Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Librarian is a service occupation. Gas station attendant of the mind." ~Richard Powers

Doppelganger at 50 books has some hard questions for information professionals.
Except, no question is impossible for the superheroes of the information universe. Or, um, something like that.
Anyway - here are my thoughts on the matter.

…are libraries as beleaguered as they seem?

They are certainly under funded. And librarians are certainly underpaid. But most of us knew that going into it. I don’t know what the actual stats are but I would be surprised if the majority of us were librarians as a first career. (It’s my third. And the one that makes me happiest, if the worst paid.)
Public librarianship makes me shiver, although there are librarians out there who LOVE it, which is a good thing because I would NOT. Public libraries seem to bear the brunt of stupid censorship attempts, funding cuts, and political and public ignorance regarding the worth of a good librarian. I am very happy cocooned in my little corner of higher education, and my personal trick is to work part-time so I can stay on the desk, actually doing research and serving patrons’ needs.

In the battle between good and stupid, is the library at the front lines of literacy?

See above. Every librarian has to deal with the occasional troglodyte (the bane of my existence is the senior student who proudly proclaims to me that he has never been in the library before), but I would guess that public libraries bear the brunt of abuse. I will say that I certainly know librarians who are stupid, too. Don’t kid yourself, the MLS degree is not a particularly rigorous one. Any decent program is still mostly what you make of it.

Should we give you guns, or at least some knuckle-rappingly hard rulers?

Rulers. One of those wooden ones with the metal edge. To go with my bun and spectacles.

What about your job makes you most nutty?

The aforementioned morons who proudly assert in the same breath that 1) our library SUCKS, and 2) they are seniors and have never set foot in the library before today. I do not think twice about tartly telling them that it’s not a good idea to ask for help from someone whose job you have just dismissed.
Also, the idiots who tell me that they found “everything I need” on Google, but why can’t they find the full-text article? Um, journal subscriptions COST MONEY. Which the library thoughtfully provides, using all kinds of funding, not necessarily “your tuition money.”
You can get most of what you need through the library, if you go about it the proper way. This might be one of those times when a competent librarian is useful.
Also? Graduate students and faculty members who can’t seem to provide a full citation for an ILL request if their life depended on it. Seriously, there are some of these folks that make me wonder how they made it through high school, let alone undergrad and a Masters/PhD program.
Minor annoyance: refilling the printer toner and paper, unjamming the printers every five minutes, fixing the microfilm readers, running the scanner, setting up personal laptops for wireless access – all things which I am perfectly capable of doing, but resent having to do. Perhaps because not every librarian feels so inclined to be so obliging. I try to make it be about the students, and that makes me feel better, that I am helping those whom I am here to help.

What makes it all worthwhile? It can't just be the fact that you're lusted after by a certain type of gentleman (and some ladies) with a penchant for cardigans and cool specs, can it?

It actually can be that. If such a strange person existed.
I love finding stuff out. I am dogged and creative in my search process, and often dig up results for questions on which other people have given up. I love dealing with hard-to-find ILL citations for that reason.
I love helping people who are trying to conduct thorough, well-thought-out research into a topic that fascinates and excites them. I love making them think differently than they had, to find information that they may not even have been aware was out there.
I love being able to request scholarly articles just to satisfy my curiosity, and popular novels for which other people have to wait weeks or months, through our library ILL system. I love that I don’t pay late fees. I love being surrounded by books, and more broadly, information. And I love knowing that I know how to ferret out information as necessary. It’s a strange little rush, but I believe that to be a superb reference librarian, you have to have that compulsion, and you have to love that feeling of utter satisfaction at having found the answer.

Well, that, and a cute little cardie.


Anonymous said...

Amen, sistah.

I occasionally work on-call at one of the public libraries when they're short-staffed. It's challenging in different ways... definitely not for the faint of heart.

Joke said...

When I become dicator, the only three things funded will be:

1- Libraries,
2- The Marine Corps, and
3- Whoever teh Hell is in charge of building superhighways so I can go at 150mph without posing a danger to people.

