The Why Libraries? Blog

Thoughts about libraries.

What Do Librarians Do?

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While preparing to give an Introduction to Lbrary Services lesson to the sophomores in one of the schools I serve, I decided to pose the open-ended question, “What do librarians do?”  During the actual class sessions with three different groups of English Language Arts students, this of course opened me up to jokes about my key job responsibilities being not letting people in without a pass, kicking people out and shushing.  I had to agree with the students that all these things were manifestations of what I see as my job,  but where I disagreed was the idea that these were my primary responsibilities.

Luckily, I had prepared my flip charts in advance to answer the question as I see it, and during my short prep time, this is what I came up with:

A librarian’s job is to purchase, manage and furnish a collection of materials for a specific user population by… [I know, I know, I’m not thrilled with “furnish…for” either, but it was crunch time…]

1. acquiring the funds to purchase the information,

2.  surveying the user population,

3. studying how other successful libraries operate,

4. setting usage and borrowing policies,

5. educating the user population on  how to make the best use of the materials and equipment in the collection.

I left the educating part for last simply to make the point that coming into the library with their ELA teacher to participate in this discussion and learn about research projects was Number 5 in action.

These five broad bullet points cover much of the job, and now that I have more time to reflect and self-criticize, I see several omissions, which I’ll incorporate when I do this kind of lesson in the future.  These additional bullet points will be something to the effect of…

6. organize the materials to make them easy for users to access,

7. monitor user behavior to improve service and collections,

8. respond to users’ queries by providing answers and/or instructions on how to find answers,

9. provide advice and suggestions for further reading,

10.  provide users with knowledgeable information about the range of materials available to them, both hard-copy and online and their relative strengths and weaknesses.

While speaking about Number 4,  “setting usage and borrowing policies,” I quickly mentioned the idea that “usage” could mean “use of the library space,” hence the ejecting of difficult patrons, the shushing and so on.  Although I didn’t delve it into it during the lesson, due to lack of time, it occurred to me that “usage” might also refer to the use of the materials, or the use of equipment.  My policies in the last two areas could  include charging students replacement fees for lost books and locking computers down to avoid pornographic wallpapers.

Library services are  becoming more crucial in our current recession economy for two reasons.  First, a library-savvy public is making use of public libraries for career information as well to cut down on book, magazine and DVD consumption. Second, because the difficult economic times are forcing an ever increasing number of  formerly free Internet information providers to charge usage fees, which, in my opinion was inevitable.

The latter development means that users will have to choose their information acquisitions more wisely, while libraries will use their pooled resources to make purchases that everyone can share on an ad hoc basis.  This, in fact, resembles the earlier model; the model that existed before content providers foolishly decided to convince everyone that high quality information could be free to users, with all the costs covered solely by web advertising.

In reality, the costs associated with hiring the intellectual and creative talent required to produce truly valuable information products, be they online newspapers, e-zines or e-books will never be covered exclusively by advertising, just as the same paradigm holds for their equivalents in physical form.  Now more than ever, librarians have a crucial role to play in selecting the best and most appropriate for-pay sources for their users.

Ultimately, the objective of a school librarian is to help train students to understand what librarians do, what libraries offer and how best to take advantage of their services later in life.


Written by whyaretherelibraries

April 25, 2009 at 3:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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