What do you know about your librarian, really?

library action figures. what librarians do

Library action figure with real shushing motion. Modeled on a respected librarian with a good sense of humor!

Librarians have a different reputation than they used to. Is it any better? Let’s see.

Do you remember, in It’s a Wonderful Life, what would have become of George Bailey’s wife if he had never existed?

Clarence the angel shows him she would never have married. She would have become an old maid. A librarian.

What about The Music Man? When we first meet Marian the Librarian, she has no friends.

And why should she? She’s full of book learning. She considers herself superior to townspeople who don’t come to the library. And she’s not very nice to people who don’t behave properly in the library when they do.

Ah yes. The stuffy spinster with a bun telling everyone to be quiet. That’s not the image anymore.

Today, people may recognize that librarians can be young, friendly, and stylish. Maybe they know that librarians can help them learn to use the latest technology. But that’s only people who actually go there.

Too many people wonder why anyone would be a librarian. After all, you can find anything you want to know on with a search engine.

As Neil Gaiman has written, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

More than that, a librarian can show you where to find the right one in various proprietary databases. The web has lots of free information. Expensive databases, that only libraries can afford, have vastly more information. And it’s generally more reliable.

Libraries still have books, too. Despite the effort of Google Books, you can’t read all of them online.

Who are librarians?

library catalogers. what librarians do

Catalogers at work

Walk into a library, and you’ll see all kinds of people working there. They’re not all librarians.

Librarians have a master’s degree in library science. Most libraries hire more paraprofessionals than professional librarians.

You hardly ever see some kinds of  librarians: the catalogers and administrators.

So the librarian you’re most likely to see is called a reference librarian or  a reader’s service advisor.

A reader’s service advisor reads a lot of novels and other literature. You will talk to her or him if you want recommendations for what to read next. If you love fiction, you’ll find the reader’s advisor not only someone who gives advice, but a kindred spirit.

It’s the reference librarian who brings back the right answer to other questions. Many reference librarians have master’s degrees or doctorates in some subject.

Most of them, when on duty at the reference desk, have to be able to answer questions about any subject. But if you have a question that requires a specialist, the reference librarian on duty can refer you to one.

What do reference librarians provide besides information?

Reference librarian and patron. what librarians do

Reference librarian helping a patron

Count on libraries to protect your privacy and freedom to read.  The American Library Association has taken a strong official stand on privacy issues since it first adopted the Library Bill of Rights in 1939.

Many people go to the library for help in finding a job, understanding a medical condition, or otherwise very personal concerns.

And they share information with the librarian that they would not want generally known. They know they can trust the librarian to keep their concerns confidential.

Librarians are also passionate about providing services for underprivileged and undeserved populations.

You can find the latest technology at the library. But what if the movie you want to watch exists only on a reel-to-reel film or a videocassette? If the library owns it, it owns the playback equipment. And the librarians know how to use it.

Librarians know how to have fun, too. Some have parodied popular songs and made videos.

Where the librarians are

You don’t have to go to the library to find a librarian. You can use the phone, chat, instant messaging, and other modern technology. Or the librarian can come to you, like in a bookmobile.

Most people encounter librarians in public libraries. Librarians also work in academic libraries, historical societies, school libraries, hospitals, court systems, and corporations.

You may not have access to libraries in a corporation, law firm, or medical practice unless you work there. But in libraries open to the public, the librarians will offer you the same level of service in all of them. Serious, but no longer stodgy.

Please share this post with friends who may not know librarians as well as you do!

Related posts:
3 unusual and unexpected library services
5 more unusual and unexpected library services
Innovative library services: some kudos and a rant
Libraries vs the digital divide
Raucous good times at the library
Surprising place to get healthy: at the library
What do librarians do?
They asked the librarian what?? 
What’s new? Innovative library services revisited 

Photo credits:
Library action figures. Source unknown
Catalogers at work. Some rights reserved by sundaykofax.
Reference interview. Some rights reserved by AASU Armstrong University Archives.

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