I’ve grown a lot this semester. When I began this class in May, I was a former journalist looking to switch careers, and the most important thing I knew about the library science profession was that I wanted to be a part of it. I knew there was a lot about libraries, and being a librarian, that I didn’t know. I knew I had a lot to learn.
What I didn’t know was just about how much there was to learn. This is my chance to reflect on that semester, and so in the vein of David Letterman, here’s the top 10 things I learned during LIS 6010:
1. A librarian’s choice isn’t always easy.
As seen in our ethics project and subsequent class discussion on ethics, thinking like a librarian requires one to place the ethics of the profession – which includes a certain social obligation – before everything else, including personal prejudices. Sometimes, that means hard decisions become a little harder, though my confidence in library ethics assures me they are often the right decisions.
2. The history of the modern library is both fascinating and inspiring.
Before this class, I knew little about the evolution of the modern American public library, and how groundbreaking the concept was when it first emerged on the world stage. It is inspiring knowing that I am a part of an institution that is dedicated solely to democratic principles: helping all citizens, regardless of race, age or religion, find and use the knowledge they need to survive and thrive.
3. My experience as a journalist can be an asset during my library career.
Sometimes, I still feel a little anxious about my journalism experience when talking with my MLIS classmates. Whereas most of their career experience is already rooted in libraries, I feel like I’m starting from scratch. Sometimes, I feel like my experience makes a bit of an alien. But after learning about everything librarians can do, I am confident that my experience as a digital journalist will not only help me achieve my goals of working in digital content management, it just might be my best asset.
4. Being a librarian is all about customer service.
As librarians, we are here to help people. That is, in effect, the definition of customer service. Whether we’re answering questions at the reference desk or re-designing databases so that patrons can more easily access your library’s OPAC, the end goal for any librarian is to make the lives of our patrons easier and better. Really, when you think about Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan’s five laws of librarianship, so many of them – “Books are for use.” “Save the time of the reader.” “Every book its reader.” – can be summed by simply saying: “Serve your customer/patron to the best of your ability.”
5. Knowledge of technology will be absolutely critical for all librarians.
While I was taking this course, I was also taking an introductory course in technology, and so it can’t be stressed enough how important it is for librarians to be fluent in all forms of technology. Librarians are not only running the websites for their libraries, they may also be creating them from scratch. Librarians not only have to know how to tweet and post Facebook messages, they have to be able to teach their patrons how to do so as well. Our patrons are turning to librarians not only to help them find books, but to help them find information online and on online databases. Librarians must be proficient in all these arenas, and also be able to teach these skills as well.
6. Libraries are at the forefront of the latest e-reader battles (and why we should all care).
Considering I don’t own an e-reader, I’m a bit surprised at how interested I am in libraries’ battles to acquire affordable and convenient e-books for their patrons. Publishers, booksellers, librarians and e-reader vendors still have so much to unravel about e-books – how to price them, namely – that current policies run the gamut of overly controlling to the freedom of the open market. Publishers are still trying to find ways to make money off e-books, a struggle that clashes with libraries’ mission to provide free access to books and information. And yet, it seems to me that the success of e-books is also dependent on whether they become more accessible to the general public – an area where libraries will make a big difference. I am curious to see how publishing policies evolve in coming years, and where libraries fit into this.
7. Working librarians come in all shapes and sizes.
One of my favorite projects during this semester was to visit various libraries and get an exclusive peak into the real lives of working librarians. Just as beneficial was to check out the presentations from my classmates and see the libraries they visited, as well as their observations. Even though I only visited two libraries myself, I felt like I took tours of more than 25 very different libraries and archives across Michigan and the country.
8. The jury is still out among working librarians on the competancy of MLIS graduates, and why that worries me when it comes to finding a job.
My only somewhat negative experience this semester was reading opinion after opinion about the “validity” of MLIS programs, and whether MLIS graduates are really ready to enter the workforce after graduation. Early this semester, I expressed my opinion regarding this in response to a discussion board post suggesting that MLIS graduates shouldn’t call themselves “librarians” until they have an undefined amount of experience. I also read several similar opinions throughout the semester, mostly from working librarians. That leaves me worried: if this degree is required to even apply for a rare and coveted library job, but working librarians aren’t going to take a new MLIS grad seriously, where will that leave me in a few years? As a young MLIS student that changed careers, I hope this doesn’t put me at any disadvantage when job searching. Plus, that kind of thinking seems regressive and paranoid, and it worries me that these might be the biases of library professionals.
9. Libraries are changing, and that’s a good (and exciting) thing.
Though I too have many romantic notions about what a library “should” be, I am not afraid of change (as a journalist, you can’t afford to be). And so, I am actually very excited about the future of libraries, and what the institution will become in the coming years. Unlike a certain mayor in Florida who believes that “the age of the library is probably ending”, I firmly believe libraries can and will find ways to reinvent themselves to meet modern information needs. In fact, I think both public and academic libraries have the potential of becoming important community gathering places and information hubs – an exciting move that will not only redefine a library’s role, but how change the ways communities interact.
10. Librarians, and libraries, are critical in a working democracy.
This is a truth that I believe in now more than ever. I believe, however, that it’s best stated by Kathleen de la Pena McCook and Katharine Phenix in their essay, “Human Rights, Democracy and Librarians”:
We librarians have opportunities like no other profession also to be powerful human rights advocates by performing our work mindful of the information barrier we break down with every open library door.
Candea, B. (2013). “Cuts coming to Miami-Dade County libraries.” Post Newsweek. Miami, FL. Retrieved from http://www.local10.com/cuts-coming-to-miamidade-county-libraries.
Haycock, K. & Sheldon, B. (2008). The Portable MLIS. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited