Hello beautiful people! It’s another day of NaBloPoMo, and I’m going to ignore the facts that I’m sick, that the fate of the free world gets decided today, and that I’m having course registration issues and altogether about to have a breakdown and instead talk about what I’m currently doing with my life: studying library and information science (also I wrote most of this post yesterday. Shhhh.) I am close to finishing my second term in my program, and I have also now been working in a public library for about 6 months. This is not a long time, but in that time I’ve gotten many questions from different people about what I do/want to do when I finish my degree. I’ve found that a lot of people don’t really know what librarians do, so I’ve decided to answer some of those questions here!
1. Wait, you need a Master’s degree to be a librarian?
Yes! In the US, most libraries nowadays will only hire people who have MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science) degrees for full-time librarian positions. Back in the day, this wasn’t as ubiquitous of a requirement, but now it is. There are very few places that offer Bachelor’s degrees in LIS – it’s just not really a thing. Most MLIS programs are also considered “professional” programs, as opposed to academic – I didn’t have to take the GRE to enter the program. While you do study theory in LIS school, the majority of what you learn are practical skills rather than purely academic study. Most MLIS students (in my program, anyway) are either career-changers or people who have worked in libraries for a while but need the Master’s in order to move up (I am the former of the two).
2. What do you learn in library school besides the Dewey Decimal System?
That honestly depends on what your career goals are. LIS is an incredibly broad field, from rare book archiving to bioinformatics. LIS professionals manage information, and in a world where information is increasingly available and accessible, LIS is an incredibly hot career path right now. Maybe you’re going into digital preservation, ensuring materials that exist only in digital form are preserved for future study (i.e. the Library of Congress is trying to curate a Twitter archive, which probably includes all your tweets from the last 5 years.) Or maybe you’d rather focus on digitization, the process of taking analog materials and converting them into digital versions to increase accessibility. I am studying to be a librarian in the more traditional sense, so yes, the Dewey Decimal System is something on the syllabus. I also want to work with teens, so I’ll be taking classes focused on YA lit and resources for youth, community engagement, collection management, etc.
3. What else do librarians do besides find books for me?
That depends on the type of librarian. Reference librarians (the type of librarian people are usually referring to when they say “librarian”) are masters of finding the information you want to find. My reference class had weekly exercises of random questions patrons might ask, and you had to know where to look for the answer and how to use the source you chose. You were then graded not only on getting the correct answer but also on how you got it (no Google allowed). I once helped a patron who wanted to date an antique pipe organ at her church and another patron who wanted information on eyebrow microblading (which apparently is sort of like getting your eyebrows tattooed on – who knew!?).
Some librarians work only on library programming. Programming can range from ESL classes to computer classes to children’s storytimes to teen cosplay nights to genealogy clubs to test prep to knitting circles, etc., etc., etc. You name it, there’s a library somewhere that offers it. Programming is a huge part of what public libraries do, and it’s someone’s job to manage it.
Other librarians work in Interlibrary Loan departments, some work in Technical Services, some are Outreach Librarians, some specialize in Collection Management or Circulation. And I’m only naming librarians that are associated with public libraries in this post – there are whole other worlds of academic libraries, school libraries, archives, special libraries, museums, corporate libraries, etc. that I’m not covering here. So, a lot.
4. Why do I need a reference librarian when I have Google?
Because Google is a commercial search engine and what they display on the first page of results is what is going to get them the most clicks. I’m not knocking Google, it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. But it can’t find everything. If your information need goes beyond what is available in a simple Google search, you’re probably going to need some extra help if you don’t know what else to do. In the new generation where information is only a Google search away, people will be needing reference librarians even more, because people will no longer be trained to find things that aren’t on Google.
5. Does anyone use libraries anymore?
Very much yes. Libraries are especially important for underprivileged groups of people. A library is a place with free internet access, free books, and free warm comfy chairs. It’s the only place some people use to get access to the internet. Some libraries also offer programs for people learning English or looking for jobs. The library where I work even offers citizenship test preparation classes. We also offer an online high school program for those 18 and older seeking a high school diploma. Also Zumba.
Point is, there are a lot of things public libraries offer that people don’t know about or don’t think about. Most libraries in the Chicagoland area offer museum passes for checkout that get you into Chicago museums for free.
Really the goal of the library is to be a free and open place for learning to occur, regardless of who you are. And it makes me so excited to one day be able to say this about myself:
Thanks for reading, loves. If you have questions about libraries or librarians, feel free to leave them in the comments!