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.
Advice for new librarians