Yes, we are all quite aware that as librarians, there is usually a constant need for us to advocate to our employers of our importance. For many of us, we must continually justify our budgets and existence in our workplace – being one of the favourite areas for the ‘higher ups’ to start making cuts from.
But what about in everyday life? As someone who has only recently entered the field of librarianship, I feel we are also compelled to extend this advocacy more widely. Perhaps you are meeting someone new at a party. Perhaps you are meeting your partner’s family for the first time. Or maybe you’re just making small talk on public transport to some extra talkative person. And the inevitable question occurs – “so, what do you do for a living?”, “oh, I’m a (enter specialisation here) librarian” you politely respond, readily preparing your justifications.
Queue a number of either bemused or haughty responses from said acquaintance:
“Oh, that would be nice, getting paid to just read books!”
“So, you like shush people all day?”
“Librarian hey? Yeah I think I might do that too, I’m looking for a quick easy job”
And so on.
How to respectfully explain to the layman that no, this job is extremely complex and requires years of specialised study. In fact, many of us are probably just as highly, if not more qualified, than a lawyer, engineer, or high flying business executive. Most people are well meaning but society is unfortunately quite ignorant when it comes to our amazing field of work – that is why we can take these conversations as yet another opportunity to educate, hoorah!
Here are some pre-prepared replies for you to utilise as you endeavour to educate the public, one confused person at a time:
“Yes I do love reading books! But I do that in my spare unpaid time which I attempt to fit in around acquisitions, cataloguing, weeding, reference enquiries, information and digital literacy classes, customer service, working weekends/evenings, e-books and e-learning, makerspaces, professional development, innovation and of course, advocacy.”
“I’ll shush you!” Just kidding. Try something like “The library has actually evolved into a community hub where all sorts of diverse people come to collaborate, share ideas and learn. Not only is it a safe place, but it’s also a fun place. We as librarians actively encourage using the space for activities, workshops, author visits, training and group work. The silent areas are separated off and rarely require our authority to enforce, patrons being the considerate folk they are. Perhaps you should visit your library to learn more about all the wonderful things we offer.”
“That’s great! Being a librarian is a rewarding and challenging profession, full of passionate and interesting people. If you would like I can send you information relating to the professional association requirements and Master’s degree you would need to work as a librarian here. I also recommend you volunteer at a library as soon as possible, as getting a full-time permanent position is very competitive.”
You can also refer them to this highly informative video on ‘a day in the life of a librarian’:
And make sure you always finish off the conversation with some Dewey Decimal humour – “Enjoy my 808.882”.
– Michelle De Aizpurua, ILN Content Officer