So, what does a librarian do all day?

Apr 11, 2007

"...there are few pleasures comparable to that of
associating continually with curious and vigorous young
minds, and of aiding them in realizing their ideals."

---Samuel S. Green, American Library Journal, vol. 1,
Oct. 1876, page 81.

Contrary to popular myth, librarians do not sit around all day and read books. They also do not tend to be old ladies with their hair in a bun who walk around the library shushing people. As a matter of fact, about a third of the ISU librarians are male, only a handful have hair long enough to put in a bun, and reports of our shushing have been greatly exaggerated. Other common myths are that librarians all have English Literature degrees and excel at Trivial Pursuits or Jeopardy! Well, that's not completely true either. Many librarians do have English or History degrees, but there are just as many librarians out there with a wide range of other subject backgrounds. Some librarians could be mistaken for "walking encyclopedias" and others are not - as a number of ISU librarians can testify. Hollywood has done a lot to perpetuate these stereotypes...but if you're curious about the truth, read on.

The people who work at the various service desks around the library tend to be the most visible members of the library staff. They are a mixture of student assistants, full-time staff members, and librarians. The Reference Desk is staffed by librarians who are exceedingly good at knowing which resource (regardless of print or electronic) would answer a specific question and how to locate different types of information. Each of them has a different subject background and expertise - e.g., engineering, life sciences, business, music, history, and psychology. There are also many librarians who work behind the scenes. Less visible librarians on staff include archivists, preservation librarians, catalogers, digital services librarians, electronic resource librarians, information technology librarians, collection development librarians, and library administrators. Preservation librarians repair torn pages, keep materials from falling apart, and develop new techniques for ensuring older materials are protected from damage due to insects, careless users, and water leaks. Electronic resource librarians keep track of purchases and problems with electronic journals, databases, and e-books. Digital services librarians are responsible for the digitization and preservation of electronic images for a wide variety of research resources - such as books, old photographs, and herbarium specimens. Archivists collect historical materials and help researchers who are interested in locating information found in primary source materials such as diaries, manuscripts, and letters. They also acquire and preserve important documents and other valuable items for permanent storage (e.g., Faculty Senate minutes, memorabilia related to ISU, and personal papers of prominent ISU individuals). It takes a lot of dedicated individuals to keep the physical and virtual libraries running smoothly.

Have you ever thought about becoming a librarian? It's never too late!

"Librarianship offers a better field for mental gymnastics
than any other profession."

---Anon, "Continuity," Harper's Weekly, v. 34, no. 1758,
August 30, 1890, page 686.

Do you get a thrill out of solving mysteries? Do the paper and ink restoration techniques in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation intrigue you so much that you immediately run to the nearest computer to look up more details in their online Handbook? Does locating obscure information make you glow? Do you have an eye for odd details that allow you put pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together faster than anyone else in your family? Do you enjoy the intellectual stimulation of scientific research but get bored in the laboratory? Are you fascinated by the experiments done on Mythbusters and continually trying to shoot logical holes in their procedures? Do you like working with medical information, but get a bit nauseated looking at some of the pictures or blood? Do you like helping students but feel a bit traumatized or burned out as a classroom teacher? Do you like helping others improve their research skills? If you (or someone you know) can answer YES to more than one of these questions, you too may want to consider a career in academic or science librarianship. Hair buns and pencils are not required!

Librarianship is increasingly a second or third career opportunity!! In 1989, a research study reported that 30.2% of students surveyed chose to pursue their LIS degree after working in a non-library field. By 2005, studies found that 53% of recent library school graduates went to library school as a second or third career. A survey of recent library school graduates asked why they chose the profession. Those who worked in libraries as support staff members loved the work and chose to pursue the professional degree as a form of job advancement. Others loved books and reading, had the desire to help people find information they need, or desired a career that serves the needs of both individuals and society. Science librarians have also been surveyed to find out why they switched from science to library & information science (LIS). One-fourth of the respondents had become disillusioned or dissatisfied with their science career due to reasons such as industry layoffs, limited career opportunities in sciences without a PhD, or irregular work hours. The other three-fourths were drawn to LIS due to "their love of the scientific and technical literature as well as the fun and challenge of information research." The intangible plusses of library work have been described as: cooperation and congeniality, opportunity to make a difference, intellectual stimulation and life-long learning, variety, and job security.

What does it take to become a librarian?

A BA or BS in any field provides the foundation for librarianship (no undergraduate work in library science is required). A Master's Degree in Library and Information Science from one of the 56 schools accredited by the American Library Association is all you need for most library careers, although some library careers have slightly different degree preferences (e.g., archivists and preservation librarians).

"Careers in Academic Libraries" (by Gwendolyn Bradley) provides an excellent description of career options, job duties and expectations for those who already have an advanced degree(s) and may want to pursue a graduate degree in librarianship and work in an academic or research setting.

A Passion for Academic Librarianship - by Steven J. Bell, portal: Libraries and the Academy, vol. 3, no. 4 (2003), pages 633-642, "explores the sources of passion that make academic librarianship a rewarding profession."

See for yourself!

Faces of a Profession - is a video that can be viewed on the web using RealMedia Player. It highlights the role of academic librarians and the satisfactions to be realized in the profession. It includes interviews with academic librarians who discuss what they do and why they made their career choices.

Me? A Librarian? - A variety of librarians talk about how they arrived at their chosen profession and how they feel about their careers.

Librarianship is experiencing a graying of the profession with a large number of retirements anticipated in the next ten years. The need for academic librarians with subject and technical specialties is also increasing dramatically as information continues to grow exponentially and access to quality information is more difficult. By combining almost any academic degree with a Master's in Library Science, you can be assured of a challenging and rewarding lifelong career with mobility and advancement potential.

Come on in - we'd love to talk to you! Librarians' jobs vary depending on the library and the region of the country. Some work with the public and others participate behind the scenes. Come in and talk to some of our librarians. Find out what their typical workday is like, what education is required for their particular career, what sorts of job duties they dislike, and what gives them their greatest job pleasures.