If we stopped the next person walking by on the street and asked them what our jobs as librarians involve, we’d be willing to bet that their first answer would be stamping books. This is because many people’s experience of librarians is of the frontline, customer service staff. Have you ever considered how the books get on to the shelves and ready for you to borrow? Behind the scenes there are teams of librarians working to make this happen.
There are librarians who select the books for purchase, librarians who process the orders and librarians who create the bibliographic records that make it possible for you to find the book in the library catalogue and then on the shelves.
Books are only one aspect of what libraries and librarians are about. Librarianship is a people profession; a librarian’s job is to connect people with the information they are seeking, whatever format that may take. At their heart, all library jobs have a central purpose: to help people access and use information, for education, for work, or for pleasure. In all library roles customer service and communication skills are important. If anyone ever thought they’d become a librarian because they liked books or reading, they would be sorely disappointed if they did not also like people too. Libraries of all kinds are keen to demonstrate their value to as wide an audience as possible, and to open up access to culturally significant resources that they hold.
In the digital age, when information is increasingly becoming available online, there is a propensity to say that libraries and librarians are redundant. This is not the case. Information available online is often of dubious origin and there is still a wealth of information behind paywalls that can only be accessed by those who have paid. We have helped many library users who have only been using search engines for their research and come to the library perplexed because they cannot find the information they want. If anything, the internet has added to the range of services libraries provide and in turn this has also increased the variety of roles available to librarians.
As well as being good communicators with people and active adopters and exploiters of technological developments, librarians need to have detailed specialist subject knowledge to pass on to library users. Librarians provide training to show people how to search for information and evaluate what they find. These information skills sessions are now expanding to include digital literacy such as how to stay safe online, the use of social media sites and online collaboration tools.