Ninja Librarians: Reimagining the image of librarians

Quote of the night:

IĀ organize, preserve, index and provide access for all of human knowledge — what do YOU do?

When I began researching library schools a number of years ago, I couldn’t quite get over the concept of why someone would need a degree in googling and bookshelving. But the more research I did on the programs and the sheer amount of flexibility that library programs gave to future careers, I was ready to be seduced in getting my masters in googling and bookshelving. And I couldn’t help thinking, as time progressed and I started pre-class research and book reading, that perhaps I was a tad righteous in my thinking.
And I love to be proven wrong.
Last nights class, Intro to Library Profession (or baby class 101 as I like to refer to it), dispelled many of mine, and apparently others, myths on the profession. Readings over the summer helped expand my knowledge on technology and librarianship, primarily that it was librarians that helped fund and start the first computer databases as a way of organizing and easily accessing knowledge. Yet, at the same time, there is the myth that as electronic cataloging of material grows the fate of the decline of physical libraries keeps growing larger.
Not true said the prof, as who else could manage, collate, collect, organize, and index all that electronic information but a librarian. Thus the job market is expanding at an astounding rate as more and more companies and individuals look for someone or something to help keep all of this information in control. The number of people who apply and go to lib school grows as the job market grows and as the job market grows so does the skill sets that lib school provides and teaches.
My prof went on to list what librarians do and what the skill sets are required and as she went through the list, she then demanded us to tell her exactly what company would not love to hire someone who had these specific skills. No one could provide an answer because what it boiled down to was that ANY company would love to hire someone who can provide this incredibly long and flexible skill base.
And it is not just in public, academic or even in a traditional library setting — companies are expanding to start their own catalogs, archives, special collections to name a few and who better to organize, index, and give access to this information other than someone with an MLIS degree?
In short: a librarian.
But the image problem comes in, namely, that while librarians were the first on the ball back in the dark ages with working with computers and electronic databases for organizing information, the profession has turned its collective backs to the onslaught of new media (which is slowly being changed as new technologies, classes, workshops and the like are provided to keep skill set fresh). The other problem is the image of the librarian — because when you say you are a librarians, the first thing that comes to mind is a Miss Kerfuffle, 60 years old with her hair in a bun, glasses perched on her noses, constantly telling you to shush in the library. And all Miss Kerfuffle wants to do is read her trashy romance and keep her books in line on the shelves. My prof talked about a study that was done some time ago (I forget exactly how long) in which a non-biased poll was taken on how Americans viewed themselves. 90% registered themselves as extroverts while 10% registered themselves as introverts. When the same poll was applied to librarians, the opposite was true — 10% were extroverts and 90% were introverts. Again, the problem of PR and marketing is holding true — librarians are constantly getting a bad rap on who and what they do.
What is needed, my prof said, was balance. It may be fine and dandy that you love to read and are into doing whatever but this job is a service job and we are here to provide a service to the public. You need, she intoned, to realise that you are providing a public service regardless of the capacity. The other image issue is the new fangled titling of librarians — information analysts, information architects, information managers and corporate information officers. But what it boiled down to was that at heart, they were librarians underneath the fancy titles. She told us a story of a friend of hers who was at the forefront of information architecture during the dot com boom rage. Her friend made a killing in the area and she joked that if his client base knew he was really a librarian, his pay rate would decrease alarmingly. Because clearly, being an information architect is MUCH sexier than saying one is a librarian.
Another interesting note is that she discussed about Michigan having two library schools when some states did not have even one. She talked about the differences between Wayne and UMich, expanding on why she was ecstatic that we choose Wayne over UMich. She discussed how she often guest lectures at UMich and told us an antidote about a professor at UMich who mentioned to her in passing that when that prof needs employees or students for projects, she comes up to Wayne to recruit, not necessarily within her own school. My prof said that was interesting and asked why that was so, to be told that UMich doesn’t necessarily teach the necessary skills for day to day work, rather, the students are more involved in research and development and are being groomed for professor tracks in academia.
Having gone over UMich’s website with a fine tooth comb, I can see why this would be true. Apparently, UMich doesn’t teach cataloging anymore, one of the foundational courses that almost every lib school teaches, and of which something you can’t learn on the job. Hence why the UMich prof recruits via Wayne.
Interestingly enough, I’ve heard this time and time again from students AND professors about the friendly rivalry between Wayne and UMich. Some of my classmates have joked that they are going to a high paying technical skills college in order to get jobs. Me? I don’t quite see it that way but the disparity between the two colleges does give me more food for thought as I battle on whether or not I should apply to UMich or not.
But that is a story for another time.