What it takes to be a librarian
Posted September 12, 2008on:
LittleU as an undergraduate degree intended to prepare students for the future MLS program (which LittleU also has). Many of the student workers in the library are in that program with the goal of eventually becoming librarians. Watching them learn and grow (and doing comparison to outstanding librarians that I know) has led to some observations about who will do best in their chosen future profession. Here are my thoughts on what makes a good librarian (or future librarian).
Good interpersonal communication skills – There’s a mouthful. But this is vital since we do work with people on a regular basis. You have to be able to deal with even the crankiest customer and co-worker in an effective way.
Efficient – This may not seem like a big deal, but one thing I’ve realized often in working with college students and faculty is that they are often in a hurry (or at least they think they are *laugh&) and I need to be quick in helping them with whatever it is they need. So, we need to know the quickest, yet best, ways to find information/materials/etc.
Interested and engaged – This one may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve encountered librarians who couldn’t seem to care less about what they are doing. This shows through and isn’t inspiring to our library visitors. Personally, I get excited by the different types of problems patrons present me with. My job sometimes is like a fun treasure hunt and this is perhaps why people get referred to me. Of course, we’ll have days when we aren’t thrilled about being at work, but if that’s the norm and not the exception, it’s time to find something else to do. And let me add that this extends to being interested in innovations in librarianship. Those who are willing to learn and change are holding their libraries and the profession back.
Knowledgeable – Again, another no-brainer. However, sometimes this extends beyond our four walls and the resources within. Library users often expect us to know “everything”. While this isn’t possible, it is possible for us to find what they need…most of the time. If you’re starting a new job in a new town, take some time to get to know a bit about the area and local resources as well. I know I’ve answered questions about things like local movie theaters, public transportation, and coffee shops. While I’m not a tour guide, I’m still in customer service and if this is what someone needs and I do my best to help, chances are greater that the person will return when they have a “real” research question.
Compassion – This may sound strange, but it’s actually a very helpful thing to practice. Part of this is being willing to bend the rules a bit when someone is really in a jam. I’m not advocating letting ourselves being taken advantage of, but using some common sense when approaching problems.
Strength – This isn’t about physical strength, although that is helpful sometimes when you’re lugging around boxes of books or tearing down shelves. What I’m talking about is that individual strength of character to stand up for what you know is right. Most of us at some point in our careers are going to face a situation where we have to stretch a bit and put ourselves out there. It could be because of a challenged book or a problem patron.
What other things do you think make a good librarian? Please feel free to comment. This is pretty general list and based on one person’s observations.