More than librarians

I posted recently about how I get my news, including my customized Google News page (which is tied to my Google Account). Many times the “library” news has been “Public library offers XYXYXX program.” While not overly stimulating, those types of posts can be great for generating ideas for programming. Or even just seeing if your programming is lining up with other libraries across the country. But recently there has been a bunch of really interesting stories. For example, a Chicago library refusing to accept the donation from an atheist blogger shocked me. And the story about the first bookless library in the country excited me. I love the stories about patrons taking it upon themselves to fight for their right to have access to a library. Like the students at Konawaena High School who organized a protest against the proposed reduction in hours for their only library media specialist (Woody Plaunt).

Librarians have always been more than books.

Librarians have always been more than books.

Librarians have always been more than books.

Those are encouraging stories, but I was put off a bit by the reporter’s description of the library media specialist. Reporter Carolyn Lucas-Zenk wrote:

“Plaut [the library media specialist] is more than a librarian. He teaches lessons in website evaluation and research, as well as how to use technology effectively and ethically. As a member of the instructional support team that’s responsible for coordinating aspects of school operations, he prepares books for circulation and checkout; does bookkeeping and library scheduling; offers student support; sources materials for classroom use and for purchase; administers tests; covers for absent teachers; and does eighth-grade orientation. His job and duties also include being a student and teacher mentor, information specialist, college advisory specialist, counselor and community networker.”

My first reaction was “How do those aspects make him more than a librarian?” This in no way downplays Plaut’s excellent work (imagine having to do all that by yourself?!?). But, with maybe one exception (Plaunt covering for absent teachers), everything Lucas-Zenk listed are jobs of every librarian I know. I filled many of these roles today alone, and I don’t even have the degree yet that gives me the right to truly call myself a librarian (although, that statement is a whole other can of worms that deserves its own post).

I acknowledge that this was likely a gimmick, meant both to highlight the many roles Plaunt fills and add an interesting hook to help transition that story, but I was a bit offended by the way it was phrased because it drives down to one of the main problems of our profession: No one knows what we really do. For the longest time, we were defined by books. Now, we’ve always had a greater role than that, but that’s what people have always associated with librarians. And when books stopped being central to our profession, everyone thought that we were done for (and some still do). People not knowing why they should support us is a big problem that is difficult for us to fix, especially since we prefer not to pat ourselves on the back too much. How can we hold onto funding when no one recognizes how vital our services even are? That is something that we need to fix. More things like this letter from university librarians in Montreal need to be written and publicized by those in our profession. We provide vital services, but more and more we need to prove that we do.

Here’s a roundup of interesting links pertaining to what librarians really do:

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