This week I decided to start a new series: “A day in the life of an academic librarian”. Each post will highlight a different activity that Warner librarians dedicate their time to in order to better serve Eastern’s academic community. Librarianship has evolved over the decades. When most people hear the word “librarian” it conjures up memories from their childhood of a glasses-wearing, bun-sporting lady who stamps your library books with the correct due date. This image isn’t necessarily an accurate one of today’s 21st century librarian.
As a result, I’m dedicating this inaugural post to a brief discussion on how society tends to view librarians versus what we really do. When I was in library school, we spent an entire class session discussing this. It’s kind of a big deal to us (apparently!).
One major influence on society’s perception of librarians comes to us from Hollywood. They portray us in pop culture as spinsters, adventure seekers, meek in manner, rule sticklers, nerdy, quiet, and sometimes even with a hint of mystery, as if we possess a repressed wide side that yearns to undo our hair buns and let loose. There is definitely a librarian stereotype. Here are a few popular films that feature librarians as a character. I’ve placed in parenthesizes the name of the actor/actress who played the librarian character.
- The Librarian (Noah Wyle)
- The Mummy (Rachel Weisz)
- The Music Man (Shirley Jones)
- The Shawshank Redemption (Tim Robbins)
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Elvia Allman)
Pop culture librarian references don’t end in the movies. They’re on television (The Librarians), written about in fiction (Agatha Christie- The Body in the Library), and sung about in songs (My Morning Jacket- “The Librarian”). So after considering the above examples of librarian stereotypes, what is the reality of this profession? According to the Department for Professional Employees-
- Librarians are mainly between the ages of 45-55
- Only 15.1% of all librarians are minorities
- 82% of all librarians are women
With statistics like these, it’s not too hard to understand the genesis of the librarian stereotype. Probably the greatest difference between the image of a librarian and reality is in terms of professional duties & tasks.
Before computers, librarians maintained the card catalog, answered reference questions using the library’s reference resources, added items to the library’s collection, and checked-out material to library patrons. These responsibilities, for the most part, still ring true, but technology has changed how librarians achieve these activities and placed a greater demand on them for increased access to information. Yes, we still maintain the catalog, but it isn’t on cards anymore. Instead, anyone in the world can access the catalog and learn what items are available at Warner. Of course librarians still provide help answering reference questions, only now, instead of answering them face-to-face or via the phone, patrons email/text/im their questions to librarians. How librarians find the answers to these questions has also changed. No longer are we confined to the searching just the library’s books. Instead we have access to thousands of resources thanks to the Internet.
Furthermore, the expectations of librarians has greatly grown. Forget simply stamping due dates in books! Librarians now act as technology support, instructors on research methods and information literacy skills, website/mobile designers, database creators, social media experts, video tutorial/podcast/subject guide producers, and customer service. Above all librarians must be budget savvy so that these great services continue even in economic downturns.
It’s my hope that in this series’s posts our library users will better understand what we love doing everyday here in Warner Library. It may just convert a few of you into joining the profession 🙂
“Library Workers: Facts & Figures.” Department for Professional Employees. April 2010.Web. <http://dpeaflcio.org/pdf/DPE-fs_2010_library_workers.pdf>.