What does it mean to be a librarian?

Last week I wrote about changes to public libraries as a result of changing technology and the changing needs of patrons. The same can be said for all types of libraries; there have been vast changes in the last decade alone. This week I am wondering what these changes mean for the 21st century librarian. What does it mean to be a librarian in 2013 and into the future? Certainly not the same thing that it meant 20 or 30 years ago? What are the competencies and ethical considerations required of the modern day librarian?

ALA Core Competencies: (2009)

  1. Foundations of the profession
  2. Information Resources
  3. Organization of Recorded Knowledge and Information
  4. Technical Knowledge and Skills
  5. Reference and user services
  6. Research
  7. Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning
  8. Administration and Management

Ethical Principals of the ALA: (2008)

  1. Provide the highest levels of service
  2. Uphold principles of intellectual freedom
  3. Protect the user’s right to privacy
  4. Recognise and respect intellectual property rights
  5. Treat colleagues with respect and advocate for good employment conditions
  6. Do not advance private interests over those of the user
  7. Distinguish between personal convictions and professional duties
  8. Strive for excellence in the profession by encouraging professional development, in ourselves and our co-workers.

Clearly some of these issues would not have been the same 20 years ago. For example, information resources would have been a much easier competency to understand and develop before the information explosion that is the internet and the world wide web, databases, access to broadband, google, e-books and the list goes on…………

I agree that we now need technological skills as well as traditional; however, there are some competencies that stand out to me as being vitally important. Personally, I believe that these items are the absolute essentials:

Foundations of the profession: To understand what a librarian is and does. To me, this is about making information available to users. It is balancing freedom of information with the principles of intellectual property. It is about appreciation of all the ethical considerations outlined above while ensuring that people get the information they require, to the best of your ability. It is being respectful and non-judgmental in relation to people’s information needs. It is about understanding libraries (various types) and their patrons, and their patron’s needs. And finally, something which I feel very strongly about, is that we have the understanding that libraries need advocates and who better to advocate for the library than the librarian.

User Services: At the end of the day, the user is king. The library will not function without the user and long gone are the days that a library could be considered a room of books. A library is a service and the librarian must ensure the service is user-orientated.

Continuing Education and Lifelong learning: As far as I am concerned this is now one of the fundamental issues in librarianship. Of course, we must all know the basics that we learn in library school but who knows when what we are learning now will become obsolete. Technology is changing our field; every day there are new bits of information on the web, new ways to get information and new electronic devices to see information. We must be willing to keep up, and I would argue, more than willing but actually interested and engaged and actively seeking information. We must be hungry for information because information is our profession. We must also be willing to teach others about information and help them to develop in this ever-changing world.

These are my thoughts but I would love to know if there is anything I have missed or what other people think about the profession. Please leave a comment as to your understanding of what it means to be a librarian because I would love to learn more about the profession and people’s understanding of it.


7 thoughts on “What does it mean to be a librarian?

  1. The headline of this Guardian article “It’s not what a library stocks, it’s what it shares”, gave me hope that it might focus on the range of services libraries offer…but to be honest, I was a bit disappointed. It seems media are still very much focused on libraries as storehouses. We definitely have a long way to go in promoting what it means to be a librarian today…


    • Thanks for the link. The headline is totally misleading. Isn’t it a pity that there is so much focus on books, whether its physical or electronic and no focus at all on all the other services. What can we do to change the perception of libraries as storehouses?

  2. So what you’re saying is that there’s more to it than just stamping books??

    It’s interesting to me that this idea of the user is quite new in many fields, I’m particularly thinking back to our Information Architecture lectures. It’s interesting to see that shift in web design but also in wider area of life. Books and knowledge are not just for the elite anymore, it’s much more democratic now. And librarians play a huge role in this equity, making resources – books, technical skills as well as information literacy – available to those who maybe otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford these resources.

    • Jenny, I can see the frustration in your first sentence. I think we all feel that at times. It is so true that libraries provide resources to those that may not be able to afford them and that makes libraries even more relevant in times of recession and yet budgets to libraries are being cut. Do people really understand the level of services libraries can offer?

  3. That’s really interesting. I would totally agree. I need to change the sentence about it certainly not being the same as 20-30 years ago to one with a question mark. 🙂 It’s interesting that I had loads to say in relation to public libraries changing but in essence the core aspects of being a librarian have stayed the same, or maybe even become more important.

  4. Very interesting! I would say that it is not actually that different than 20 or 30 years ago in terms of competencies – it is just that we are operating in a different context. The basic values are the same in my view: connecting people with information; supporting research and learning – sure we need new technical skills to support these values but that will always be true in any job. I think as librarians we always need to keep in mind our core values – essentially why we are doing what we do. I don’t think these should change all that much over time.

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