Image courtesy of Flickr user deanj. CC BY.
Given the overwhelming response to Bryan’s post, “What is a Librarian?” and Michael’s follow up post, “Librarians: We Open Access,” a few more of the LITA bloggers thought we’d weigh in on our roles and how they fit within the profession. We hope you’ll share your story in the comments!
I remember when accepted my job, working at LYRASIS, feeling fearful that I wasn’t being a traditional librarian. Yes, I, Lindsay Cronk, unapologetic weirdo and loud lady, worried about traditional professional roles. I was concerned that my peers wouldn’t accept my work as librarianship. I got all kinds of high school lunch table self-conscious about it. I was being narrow-minded.
Most of us understand that the MLIS grad who works for a retail website providing taxonomy support and the MLIS grad who works in the academic library cataloging scholarly monographs are both librarians, and indeed peers (albeit with different job titles) who could probably give one another tips on running macros. Let’s get real. I have never worked in a library. I work for a library services organization. That said, all I ever do is troubleshoot access issues, provide outreach and education, promote services and use. My work is dedicated to advocacy for and of libraries. I’m a librarian’s librarian.
Currently in my first year of the MLS/MIS program, a ten hour drive away from my closest family and friends, and running from class to job to research to job, I’ve asked myself this same question. Where does this lead? Easy, librarianship. But what does that mean?
At both the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Indiana University, I’ve noticed the traditional, stuffy academic library transitioning. These libraries are moving stacks to auxiliary facilities, making room for “space.” Study space, makerspace, cafe space, meeting space. The library is, has always been, and will always be, a third space. It isn’t work and it isn’t home. It is the place you go to think, research, write, build, and further your knowledge.
Librarians are the keepers of this third space. They are there to support and guide the thinker/researcher/writer/builder. They are there to say, “Have you considered looking at this?” upon which a thesis is born. They build digital infrastructure so that patrons have even more to access and learn. They are fluid and adaptable, changing as the third space and its people continue to evolve.
Before I began graduate studies in Library and Information Science a few years ago, I read a list on Forbes.com about the worst Master’s degrees for job placement. Surprisingly, Library and Information Science was ranked as the worst. At the time I couldn’t believe it. Because I had done my research into the degree program, I knew it was interdisciplinary. The image on Forbes.com is of a woman helping children. The mid-career average is $58k a year with an 8.5% turnover average by 2020. I thought that this interpretation of the degree and librarianship was inaccurate. It was an attempt to associate the name of the degree with a specific job description and to quantify the worth of our contribution to the field.
The MLIS degree prepares both practitioners and scholars for a range of information-provision environments. In 2011, then a Syracuse University iSchool graduate student, Mia Breitkopf wrote an article called 61 Non-Librarian Jobs for LIS Grads. It is a non-exhaustive list of job titles that do not fit into the traditional image of the librarian profession. Some of the titles include research coordinator, web analytics manager and business information specialist. Whoever compiled that list for Forbes.com did not take into account the breadth of skills an MLIS student is exposed to in the graduate environment. They certainly didn’t recognize the necessity for information scientists in all organization types. Name any work environment and I will point out an information manager. We wear many hats.
I find solace in the fact that I love technology and history, I could parlay those interests into the archives field working with digital medium, and that Forbes.com has been somewhat enlightened. The Masters of Library and Information Science is now the third worst master’s degree according to their 2014 list.
I am a recent graduate with a Master of Library Science and a Master of Information Science. I remember hearing from people who graduated before me that they felt odd about applying for non-librarian jobs in the first place, then a little bittersweet if they got them. They had an emotional tie to the idea of librarianship. Of course, you haven’t won if you get a librarian job; you haven’t sold out if you take a non-traditional role. It’s unlikely that anyone would ever vocalize anything like this but I do think that a lot of people come to library school with very specific, idealized visions of what they will do when they leave.
Hearing these things made me realize that I needed to think long and hard about what I wanted. I recognized that it was time for me to battle my own assumptions. I wanted to actively choose libraries, not flock to them as a knee-jerk reaction simply because I had made the decision to go to library school when I was 18. I’ve found that adopting this state of reevaluation actually keeps me more engaged within the field. I am more critical, less patient – and honestly, I think libraries need a lot more of both qualities.
So where did I end up? Technically, I am not a librarian, I’m a coordinator – an IT role within a library where I do librarian-ish things. I’m not sure where my career will take me and I’m unconcerned about what my future job titles may be. The more interesting question, unpacked much more eloquently than I could by the Library Loon, is how institutions can support these messy new roles. I would love to hear more discussion between administrators and those of us with these odd, hard to classify roles about how we can increase our chances of success in uncharted territory.
Following up on my February 27 post, “Librarians: We Open Access,” I’d like to reprint below, in edited and expanded form, some of my responses to comments on the original post.
First, opening access is not gatekeeping. I’d rather dismantle the gate than be its keeper. Rather, the goal is grow the people’s information commons–note that I use the term “grow” rather than “build,” a premeditated word choice whose reasoning reflects Debbie Chachra’s Atlantic article “Why I Am Not a Maker.” Opening access might, for example, entail liberating libraries and users from our current dependence on price-gouging, privacy-breaching vendors and publishers.
Knowledge creation, one of the new buzzwords of librarianship, nicely complements open access. Knowledge creation presumably requires access to existing knowledge, and targeting that access to our local and global communities and their needs is essential. Once knowledge is created, librarians ought to be providing gratis access to that new knowledge and guidance on its uses, which will hopefully engender more knowledge making, a more open society, and a growing information commons that acknowledges the “think globally, act locally” approach. This is a cycle, and access is the first spoke of the wheel, though by no means the wheel itself.
In her comment on my original post, Brianna mentioned big tent librarianship. I like it. Inclusivity doesn’t diffuse our energies. We need unabashed militancy in pursuit of core values to which information specialists can rally. Intellectual freedom has long been one of these core ideologies. To continue my post’s running metaphors of imprisoning walls and growth versus construction, surely opening access can become one of those metaphorical fetters hammered into plowshares.
Do you consider yourself a librarian? A technologist? Both? Tell us about your role in the comments!