Advice for New Librarians: What is it Like Being a Librarian?

I’ve talked to many people who were interested in becoming a librarian, so I thought I’d start writing about this topic.  Actually, I’m writing TO those who are interested in becoming librarians or are new to this field as if this were a conversation.  The comments are from my own experiences and are my own opinion.

What’s it like being a librarian?  And what do you do?

Being a librarian is like being on a treasure hunt every day.  You never know what you’ll be working on from day to day and hour to hour.  I really enjoy the fast past nature (switching from topic to topic), as well as the constant learning.  I try to pick up bits of information for fun as I’m helping people–I’m learning too!

When people ask what my main roles are, I usually say that I’m an educator.  My perspective has shifted over the years from being “just a librarian” who helps find information to being a true teacher.  I routinely teach people how to interact with information (e.g. how to search for information, how to find it, how to legally and ethically use it, how to produce it).  I try to teach concepts that will last a life time, but address the immediate information needs of individuals at the same time. There is a balance between the two which naturally differs with each individual.

One aspect that people tend to overlook is that librarians are public service professionals.  A major part of my job is to work with and for my respective communities (college student, faculty, staff, and the general public).  I serve 10 hours each week (a quarter of my time) at the reference desk.  Because I work in a university library, I need to be able to address questions outside my areas of specialty (outside of the science); I need to serve as a generalist to answer questions related to art, speech, Spanish, history, etc.).

I usually joke that librarians get sick more often because we interact with a variety of people.  When the cold and flu seasons roll around, I cringe a little because we still have to help people who are sick.  I kind of wonder if we have MORE sick people come to the reference desk because folks can’t think clearly & need more help than usual.  Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy helping people find what they need whether they are sick or well.

Our time schedules also fluctuate with the school year.  I’m on a semester schedule (autumn and spring).  Other institutions are on a quarterly system (autumn, winter, spring & summer).  The semester system runs about 16 weeks versus the 10-week quarterly schedule. I’ve found that professors are more likely to let me come into classes to talk about information literacy because there are more days in a semester.  I think that there is much more content smashed into the ten week quarterly schedule, so professors are less likely to let librarians come into their class.  If you do the math for a class that meets three times each week, one class out of 30 class meetings (quarterly) is a lot of lost time opposed to one class out of 48 class meetings (semester).

My primary responsibilities include:

  • Serve as a liaison (main contact for the library) to seven science departments: biology, chemistry, computer science, earth & environmental sciences, exercise science, math, and physics.
  • Provide library instruction classes to students.  Faculty sometimes ask me if I can give a session for the class, while other times I’ve been giving instruction session for years for a particular department or class.  Sometimes I ask the professor if I can come to their class and give a quick session, but this is usually if there is a trend in skill or knowledge deficits (e.g. students have no idea where to begin their research, where to find articles, or how to check if Willamette has print or electronic access to something). We keep statistics on the questions we receive at the reference desk, which helps pick up trends.
  • Provide research consultation to students, faculty, staff.
  • Provide collection development: add new library materials, weed old and under used materials.
  • Provide one-shot information literacy classes.
  • I serve on campus committees with faculty.

Next topic:
What kind of science background do you need to serve as a science librarian?

Topic Series:
Advice for new librarians

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About repplinger

John has served as a Reference Librarian at Willamette University since 2002. He is the liaison to the Science Departments, and is responsible for maintaining the collections related to the life & physical sciences. His research interests range over the entire spectrum of libraries and information sciences, but includes: - Google and its influence on information & society - The Internet's influence on information seeking & sharing behaviors - Trends of scholarly communication - Electronic learning environments - Traditional pedagogy - GIS use in academic libraries

Posted on March 30, 2010, in Advice to New Librarians and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. phamina constant mbhamali

    hi i like your speech about being a librarian. im a library assistant at durban university of technology ( city campus library) and i do enjoy to be. but one day i see myself being a manager in any of these institutions that we are studying at. next year im planning to continue with my studies. i wanna do my b-tech

  2. How difficult was it to get your degree? I’m strongly considering librarian though I just read it’s one of the five dead-end jobs? I have wanted to be a librarian since I was little now I’m in high school still strongly debating between librarian and historian.

    • Anna,
      I don’t think it was “too” difficult to get my Masters of Library Science (MLS/MLIS), but I did have to get my 4 year degree first before going for my Masters. I definitely wouldn’t consider it a dead end job, and certainly wouldn’t say this job market is going away. The role of librarians in the information age is only changing, and people are even more reliant on librarians to help track down elusive information in this digital age. Also, to give you a sense of the job market, the American Library Association shows that there are hundreds of thousands library positions across the nation. The job market for becoming a historian is much smaller (I know of a history professor who changed careers to become a librarian–and he is very happy in his job, as are most librarians). Why not combine the best of both worlds and become a history librarian? Some librarians teach regular history courses in high school and college.

      You can do so much with a library degree that it is almost ridiculous! For example, I initially intended to focus on the computer/systems side of libraries, but I ended up taking a reference course and loved it so much I switched my focus. There are the traditional library positions in Public Libraries, Private School Libraries, Academic/College Libraries, and School libraries. Then there are special libraries (marine libraries, architecture & marketing libraries), libraries for corporations (Nike), agencies such as State and county libraries, NASA, the National Library of Medicine, Library of Congress, Law Libraries. I even have met librarians that have been recruited for the CIA and FBI!

      There are entry positions (e.g. reference and cataloging and systems), management positions (Head of Reference, Head of Technical Services, Head of Systems/technology, Head of Public Relations, Head of Collection Development), administrative positions (Director of the Library, University Librarians, School District Library Coordinator), and then there are regional and national positions.

      Granted, the average librarian pay is not glorious. I might actually say that it is on the low end compared to other careers. However, most librarians will tell you that they are very satisfied with their work and environment–they love it! And there are often a lot of unspoken perks that come with the job (e.g. free interlibrary loan to borrow materials–why pay when you can just borrow?, the ability to get books before anyone else does, semi-flexible hours, and an environment of constant learning and exploring), but that’s another conversation.

      Anyway, I would suggest getting your undergraduate 4-year degree and try to get a job in the university library as a student worker and volunteer a few hours at your public library. Even though the tasks you’d do at either place is very different from what most librarians do, you will kind of get a taste for what it is like. Best of luck with your decision!

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