Sunday, December 16, 2007

Changing the Image of the Librarian

(Or, Why New Librarians are Valuable Besides Being Cheap to Employ)


SNOW DAY!! (Thurs., taken from skis)

I've had a couple of thoughts bouncing around my head this week, mainly on the idea of a librarian.

The OED says the word librarian ('keeper or custodian of a library') has been used since the 1700s, when it supplanted the word library-keeper. The word library is older, which makes sense because a library had to exist before it needed a person to maintain it. In any case, the idea of a librarian is fully imbedded in our culture at this point -- for better or worse:

-For better because everybody knows what a library is. In America most people grew up with libraries and have been aware of them if only on the periphery since grade school. Libraries are everywhere. They are part of our institutions. The librarian is an accepted role.

-For better because we have this word 'librarian' for someone in charge of organizing and maintaining all of the information essential to our jobs or classes or civic life.

-But for worse because everyone thinks they know what a library is, and so instead of thinking about what libraries and librarians could be, people think they already know.

-For worse because some people -- including some librarians -- still think that libraries and librarians are only about books sitting in a building.

And obviously libraries do not have to be just for books and/or quiet study of books. They can be the center of information for communities and schools and businesses. Librarians are not glued to their physical location and paper pages.

I know none of what I'm saying here about how information is changing is new, but I worry that the way people think they need librarians ISN'T changing.

What I'm trying to say is, although there's been a lot of introspection from within the profession, we as librarians need to be more actively changing the way people think of librarians. We need to understand how people interact with information and the systems they use better than they do. (This comes in addition to the traditional librarian skills and knowledge.)

Basically I want patrons to expect more from their librarians, and I want librarians to expect more from themselves. And it would be great if we could still call ourselves librarians. (-:

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