“Your Life Work” as a 21st Century Librarian

“When you have these two important qualifications, love for book and love for people, you may well consider the vocation of a librarian.”

According to Iowa State College’s “Your Life Work” Series, a librarian should be ready to assist The Public, aka children, “professional men searching for special scientific information,” and the blind. And no matter which type of library you work for, the task of the 1940s librarian “remains the same: bringing people and books together.” Well the task of the 21st century librarian is not so simple. And it’s going to take more than a love of books and a love of people to accomplish it.

Since 1947, a lot has happened. Most dramatically? The Internet. The most common response to “I’m doing my Master of Information and Library Sciences” is “Aren’t librarians kind of useless now, you know, because of the Internet?”

But public libraries are busier than ever, and information illiteracy is on the rise. Now more than ever, people need libraries as physical community spaces, and as protection centers for intellectual freedom. People need their librarians to be ambitious. People need librarians who have a complex skill sets.

Sure, digitization offers some benefits over print. But libraries can keep up with that. And digitization does not equate to “Internet.” The way I see it, The Library isn’t in competition with The Internet. Each has their own realm of purpose and ability. Some patrons will choose The Internet over The Library for simple reference questions or entertainment. Others will choose The Library. This as a benefit for librarians. The Internet is freeing up more of our time, previously spent on simple reference questions and tasks, as exemplified in the 1947 vocation video. The extra time allows us to instead focus on creating communities, seeking out high-level information, and improving information literacy. As the mindset of ¬†society changes, so does the role of the library. And I think it’s changing for the better.

While librarians in the workforce today might not need to navigate a card catalogue system or drive a book-moblie to a rural area, we do need a complex skill set, above and beyond a love for people and books. We need to be quick learners, who are aware of changing times and rapidly evolving resources. We need to be savvy big-picture thinkers, with the backbone to resist censorship and to defend the Intellectual Freedom of the public. And most importantly, we need to create a welcoming place where anyone can belong – including but definitely not limited to children, professional men, and the blind.

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