What Does It Mean To Feel Like A Librarian?

Do you feel like a librarian? What makes you feel like one? With a recent blog post on the subject (Joy Weese Moll’s Feeling like a librarian from Wanderings of a Student Librarian) and a comment left on one of my posts (from Corey of the Tech Explorer blog), I have been thinking about how one comes to identify oneself as a “librarian.” Joy Weese Moll discusses teaching in her post and concludes that “I feel more like a librarian when I’m working on those prep assignments than I do at any other time.” I would imagine that this is true for many librarians. But Corey’s recent comments are making me think about systems people and how they come to identify themselves as librarians or if they even do. Corey has recently become a systems librarian and is interested in furthering his systems education. He writes that “Essentially I’m looking for post graduate studies that will train me to be a better Systems Librarian, not a course that will train be to be a better reference / research / liason librarian as that’s not who I want to be.” I can admit to feeling the same way that Corey does – I’m not really looking to be a reference / research / liason librarian – good or otherwise.

MLS graduate schools focus on several core tenets or principles of librarianship of which reference and research are a large part. I am not arguing that these aren’t important nor that everyone in an MLS program shouldn’t have some exposure to these principles. However, I don’t necessarily think that current MLS programs of study provide the best curriculum for systems librarians. I think this is in part due to the fact that colleges and universities tend to focus on theory and not practical experience. I personally don’t expect to learn skills in my MLS program that will help me be a better systems person. I would certainly be interested in being able to take a broader range of courses on systems (especially ILS), web page design / creation / maintenance, information architecture, internet search engine strategies, database design, etc. Currently, SCSU has many of these classes – yet, I will not be able to take most of them due to the way that courses are offers, professors that I do not want to take classes with and time constraints. But the question is, will I feel like a librarian when I graduate?

Ultimately, I am wondering if the majority of librarians feel like they are librarians when working on reference or research projects for patrons. I don’t do this, don’t intend to do this nor do I want to. Has anybody heard of someone feeling like a librarian when they finally get their Ariel computer configured and working or finally get ColdFusion set up for an Interlibrary Loan automated system? Is it even important to identify oneself as a librarian? Is there often a divide between systems librarians and other librarians? I know that in many cases, the systems librarians participate in regular reference rotations – but just as often, they do not. Systems jobs can be significantly different from other jobs in the library. In my job, I often feel as if I have much more in common with the IT staff than my colleagues in the library. I somewhat suspect that I may never really feel like a librarian. I have no clue whether that is good thing or a bad thing.

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3 Responses to What Does It Mean To Feel Like A Librarian?

  1. Lynn says:

    Hi Jennifer: Interesting post! I’m a Systems Librarian currently, though at my former place of work I was first Head of Public Service and then Assistant Director (sounds more impressive that it really was… it was a small library). I don’t feel like any “less” of a librarian now that I’m solely systems. However, the person who hired me for my current job often said that he didn’t feel like a “real” librarian because all he had ever been is a systems librarian – he said that working with the public or cataloguing were “real” librarian jobs.

    I was very lucky in that the library school I went to insisted that everyone take a “computing” course that was really about basic programming, database design and query language. We were told that its purpose was to understand the ILS as well as get a basic grasp of what things were possible with computers at the time. I was also able to take a course on web design and one on usability and information seeking behaviour in an electronic environment. Now that I think of it, I only took one reference course (the required one) for the two years I was there.

    I do think that there is a divide between systems librarians and other librarians. However, I don’t think that it is any bigger than the traditional divide between cataloguers and public services librarians.

  2. I suspect tech services librarians have the same questions. And administrators. It takes a lot of types of librarians to run a large library. And a lot of other staff, too.

    When I talked to my dean once about my ambitions, she mentioned that some reference librarians would rather cut off an arm than no longer be doing reference work. If I’m skilled and lucky, I’ll have to someday make a decision whether I want to move up or retain the activities that make me feel like a librarian. It’s a great feeling, now, nine months into my career. It may become less important as the years go by. Or it might become more important. I guess it will be the level of importance I place on it that will help me make the decision.

  3. […] It is a particularly vexing problem for as Jennifer Macaulay asks “What does it mean to feel like a librarian?“. Jennifer says: MLS graduate schools focus on several core tenets or principles of librarianship of which reference and research are a large part. I am not arguing that these aren’t important nor that everyone in an MLS program shouldn’t have some exposure to these principles. However, I don’t necessarily think that current MLS programs of study provide the best curriculum for systems librarians. […]

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