So you want to be a Librarian?

I had a call yesterday from someone who was thinking about re-training as a librarian. She’s had a career as a teacher and wanted some advice from a recent graduate about the pros and cons of studying librarianship. She also wanted to hear about why I did the triple qualification Masters degree (libraries, records and archives) instead of the Graduate Diploma.

The first thing I told her was, don’t do it unless you are interested in learning about technology. You don’t need to know much about it at the outset but you are at a real disadvantage if you’re not willing to learn.

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by ebayink: http://flickr.com/photos/ebayink/6816581064/

She sounded taken aback by this. She asked if there were still traditional librarian roles available. Yes there are of course, but increasingly fewer and if you’re going for these and you’re up against someone with an interest in/experience with tech you are likely to be at a disadvantage.

I told her that it’s not enough to like books. Yes, I love books and it influenced my decision to take this career path, but I don’t work with books at all in my current role (and that’s ok with me). It’s not just about the books any more and I want to be clear about that to people thinking about joining the profession.

I mentioned different types of libraries (public, academic, special etc) with some of the differences and encouraged her to go into her local library and talk to the people who work there about what they do and how they find it. I also suggested that if she gets a chance, to ask the library manager what skills they would be looking for in a new librarian.

Some of the things I wish I’d been told when I was considering librarianship as a career is:

  • To follow librarians on Twitter and ask them questions
  • To read blogs written by librarians and pay attention to the comments
  • To learn about the direction(s) the profession is going in and think about whether these are a good fit for me
  • To investigate the options available for non library degree graduates (shambrarians) in libraries
  • To dig deeper into records and archives before studying them (a subject for a future blog post)

To be an effective Information Professional, you really need to keep learning throughout your career. Going in to it as an alternative to a job you don’t want to do any more may work for you, but it’s a good idea to dig deeper and learn more before committing to a change of career.

Do you agree? Disagree? What do you wish you’d been told before you went into librarianship?

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19 thoughts on “So you want to be a Librarian?

  1. I agree. I wish somebody had told me to do some work in a few different types of libraries while I was studying. I did it anyway when I graduated but I think that speaking to professionals with different interests while I was still studying may have helped me make decisions about the librarian I want to be.

    • Yes, this is why I’m keen to showcase different types of libraries in my role as an ALIA new grad co-ordinator.

      I didn’t hear much about special libraries when I was studying (until I got involved with the SLA) and they are a really interesting option for people looking to go into libraries.

  2. From my perspective, there are two things about librarianship that every would-be librarian needs to know.

    Firstly, it’s a technology profession. Even ‘traditional’ roles now involve – and depend on – technology.

    Secondly, it’s a customer service profession. Even the ‘back room’ roles like cataloguing are customer service roles. It’s about connecting people with information, people, ideas… And that underpins everything we do.

    When people ask me about doing our course, these are the key messages I try to get across – and, of course, how interesting and diverse and wonderful the information professions are. You don’t need to ‘know’ tech, but you need to be open to learning about it. You don’t need to be an extrovert or (as I recently read on an elist) a giver of McDonald’s-style customer service, but you do need to care about people and care about helping them make connections.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post Molly.

    • I so agree about the customer service thing. In my last full time role I trained people in customer service and I believe it’s a really important skill for almost all jobs (whether people want to acknowledge it or not).

      I’m sometimes taken aback by the level of customer service provided (or not) in libraries. If we’re not doing what we do for our clients, who are we doing it for?!

  3. You are spot on! I remember that I one of my first units in the Grad Dip Kerry Smith asked everyone why they wanted to be a librarian, but she told us we are not allowed to say “because we love books”. Most people did not know what to say!

    I became a librarian because I do love books. And I think that is ok if “books” is taken as a concept that means “stories, information,reading, words, finding and sharing of ideas and stories…. I don’t mind the technology aspect at all, I like finding out about new things no matter what they are.

    And yes, people should be told that openess to new technology is a must. But I think they also need to be told how incredibly varied a libraian’s job can be, I had to produce financial reoports in my last job that made me wish I had an accounting degree and loved numbers more than words πŸ™‚

    Anway, need to get back to work. Love your blog!

    • I think loving books works fine if you consider the book as the container for information rather than the physical object. If you like the objects, consider going into museum studies or conservation instead. πŸ™‚

      I love the variety of the job, it’s one of the main reasons I can see myself sticking with this, my third career!

  4. Well, as a new “shambrarian” (woo! New word learned!)/graduate, I’m really grateful to be able to experience a range of different jobs at my library before settling in one. And yes, technology is a big part of libraries now. I’ve had to learn various programs, as well as more about programs I already had basic knowledge in. And goodness knows, I read books a great deal more before I started work in a library!

    A number of my friends were librarians (and still are), and I asked them about their jobs. I joined librarian forums, etc. I did by best, and I am loving my work πŸ™‚

      • Well, I never thought I’d actually work in a library, but it was a job I dreamed of. Then I was surprised at the number of librarians that knit πŸ˜‰ I applied, and got in. Certainly a surprise, but a good one.

  5. I studied librarianship because I like people, and I liked the idea of helping people with their information needs. I have been very pleased to read in the comments an importance being placed on customer service, both as a library user and as (hopefully) a future librarian. I would like our cultural institutions, in general, to be seen as approachable by any member of the public, and I think that an emphasis on customer service is an ideal approach. Thanks for the interesting post Molly, it has certainly set me to thinking about my reasons for choosing librarianship πŸ™‚

  6. I personally started working at the library because I liked books and wanted a job for a year to save money before I went off to uni. But, I soon realised being a librarian was the best job ever, books or no books. I love that the library is a community space, that we are the place people can go when no one else will help them, that we get to interact with all kinds of people, whether local or international, that kids feel comfortable to chat with us about what they’ve been reading, that we can offer great programmes like ereader clinics, Wriggle & Rhyme, BookChat etc and that people can come to a warm dry and safe place. To me, this is what being a librarian is all about and I love it.

  7. I became a librarian because I’d spent over 10 years working as a library assistant/officer then did ‘qualified’ work cataloguing foreign language books in an academic library. While studying for my qualification I worked in law firms which continued when I graduated, then for a mining company. I’ve been back in an academic library for over 12 years. Our roles have changed greatly and the changes are happening more quickly now than ever. It’s often necessary for librarians to ‘unlearn’ what they know – a recent example of this was a webinar I joined last week on Managing RDA. The trainer commented that in many ways RDA will be easier for librarians who never learnt AACR2 as they won’t be comparing or trying to ‘unlearn’ what’s embedded in their brains! We really do have a responsibility to be not just up to date with technology, but one step ahead of our patrons – or we may lose our relevance. James’s comment above about being adaptable and flexible has never been more important πŸ™‚ Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  8. I love working libraries mainly for the interaction and knowing I can help the customers out with most of their enquiries or direct them to the right answer.

    hardly read books but I have noticed a big trend of bring this back as I have been asked in interviews, my favourite authors and where would I look to find info on this subject besides looking generally on the web.

  9. Pingback: Veille hebdomadaire – 07.07.13 | Biblio Kams

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