Monday, July 14, 2014

Finish this sentence ...

"Finish this sentence: I'm a librarian.  I ..."

 Mrs. Joan Fertig, Hungarian-born librarian at the Westinghouse plant
Mrs. Joan Fertig, Hungarian-born librarian at the Westinghouse plant
Collins, Marjory, 1912-1985, photographer

Consider these rather simplistic statements that people might make about various degreed professions:

  • I'm a doctor. I care for people's health.
  • I'm an educator.  I teach people new skills.
  • I'm a lawyer.  I assist people with important legal matters.
  • I'm an accountant. I advise and assist people in the management of financial matters.

Now, finish this sentence:  I'm a librarian. I ...

...and therein lies a problem.  Although we are regulated in many states and hold master's degrees in our field, many (most?) people have no idea what librarians do. Even we can't distill it into a single sentence! As a whole, I feel that we're doing a poor job of promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of our profession in today's high tech era.

Here are some conversations I've had recently:

  • The other day I had some uncomfortable dental work (no one asks dentists what they do all day!).  My face was numb, my jaw hurt, and I was complaining about going to work.  "Don't worry about it," said my mother-in-law, "just find a nice corner where you can sit and read all day." (I wish!)
  • At a previous dental appointment, I was speaking with the hygienist and the conversation turned to various state regulations.  When I mentioned that NJ librarians must have state-issued certificates, she said, "Whatever for?  Why would a librarian need to be regulated?" (Among other reasons, because we are degreed professionals entrusted with the privacy and confidentiality of our patrons, the lifelong education of people of all ages, the proctoring of college level examinations, and the proffering of important and often sensitive information.)
  • Out with friends the other night, the topic of my job came up in conversation; someone said, "Oh, right ... Dewey Decimal System and all that." (It's the "all that" that takes up my time)

So - if you're not a librarian, what do you think we do all day?  If you are a librarian, can you finish my sentence for me so I'm ready the next time.  Please?

Want to know what the American Library Association has agreed that all librarians should know? The list is here, known by its official title of "ALA's Core Compentences of Librarianship." 


  1. I'm a librarian. I get the right book to the right child at the right time. This means I have to know my books, know my students, know the curriculum, know what projects teachers are assigning, know where my students' strengths and weaknesses are, know how their days are going and what their moods are, and need to get them into the library so I can act on this knowledge in order to put books in their hands.

    1. Yes, Ms. Yingling. I'm sure you do all that and more, and I hope the parents and administrators at your school know it! This summer I'm working with a school librarian who is filling in for one of my colleagues out on leave. She told me that at her school, she is often treated differently (worse) than the rest of her colleagues because she's not a "real" teacher. So sad.

  2. You provide a refuge for book loving children and open the world to them. As a kid, I hid in the library and was given answers to all of my questions. The librarian at the reference desk was great.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. So many people don't know what we do. I'm glad a librarian made a positive impact on your life.

  3. It's interesting that the comments here focus on the supply of books. I would say something like this, "I'm a librarian I provide access to a wealth of resources, and maintain a free space (both physical and virtual) that all can enjoy those resources"