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What makes a librarian?

Feb - 12 - 2007
Nicole C. Engard

Do you need to be in a library to be a librarian? Do you need to be surrounded by books and databases to be a librarian?

I had 2 librarian experiences today – both very different.

First, I had a homework assignment that required me to answer some reference type questions. Part of the rules was that I had to use one of three paper resources (Britannica, World Book, World Almanac). So I went out to the reading room at the library and found 2 of the three resources to answer my questions. The problem is that the library I work at and the ones nearest my house do not have the World Book so I can’t complete the assignment. In the real library world – I’d be able to move on to another resource to find the answer – but forcing us to use a specific reference material is not realistic. The other part was to use an online biography database and then a paper version to find the number of female actresses born in 1936 – neither resource was helpful – normally I’d move on to another database or book, but I’m stuck using the resources required for the assignment.

How does that make me a librarian? Wouldn’t making me find the right resources on my own make me more a librarian??

After work I was on bus waiting for it to leave. I have 4 people ask me questions – all of which I was able to answer with the resources of my choice (my knowledge, a bus schedule, and my watch). I felt more like a librarian when everyone came to me for answers than I did sitting behind the reference desk with those paper resources. I know it’s not the same – and that anyone could have answered the questions I did – but why did they choose me to ask? Did I look knowledgeable? Was I just the first person to look up? Who knows.

I just thought it was an interesting comparison – and something worth writing about and sharing with you all.

11 Responses so far.

  1. Jonathan says:

    We librarians must have that approachable “I can help you” look on our faces. I’m often asked for directions when I’m walking down the street or, when I’m in retail stores, other customers will ask me things like: “Excuse me, do you happen to know where the XXX is in this store?”

  2. You are absolutely right and I wish MLS professors would realize that this is nothing more than fruitless busy work. In the real world, you can use anything at your fingertips.

    I think this is an extremely silly. At MPOW, we rarely duplicate both online AND print for a single resource because of money.

    Geez, I am glad I an no longer subjected to that inanity.

  3. Jonathan says:

    We librarians must have that approachable “I can help you” look on our faces. I’m often asked for directions when I’m walking down the street or, when I’m in retail stores, other customers will ask me things like: “Excuse me, do you happen to know where the XXX is in this store?”

  4. You are absolutely right and I wish MLS professors would realize that this is nothing more than fruitless busy work. In the real world, you can use anything at your fingertips.

    I think this is an extremely silly. At MPOW, we rarely duplicate both online AND print for a single resource because of money.

    Geez, I am glad I an no longer subjected to that inanity.

  5. Andrew says:

    I had that same type of assignment when I worked on my MLIS. Only the professor stated we had to choose journals from a certain set number. (the program was distance ed) Of course everyone in the city the school was located in easily had access, but poor schmoes like me had to do some driving. I hated being told to use a specific source or a specific type. Like you I often thought, why?

  6. Nicole says:

    Well, I’m in the city – but I did not go out of my way to find the World Book Encyclopedia. My work library didn’t have it and my 2 local branches didn’t have it – I’m not driving all over town to answer one reference question for a homework assignment.

  7. Erica Reynolds says:

    I agree that librarians are often asked for directions/assistance in public than other folks…maybe it’s a myth like more babies being born on the full moon, but it certainly seems like that’s the case. Tom Peters made the comment at Monterey (after multiple strangers in the street had asked him questions/directions although it was his first time in town), that maybe we could become peripetitic librarians…wondering the streets, ready to answer questions, or better yet, suggest better, more interesting questions.

    Hmm…maybe this could be another form of graduate entrance exam for lib school…put a wanna-be librarian in the street and see if strangers ask him/her questions. If the applicant didn’t have that “please approach me, I’m smart and happy to help you” demeanor, no dice…

  8. Andrew says:

    I had that same type of assignment when I worked on my MLIS. Only the professor stated we had to choose journals from a certain set number. (the program was distance ed) Of course everyone in the city the school was located in easily had access, but poor schmoes like me had to do some driving. I hated being told to use a specific source or a specific type. Like you I often thought, why?

  9. Nicole says:

    Well, I’m in the city – but I did not go out of my way to find the World Book Encyclopedia. My work library didn’t have it and my 2 local branches didn’t have it – I’m not driving all over town to answer one reference question for a homework assignment.

  10. Erica Reynolds says:

    I agree that librarians are often asked for directions/assistance in public than other folks…maybe it’s a myth like more babies being born on the full moon, but it certainly seems like that’s the case. Tom Peters made the comment at Monterey (after multiple strangers in the street had asked him questions/directions although it was his first time in town), that maybe we could become peripetitic librarians…wondering the streets, ready to answer questions, or better yet, suggest better, more interesting questions.

    Hmm…maybe this could be another form of graduate entrance exam for lib school…put a wanna-be librarian in the street and see if strangers ask him/her questions. If the applicant didn’t have that “please approach me, I’m smart and happy to help you” demeanor, no dice…


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