Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ask a Librarian: Who or What is a Librarian?

One of the most basic questions people might not know the answer to (even if they think they do) is "Who or what is a librarian?" I think the common perception would be, "Someone who works in a library." Patrons (what we librarians call you regular people who use our libraries) see someone in a library shelving books, or checking books out, or sitting behind a reference desk, and they naturally assume that person is a librarian. In reality, the answer to this question is much more complex.

For example, the traditional answer these days is to say that a librarian is someone who works at a library AND has an advanced degree in library science. This degree is normally called a Masters of Library Science (MLS), but these days other names have been assigned to it, as well: MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Studies), Master of Librarianship, etc. The exact name varies based on the university that grants the degree, but the principle remains the same. According to this definition, someone who simply works in a library isn't a librarian. He or she has to have an advanced degree to "earn" the title.

Naturally, this results in no little amount of debate and discussion in the world of librarians. For example, here in Maine there are many people who are even directors of local public libraries who aren't "librarians," since they lack the degree. However, they've worked in libraries, doing all aspects of library related duties, for thirty plus years. So why are they referred to as "paraprofessionals" when a girl in her twenties fresh out of grad school and in her first position is automatically granted the title? When you take into account the fact that full fledged "librarians" typically get paid more money, this can be a particularly touchy subject. (And indeed, in just the past month, there's been a big debate about this topic on MELIBS, the Maine Library List Serve.)

In the end, many outsiders would probably shrug their shoulders and dismiss the debate, going back to their "If they work in a library, they're a librarian" definition. But even then, there are many degrees of librarians. There are catalogers, serials librarians, acquisition librarians, library pages, administrative assistants, directors, reference librarians, subject specialists, book repair specialists, media librarians, information technology librarians, interlibrary loan librarians, and more--and that's just in an academic library. There are different types of libraries, as well: academic, high school, elementary, hospital, business, law, public, etc. And there are different types of each of those libraries, too. A small academic library will be very different than a large academic library. An all-volunteer public library that serves a single town will be totally different than the New York Public Library, with all its branches.

What is Mantor Library? We're a small academic library, part of a larger University of Maine library system that encompasses multiple campuses and public libraries. We have four full fledged "librarians" on staff, nine other full or part-time employees, and thirty or forty student workers. The nice thing is that by and large, librarians don't really care what you call us. We're just happy to have you come in and use what we have to offer. You don't have to worry about offending us here at Mantor. Ask anyone who works here your question--they should refer you to the person or people here who know the answer.

And that's your answer for today. Got a library-related question? Drop me an email, and I'll do my best to answer it in an upcoming post!

No comments:

Post a Comment