Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What’s it like to be a…Librarian?

My job title is:  Instruction Librarian
My actual position is:  Reference librarian and coordinator of instruction

What does a normal day look like? Is it consistent throughout the year? If you’ve had this position for a while, how have things changed?
We have pretty standard work hours (8-5) year-round, although all ten librarians take turns working evening and Saturday shifts.  We are busiest during the academic year; it is very quiet in the library during the summer, but I am usually involved with larger, more time-consuming projects.  In addition to regular shifts at the reference desk (about 6-8 hours a week), my primary responsibilities are teaching English 101 research sessions and the administrative tasks involved with coordinating all the instruction the library provides on campus (workshops, lunch sessions, etc).  Another area of responsibility is collection development; the faculty members choose most of the books and individual journal titles for the library, but the librarians select the research databases and reference materials. And we also “fill in the gaps” for the book collection in our assigned subject areas.  I spend quite a bit of time in meetings as well: we average about two internal staff and/or librarian meetings a week, which take about 5 hours total, and I also have periodic meetings with other campus committees. 

What other, if any, positions have you held prior to your current job? How did you get to where you are now?
Before I went back to graduate school to become a librarian, I taught college-level English for 4.5 years.  After undergrad, I had gone to graduate school for English and decided not to pursue the PhD (left with my master’s). This is my first position as a professional librarian. 

What kind of training/education did you have? What would you suggest? What qualifications/skills/attributes make someone successful in this position?
I have my master’s in English, which is a plus for academic librarianship (some college and most university libraries require a second master’s degree for their subject specialists).  I also have a master’s in “Information” (specialization in Library and Information Services).  I did not have any library work experience before I went back to school, but while there I did about 4-5 short-term internships (at different types of libraries) and also worked at the university graduate library.  This work experience is invaluable and can be especially important now in today’s tight job market.  I think the needed skills and attributes are pretty obvious: organization, analytical, and presentation skills (if going into academic libraries, should be comfortable with teaching), and a strong service ethic.  There are a lot of different types of libraries; the most typical are public and academic, but people don’t usually think of newspaper libraries, law libraries, corporate libraries, government libraries, or even archives.  However, librarians of all types love research, feel very strongly about information access, and want to help people.

What are the rewards in your position? Challenges? What makes a good day for you?
I love the puzzles of research and following the clues to find information.  I also enjoy helping people gain insight into how the library and our resources work.  A great day involves helping find resources for someone who, before we talked, felt like they were completely lost or like there was nothing available on their topic.  An ongoing challenge is thinking about how to convince students that the library is still relevant for them, even in today’s world of Google.

What trends or changes do you foresee in the next 5-10 years?
Electronic books and e-book readers will become more prevalent, so libraries and colleges (students and faculty) will need to adapt to that type of format.  The question of the role of the physical library will continue to be critical, as more and more materials become freely available online; if the library is not where people go to find books, what will draw people to libraries (social, study, special events)?

How could a person find out more about your field?

Talk to a librarian or two from different types of libraries.  I did this before going back to school and found it very helpful to get first-hand perspectives.  You could also read “American Libraries,” the monthly magazine of the American Library Association (although this is geared mostly toward public libraries). 

Can you suggest any careers which are similar to yours?
Human-computer interaction (people who design search engines and/or study web usability)
K-12 school media/libraries

When you were growing up, did you have any interests that you have built into your work?
I have always loved to read, of course, but more importantly, I am a very curious person and love to learn new things.

What obstacles have you overcome to get to where you are today?
I think I was put off for a while by the stereotypes about librarians, especially for women.  But there is now a young, “hip” generation of librarians who challenge these stereotypes every day; see the recent PR campaign for the Chicago Public Library or the NY Times article about “geeky chic” librarians.  I would not let the stereotypes turn anyone away if you’re potentially interested in librarianship; however, you may still have to explain that your job is more than shushing people or reading books! 

Posted by Bonnie Speyers on 02/17 at 09:45 AM

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