Are You a Librarian for Life?

When I graduated, our commencement speaker told us that the MLIS meant that we could always consider ourselves librarians, no matter what job we ended up doing.  “Fantastic!”  I thought to myself.  “I’m in!”  Even though all I had was a part time LA job, I was now part of this club I’d been working so hard to join.

It’s a comforting thought, that we are all librarians, particularly for the under-employed, or for those facing a not-so-anticipated move to a non-library “information” job.  There’s a lot of librarians being minted, and we all suspect (know) that the murky pool of librarian jobs is shrinking.  There’s this corresponding push to get library students interested in “non-traditional” information careers .  Some people are fully interested in those careers, and fair play to those “information professionals.” But to me this kinda feels like a bait-and-switch. I’ve had second thoughts about posting this, because I don’t want to be a jerk to the under-, un- or other-employed librarians.


My degree didn’t make me a librarian.   Working as a librarian made me a librarian.

Helping patrons makes me a librarian.  Trying to meet the multiple and often conflicting needs of both awesome and horrible people, fairly and with enthusiasm, makes me a librarian.  Assisting people who are shockingly digitally illiterate makes me a librarian.  Making and advocating for practices that balance ease of access with the need to safeguard library resources makes me a librarian.  Running programs by and for my community makes me a librarian. Making booklists that I’m not sure anyone will ever read makes me a librarian. Endless discussions and instructions about exactly where to place stickers, labels and stamps makes me a librarian.  Throwing away moldy books makes me a librarian.  Designing flyers despite being graphically challenged makes me a librarian.

Being a librarian is awesome.  I wasn’t one until I was one. I just didn’t understand.

I think this may be a general truism, at least for public librarians.

Public librarians don’t have a strong tradition of scholarly discourse.  Public librarians in general don’t publish as much as academic librarians, and those who do have often moved out of actual libraries and into teaching.  Additionally, the pace of scholarship means that by the time of publication, the practices being written about aren’t necessarily current.  There is no shortage of public library “experts,” but you have to look carefully to see where that expertise came from. Often their practical understanding is non-existent or decades old.  Even working public library administrators can be dreadfully out of touch with what actually happens on the library floor. The closest representation of public library work is found in more informal mediums – blogs, trade publications and listservs.  But those are hampered by concerns about professionalism and reputation.  It’s hard to write straight talk when it could cause your career to blow up in your face.. The picture of what it’s like to be a public librarian – what we need, what we do, and where we should go – is muddy. Our body of literature and our experts on public libraries do not always stand on a foundation formed by reality.

Reading books doesn’t make you a librarian.

Bedbril Glasses for reading in bed

One response

  1. I have never worked as a public librarian, always as a librarian or staffer in libraries, but never in a public library. I have worked at colleges, non-profits and in government. I have been most surprised by just how different what I do and have done is from the public sphere. It makes attending conferences like ALA fascinating to me, because the presentations are all so foreign to me. And it also excites me because even being a librarian is vastly different sector to sector, yet we can learn and do learn so much form each other.

    Thanks for sharing!

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