I have a lot of plans, as you can see.


Sarah Louise said...

Sadly, this is the highest paid I've ever been (as a public librarian).

But the flexibility I have is wonderful, I love working with books and people, I have bosses that support and "get" me, and I have a bizarre desire to find things for people.

And I heart the Dewey Decimal System.

I like being in the public library, where on a given week, I deal with parents, grandparents, and two year olds. (Oh, I guess all the ages in between, too.)

Iamthebookworm said...

Great post! I am a reference librarian at a public library and it defintely CAN be stressful. The worst part is people who think that the rules do not apply to them. But there are rewarding parts too.

Kathy said...

I'm with on the public library thing -- when I did work in a public library we had so many people just dropping their kids off to do homework because the "library was a safe place." Not always. And I could never be a children's librarian either, but I do love the little rush I get from helping people find information and the look on their faces when it all comes together for them.

Joke said...

Oh, and when I'm dicator, all librarians will be required to carry guns. We can't have bedwetters.

Anyone fatally shooting someone for ripping pages out will be given a 300% raise.


David said...

I have a library/librarian question...

Do you have as much trouble with perverts using library computers for surfing porn as the people that want to ban all computers without internet filters from libraries seem to think you do?

I always think this is just noise rather than a real issue. I also think the solution is just to have HUGE monitors so there's no way people won't see what you are doing.

nutmeg said...

I have recently "re-discovered" the joy of visiting the library - especially with my girls. And the smallish local library I go to has a great selection of books. I am always surprised at just how many of the books I'm interested in are there as my tastes run from the very obscure all the way through to mainstream. When I visit I always think "I must commend the librarian(s) on their work..." but invariably leave without doing so. I really should say something next time :-) [I think picking the books for loan would be up there in my top 3 dream jobs!]

Bec said...

Many of my most favourite people in real life are librarians.

It only stands to reason that some of my favourite bloggers would be, too.

Unknown said...

I am in the process of applying to an MLIS program and was a little torn about it until I read this...everything you said is so true. All I know is that I want to work surrounded by words and books and lo and behold the light went off and library school made perfect sense.

Joke said...

People surf for porn ALL the time at our library. Since I don't believe in censorship they should be allowed, but because I am a capitalist I think they should pay a fee, and because I'm a moralist, I think the fee should be exorbitant and payable only in small change.


Anonymous said...

Separated at birth. That's all I have to say.

I lied. As far as the porn issue, I've only heard of one incidence of internet misconduct at my (public) library, and that was some sleezy guy reading over a girl's shoulder, seeing her newly-created email address, and propositioning her via email. Our internet stations are in full view of most of the traffic through the library - it would be hard to get away with looking at porn for more than a minute.

Lisa Jean said...

I loved being a librarian (recently retired.) I got to work with books and help people find stuff that, in some cases changed their lives, and run bookgroups and on occasion, chase bats, and unclog toilets and, yes, kick out people who used our internest stations to look at porn. But, the good outweighed the bad by a longshot.

Stomper Girl said...

I am the child of a librarian. There was absolutely no point asking her about something, all she ever replied was "look it up". And I remember when puberty hit being presented with between 5-10 books on that subject. Now she complains when I read books about childcare instead of relying on her plentiful straight-from-the-horses'-mouth advice.

But I am a big fan of libraries, don't get me wrong. I hope you have learned to perfect the seductive removal of your glasses as you shake the severe bun out into gloriously free-flowing tresses. Degree of difficulty 6.5.

Anonymous said...

I love being a public librarian. I used to work reference at the university library that I was studying at, and students came up with the most irritating questions which caused me to wonder how they got into the same school as I did, and how they made it this far ("I'm writing my thesis and I've never been to the library...it's due tomorrow!") through their college education...
At the public library, when annoyed by questions, I can imagine that the person in front of me didn't graduate from college. Or even highschool. It keeps me sane.

lazy cow said...

I enjoyed my work experience as a reference librarian at a public library (all 2 weeks of it!) but always worked in specialist libraries. But I still have a wardrobe of cardis ;-)