I have a new piece out from UNC-Chapel Hill’s online publication Ethos Review called “Librarianship: A Philosophical Investigation” that I think might be of interest to Rule Number One Readers. Here’s the first part:
“One of the first things you learn as a professional librarian is that very few people have any idea what you do. In fact, enough people who actually want to become librarians are sufficiently in the dark about the nature of the profession that many Information and Library Science graduate programs explicitly require their prospective applicants to state in their applications what interests them about the field other than loving books.
In fairness, the whole “librarians love books” thing isn’t entirely misguided. The very etymology of the word ties librarians to books, and, when Emerson famously announced the need for a “professor of books,” it was a role librarians consciously sought to fill. Nevertheless, I am a librarian and not only have I never read a novel during work, I’ve never shelved a book in any professional capacity either. In fact, my experience of the librarian-esque is really rather limited. I’ve never had the chance to use one of those little stamp things telling you when your book is due, because I’ve never actually checked out a book to someone. Only if forced to at gunpoint could I find a book using a card catalog (probably, if you gave me a minute); and my most frequent exposure to a rare book is the copy of former Buffalo Bills nose tackle Fred Smerlas’s autobiography sitting on my home bookshelf—a piece of childhood esoterica I’ve kept all these years merely to preserve proof of its existence. Recently, a girl I did not recognize came up to me at Starbucks and said, “Aren’t you a librarian?” When I said “Yes,” she said, “That’s so cool, it must be nice to have a job that isn’t very stressful.” I smiled and nodded, thinking it not worth the effort to explain that the whole reason I was at Starbucks was that I was so stressed out about something at work I was pretty sure my life was over.
Folks a little more hip to things sometimes say things like “Libraries are all about technology now, huh?” which, like most generalities, is sort of true in a limited sense, but not in a very interesting one. Sure, a class that could more or less have been called “How to Use Computers and Some Programs Commonly Found on Many of Them” was, indeed, a required course during the first semester of my Information and Library Science grad program. But the only reason I made it through the course was because I was failing such “easy” material, which was too unbearable for my fellow students to emotionally bear and so they held my hand through the material to ensure sure that I passed. Now, when it comes to tech skills, I’m somewhere in between, say, someone who doesn’t know how to check their email and someone who knows the shortcuts for doing mathematical calculations in Excel. So, you see, if you want to be a librarian (and by now why wouldn’t you?) and your computer skills aren’t exactly off the charts, you’ll probably be just fine.
One thing some of the technology advocates might also mean is this: the internet has changed things, and with that change librarians are increasingly viewed as becoming more and more obsolete. When I started “library school” this is something that concerned me, too. Librarians help people find information, we’ve been told, and now, with the success of Google, people don’t really need much help finding things. We can go ahead, then, and replace my tenure-track gig with a couple new computers, and give the rest of the money back to California’s taxpayers. But this would be too hasty, because helping people find stuff in the manner the public perceives is not, in fact, what librarians do.”
You can read the rest, where I solve definitively and for all time what librarianship really is, here.