Librarians always get a bad rap. They are either portrayed as haughty know-it-alls or dowager women who shush everyone to keep them quiet. In the movies they are seen as diminutive and reserved. It is always funny to me when Clarence, the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, shares the fate of Mary Bailey if George Bailey had never been born. He cringes as he finally admits she is “just about to close up the library.”
How horrifying it is to be a librarian. Other famous librarians include Marian the Librarian from The Music Man and, one of my favorites, Charles Halloway from Something Wicked this Way Comes. All are seen as “losers” or prudes who are timid or possess other “negative” character traits. Never would you think that anyone would actually want to be a librarian or learn library skills.
I actually really appreciate librarians. I have fond memories of spending extended time at my local library asking questions, researching topics of interest, and standing in awe of the expansive card catalog. Sure, it is pre-Internet stuff, but so valuable. I do not know the “why” behind most of the stuff I see in library arts, but I do see the value.
I am confident that each of us needs to develop some of those library skills that have been developed and refined over the years. You use them all the time. You may not even realize where you learned them or how you use them in everyday life.
Here is a quick cheat sheet of some of those skills and how they appear in today’s online life.
Why are the travel books on one aisle and the sports books on another? They are categorized. Grouped together by topic. You may say that is obvious, but they could be grouped by cover art or color. “Green books are on aisle 5.” Maybe they could be grouped by size or shape: “The books smaller than eight and a half by eleven are on Gondola A, next to the drinking fountain.”
You categorize things every day. Take a look at your pantry or maybe your closet. The cans of soup are all together and so are your sweaters. Thank your mom for most of this wisdom, but indirectly it came from a librarian.
Librarians are great at finding the “unfindable” (is that a word?). Most of us have developed fairly good online search capabilities, but not everything you want is on the first page of Google’s results. Librarians know where things are stored. They know how to cross-check and backcheck. They understand, on a deeper level, where to look for the things that we cannot find.
You do this every day when using online searches (and some of you will be able to do it better than others). You think of alternative sources and locations. You know where things are stored on your server or desktop. You acquired this skill from the habits of a librarian.
Balancing and Broadening Exposure to Information
Librarians know the content of their catalog. They know the strong points and the holes. They seek to fill out the breadth of resources by acquiring more books. They assist you by suggesting associated literature related to your subject for context or background information.
You do this with others as you help them to broaden their skills and expose them to new data and processes they may not have known about. You extend their knowledge and direct their learning.
Increasing Accessibility and Knowledge Sharing
Most libraries are open. The Romans began to acquire private libraries because of the aristocratic wealth some of them had accumulated. Emperors developed vast public libraries for the masses. In the Renaissance we see the rise of religious and academic libraries. The French revolution brought us libraries that were considered public property, open to all citizens.
Librarians share knowledge. They distribute it and allow greater access to the masses. They gather, catalog, organize, expand, and share it. The true skill is that they know where the information is located and they help you find it.
You do this every day when you share what you know. You do it when you provide a link to an article that is interesting. You share info on Facebook and other social sites, AUGI Forums, and so much more. You are sharing in a way that would make librarians smile.
Desiring to Know More
“What's the point of having a library full of books you've already read?” - Ray Bradbury.
Librarians seem to have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Their library is never overstocked. It can always expand. There is always room for new data, literature, music, artwork, photography, and on and on.
You carry on this tradition as you seek more and more information. You may have several books that you desire to read. There may be many articles on your list to read. Your favorite bookmarks in your browser are ever expanding. You follow new people every day on Twitter to see what they are saying. You have developed this desire from the many people who have shared their love for learning with you and, dare I say, from the librarians who embody this desire every day.
We can’t all be librarians, but we sure can continue the legacy they have started by embracing the positive habits mentioned above and passing them on to others.