist. And while, yes, it is true that librarians are often returning books to shelves or helping patrons navigate their databases, and they really would prefer if you kept your voice down, there is so much more to the role librarians play and the work they perform than cultural stereotypes care to communicate.
So what, then, does a modern librarian do? The answer is quite a lot! In the US, a librarian begins their journey most often with a master’s level degree accredited by the American Library Association. This education prepares them with a holistic knowledge base that can include general topics such as education, information technology, and critical writing as well as library-specific topics such as library management, collection development, and community outreach and engagement.
Putting all of this together, librarians finish their education with a well-rounded skill set that goes beyond simply stacking books on shelves or describing the Dewey decimal system. A modern librarian is equipped to manage the thousands of items in a library’s collection, analyze and interpret user data to develop a library’s catalog to best serve the needs of its patrons, and handle the complicated web of connections libraries have with businesses, suppliers, local organizations, and other libraries in their network.
The role of the library has evolved alongside society and technology, ever seeking to meet the needs of patrons. Libraries nowadays stand not only as a collection of books on shelves but as an access point and advocate for equality in information. In Arianna Rebolini’s article “Here’s What It’s Actually Like To Be a Librarian”, a librarian by the name of Caroline states: “I haven’t touched a book in the context of my job in more than a year. I don’t buy books, I don’t classify them, I don’t even think about them. Librarians aren’t only about books: We’re about the democratization of information. It’s about helping people find what they’re looking for, no matter the shape it takes. It’s about training them to become autonomous in their research.”
Other librarians are out there being career counselors, fact-checkers, storytellers, and teachers. They are event organizers, setting up community events such as art shows, movie nights, comic conventions, and more. Librarians will help you navigate the oftentimes confusing mess of local government, learning how to study for that important license or file that important document when you just can’t figure out the mess of conflicting forms and buried instructions on your own. Librarians will reach out and engage with their communities, giving underprivileged patrons access to education and information which would normally be beyond their reach. From developing literacy and language skills to helping find access to food and even contacting rehabilitation programs, librarians of today stand proud as paragons of their communities.
With a dedication to truth and access in information running through the entire profession, librarians across the field from those serving communities in public libraries to those aiding students and academics in academic libraries and those guiding youth toward inquisitive and critical mindsets in school libraries, a librarian is always ready to help you check the facts, find the sources, verify the info, and leave with the knowledge and skills to continue successfully exploring information on your own. And if they don’t have the answer on hand, they’ll happily reach out across their networks to find it for you.
So next time you imagine a librarian, don’t just go straight to the stereotype of a stuffy book matron or a stodgy old professor — consider the roles librarians play across all aspects of their institutions, the various walks of life that lead to obtaining the skills and education necessary to serve your information needs, the fact that, yes, outside of their jobs they are just like you. Librarians come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, and yes, some do work directly with books, but so many also work with people and communities face-to-face or manage complicated collections and communications behind the scenes.
If you’re rebuffed by a search engine, confused by red tape, stuck on your term paper, or simply need a helping hand and you’re not sure who to turn to first, consider your local librarian, and don’t be surprised if they’re younger than you’d think. With the education and experience to back it up, they’ll help you learn how to solve your problem or at the very least, point you in the right direction. And yes, if you need something good to read or watch, they’ll be glad to help you find that too. Who doesn’t love a good book?