What Exactly Does a Librarian Do?
The librarians that many of us actually encounter in our lives are vastly different from pop culture portrayals. They range from young to old and have wide ranges of skills and interests. While it is true that a majority of librarians are female, very few fit the bill of being grumpy old ladies. Librarians are incredibly useful and come in handy during times when we are feeling especially curious. Their diverse backgrounds make them experts of many subjects and capable of becoming experts in any subject. They connect their communities with important resources and build relationships- their jobs are more focused on working with people than with books.
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Many Different Kinds of Librarians
There are many pathways librarians can take and they range from working in the local public library to being part of the research department in specialized law, medical or government libraries. Most commonly we see librarians in these three settings: public libraries, school libraries, and academic libraries. While some tasks are similar across the three roles, the days that librarians in each setting experience can be completely different. This comes from the differences in the patrons that these librarians work in-obviously, a university student needs different resources, expertise, and guidance than, say, a career-changer in their 40s or a kindergartner trying to prepare for grade school.
Public librarians are what many of us will come across often and throughout the span of our whole lives. There are over 16,000 public libraries in the United States alone. Most counties house multiple library buildings and branches across large cities add up quickly. This type of access is what librarians hope for their communities. Libraries can be safe havens for many, from those who are struggling to get by to those that are just looking to deep dive into interesting topics. Public librarians are there to serve the community in a variety of capacities. They contribute to research projects from those that local students are working on to large scale organizational or governmental projects. They curate book suggestions for those looking to incorporate reading into their daily schedules. They also work extensively with library programming and help with storytimes, educational presentations, or community events.
School librarians are specially trained to work with primary and secondary students. Also known as “school media specialists”, these librarians ensure that elementary, middle, and high school students are able to effectively use library resources to aid in their studies and their interests.
Another major role that school librarians play involves collaborating with teachers in creating lesson plans. School librarians are especially helpful in introducing new technology into teaching strategies and helping teachers find good material to include in classroom instruction.
Academic librarians focus specifically on students and faculty at a college or university level. This differs from the roles of school librarians because, while academic librarians also want to show people how to effectively use library resources, it is usually geared towards research. These librarians manage large databases, archives, and published works by academics at their own institutions and around the world. Many campuses will have multiple libraries which are each being used for specific purposes such as a designated research library, an art library, or a maps archive.
Librarians in Other Kinds of Libraries
“Special library” librarians work specifically with information that their organization houses. For example, a law librarian helps lawyers, judges, or law students. Medical librarian will work specifically with health-related professionals such as doctors, research scientists, or medical students. These librarians work on collecting information that pertains to the subject of interest and, oftentimes, they also need to hold a degree in the subject they work with.
Different Tasks in Different Environments
There are plenty of articles that detail the day in the life of a librarian. Just check out Oleg Kagan’s Day in the Life: Reference Librarian at a Public Library or Abby Hargreaves A Day In the Life of a Public Librarian for a glimpse at what a librarian’s schedule may look like throughout their workday. One thing that is certain from these articles is that a librarian’s job varies significantly depending on where they are working and who they are working with. Managing students gives a school librarian different duties and responsibilities throughout the day than a public librarian managing a central library location that has multiple events throughout the day and different age groups and demographics coming in at various times.
Reference Desk Duties
Reference desk duties are a common responsibility of librarians. This involves manning the information or help desk situated in a visible library location. Whether they are an academic librarian waiting to assist students or a public librarian ready to tackle the next project, the reference desk is a place they will find themselves at during some point of their day.
Those manning the desk need to be ready to answer any and all questions. Some can be as simple as whether or not a specific computer program is available for use at the libraries. Many people approach reference desks for help with research topics or assistance with finding books or technology.
Others are as bizarre and interesting as they come. A few fun stories brought up by various librarians in this BuzzFeed article, Here’s What It’s Actually Like To Be a Librarian, include a patron coming in questioning whether a bone was human or not, a man who got children’s book ideas from his pet lizard he kept under his hat, and middle school students screaming about horses.
Community enrichment is also a major part of the work a librarian does. School, academic, and public libraries are busy places with hordes of students coming in and out to learn and study, patrons trying to job search or learn programming skills, and children running around before storytimes and crafting, many librarians have a full plate no matter the setting they are working in.
These events and programming are planned especially for the needs of the community they serve. A librarian may be hosting a traveling author talk, facilitating brown bag discussions on social issues and related books, or walking job hunters through the resume writing process. Librarians are always collaborating with each other, with community organizations or with national groups to put together ideas that they know will benefit the community.
Beyond working with patrons and the community to make knowledge accessible, librarians usually always have their hands in a few additional projects that are not only of interest to them but, always, lead to benefiting the community.
One librarian’s work pertained to fine elimination in the library system, making the library more accessible to those that need it. Fines can be a major deterrent to those needing to use library services, especially if they are from lower income backgrounds. Removing this extra barrier takes the fear away from those who need or want to access books and the library’s resources.
Another librarian worked to ensure kids in the community wouldn’t go hungry in the summer months when schools are closed. This initiative helped tackle and resolve the problem that parents face from not being able to afford to feed their children or from living in food deserts. In addition to a balanced meal, they also provided students with fun activities, movies, and music sessions. This kept children in interactive and engaging environments even when they were away from school.
BuzzFeed new reporter, Arianna Rebolini, amassed thousands of survey responses from librarians in the United States asking about their experiences and interesting projects- the result was an insightful look into the world of librarians. Check out her article for more innovative projects that librarians have been a part of.
With diverse environments, also comes diverse and miscellaneous activities that librarians will get pulled into doing. You can find librarians training new volunteers, providing book recommendations or “readers advisory” services, tidying up, engaging with patrons and the community on social media…this list goes on!
A large misconception about librarians is that they spend their days reading or shelving and have long periods of time where they are sitting and waiting for the next thing to do. This is the opposite of what actually happens. Librarians are usually in the middle of multiple tasks at once and have many things to fit into the short hours of the day. There is rarely a time for uninterrupted silence in a librarian’s line of work.
A Job with a Purpose
There are a lot of stereotypes surrounding librarians. After countless depictions of the older librarian with glasses demanding that library visitors remain quiet, you begin to wonder where these outdated scenes and ideas came from. Some people could be fooled into believing that the role of librarians is to read, organize books, and make sure everyone stays silent during library hours.
At the end of the day, what librarians do is all about assisting others and assisting the community. Many gravitate towards this field because they have interests and passions in a little bit of everything from being curious learners and book lovers themselves to being individuals who have a love for helping others develop their interests. Librarians are fueled by a passion and drive for serving others regardless of background and this enthusiasm is apparent in the tasks that librarians emerge themselves in. While some stumbled into this career and others were inspired from a young age, it is no secret that many stuck with it because of their love for knowledge and people.