Wednesday, June 22, 2011

There are still librarians?

I was at the doctor's office yesterday, and the doctor asked me the expected question of what do you do at work.  In the best tradition of Evie from the movie Mummy, I replied "I am a librarian."  (I did this normally without the drunken theatrics though I was sorely tempted.)  She looked at me quite surprised and (I hope) spoke before she thought, "They still have librarians?"

I do believe that my mouth fell open.  I could hear a voice in my head shrieking, "They still have librarians?  They still have LIBRARIANS?  They still HAVE LIBRARIANS?"  with each iteration becoming louder and louder.  She then twisted the knife a bit deeper and asked, "Doesn't everyone get everything from the internet?"  (Hordes of flies could have flown into my mouth at this point.)  And this is suppose to be an educated individual!  Then with a sheepish look she said, "Of course I know there are librarians.  I have friends that go to the library."  I believe that it was time to close my mouth.

She cannot be entirely to blame.  I had forgotten the Boy Scout Motto 'Be Prepared.'  The fact that I was a Girl Scout was no excuse.  I was not prepared for someone that I saw as a highly educated individual to be so woefully, well, uneducated.  Why this surprised me I do not know.  When I worked in academia, we were always have to justify the need for librarians to other faculty.  After all, why should we cut the Journal of I-must-have-to-do-my-research-and-cost-more-than-my-car when we could get rid of a librarian?  Perhaps I should have quoted the Librarian Avengers and explain why they should fall on their knees and worship us. 

Oh well, the next time I will be prepared.  For now, I am going to find a new doctor.


  1. have you ever walked into a library and not known where to find something? have you ever looked for something online and not been able to find what you want when you know there must be lots of informationout there somewhere? have you ever wanted to just know the answer to something simple, but not known how to find the answer? these are the reason we still have librarians. librarians are our last bastions of a defense against information overload. the joking commercials about bing are really only highlighting our need for librarians to filter what is out there so that we only get the information we want and need, and not the whole load of similar information that an ordinary internet search will dig up. yes, there are still librarians and i hope there always will be!

    1. Agreed! I have worked in the library over 25 years (B.A degree) and we are also psychologists and friends to people in this day of "online" everything. Oh yes, try getting answers from your online sources...they want to route you to Ask Yahoo or something of that nature. I could just go on and on!

  2. Sandra,
    Well said! We truly are bastions of defense not only against information overload but freedom of information which is the heart of democracy.

  3. I'm a librarian and I work full time and spend very little of my time helping people find information or locate things in the library. There is a lot more to the job of a librarian that mere information retrieval. The library director needs to manage the whole operation, from building maintenance to budgeting to staff management. The children's librarian introduces children to the world of reading, creates programs, gives book talks in schools. Other librarians work mostly in information technology, maintaining all the computers that people flock to on a daily basis, the staff workstations, the servers. Almost all libraries have websites that require maintenance. Many are deeply involved in getting current community information onto their website, or historical information about the community. People still check out millions of books in this country just for pleasure reading. Someone has to select them, order them, catalog them, process them, and check them out.

    So librarians do a lot more than just help people navigate the world of information overload!

  4. Anonymous,
    I agree that there is a lot of work that takes place in libraries that does not require direct interaction with the user. However, it all goes to one goal of providing information to the user. I am using a very broad definition of information, and I would include all books be it treaty on world peace, a sleezy romance novel, or a picture book as information. Websites, facebook, virtual libraries, and Tweets also fall under information. As for the back room work, a cataloger organizes that information with, among other things, subject categories. If the book is not cataloged correctly it cannot be found or at least found easily. If the budget is not maintained correctly (too much money is allocated to one subject and nothing to another or even too much money allocated to materials and not enough to supplies to maintain and process materials) then the needed information is not available.

    I did not mean to imply with my post that information retrieval is the only important thing done by librarians, but I do stand by my statement that it is all about making the information available to our users.

  5. I was given some advice as I started library school that I've found useful: Have you librarian career defense speech ready at all times. I imagine I'll still be explaining why my profession is needed & why I chose to do it for the rest of my career.

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  7. Michelle,

    Very true! Advice that I need to follow.

  8. Are you seriously going to look for a new doctor because she isn't up to date on libraries???

    I hear that kind of comment regularly. It doesn't upset or shock me.

  9. James,

    No, I am not looking for a new doctor. The comment was meant to be facetious. I actually have an appointment next week, and I am taking some bookmarks on MedLinePlus.