Guest Post: My take on professional librarianship by Sandra Brandt

Today’s guest post was sent to us by one our community members, Sandra Brandt. Thanks Sandra!

As a child, the visit to the library with dad, was the highlight of my week, but the librarians scared me to death. As a teen, the school librarian was an imposing figure. As a young adult at college, the librarians I had the courage to approach were unfriendly and superior. As a young mother, weekly visits to the library were full of joy as I watched my kids grow into the thrill of discovery. The librarians I remember for their lack of involvement and eagle eyes, lording it over their immaculate space. That was my experience. I hear you asking, surely, there must have been one friendly librarian? No, not one stands out.


Photo CC0 by Josh Felise

Photo CC0 by Josh Felise

Finally, given the opportunity to study in that direction, why did I choose to become a librarian? For the excitement I experienced in fiction, the joy of discovery in books of all kinds, and the almost tangible atmosphere of knowledge in libraries, regardless of my fear of librarians. I resolved to be the librarian that I never encountered. Service oriented without superiority. One who takes her meticulous job seriously, yet makes her patrons feel valued and (God forbid) welcome. Even if those shelves need to be straightened AGAIN, and that one annoying person always makes the same remark; even though the same people have the same impossible requests, and the online catalogue has to be explained for the thousandth time today. When people still need help because they can’t find a book in the Dewey system, and there’s that email reference question awaiting a reply. Even when my job is on the line because of the economy.

Professional librarianship is just that … a profession … of CHOICE. One that has been achieved with recognised tertiary study and which adheres to an accepted code of conduct. It means never reaching the point where you feel that you have arrived (at the top of Maslow’s pyramid). In our ever-changing, technology-ridden information environment, constant PD is necessary to refresh, challenge and inspire us as information professionals to greater heights. (Just last week I encountered a young librarian who didn’t know what a LISTERV was.)

I recently read a conversation on Twitter about ALIA plans to introduce mandatory PD in the future. In my opinion it should be required of every professional librarian, regardless of the stage of career. And now I’m really going to rattle some cages – PD doesn’t only belong in working hours. With so many free opportunities online, weekends, evenings, holidays even, can be used to improve your skills, enrich your knowledge and challenge your comfort zone. The ALIA PD scheme gives many suggestions. To me, in a nutshell, professionalism is the desire to constantly ensure that you have what it takes to be referred to as a ‘professional librarian’ – for the sake of the profession, but mostly for the sake of our patrons/users/clients.

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  1. Thank you, ILN, and *loved* your blog, Sandra Brandt. I’m so sorry there wasn’t a ‘Sandy’ where you went to college. Here’s to our patrons and clients never having to feel that way : )

  2. Pingback: 23 Things: Thing 1 and Thing 2 – LibSandy – Librorum

  3. Hello Sandra

    When I was ten I spent the summer pretty well in the library, as my family were between houses and not settled anywhere. I have no memory of the librarians beyond polite and helpful faces – I simply headed for the shelves. When I was in the final year of secondary school, the librarians would let us sleep in the library; and i suspect they listened, possibly with amusement, possibly nostalgia, to our intense sixteen-year-old conversations while they shelved. When I was at uni, in my second year, I crept up to the information desk and asked tentatively for help, for reasons of personal nervousness, not because I’d encountered any ogres, and was genuinely surprised when the librarian said something like, “Of course, that’s why I’m here.” Then when I was doing my grad dip in librarianship, I asked the reference librarian how to find a particular thing that would help me answer a question in our weekly assignment; she took off to find out the answer herself while I trailed behind saying, “But I’m supposed to work this out myself”, to which she replied, “But I want to know the answer too.” So I’ve had a very different experience of librarians and so am inclined to think that we suffer from a bad press that’s never been completely warranted.

    As someone who has continued to study, I don’t think we should flog ourselves too much about the need to stay abreast of developments – that can make you feel daunted and demoralised. My path has been to yes, keep up in a moderate way, but to primarily follow the developments and issues that interest me. There are things, mainly technological, that I can’t do yet but I’ll learn them when I need to; in the meantime I’ve found a lot of benefit in learning about softer issues like community engagement and cultural competence. It’s also contributed to feeling resilient – when things have got tough in the workplace, I’ve been able to distract myself with study and the thought that it will be a contributor to getting out of there.

    Another of the spin offs of continuing to learn and study is that having done it generates opportunities of its own. For example, I’m supervising library placements because I’m the only one in my workplace who has a degree. I’m appreciating the opportunity to develop management skills, albeit in a gentle short-term fashion.

    And by the way, libraries are full of people who don’t have relevant qualifications, of any sort – a big shortcoming in my opinion that works to downgrade the occupation and make it harder for people who do have a qualification.


  4. Hi Fiona.

    I’m glad you had a more positive experience with librarians, than I did. 🙂 As a child I headed for the shelves too…after story-time, where we had to be very quiet, or else!
    My interactions at uni, just recently, were over the internet, and those too were very impersonal. When I had opportunity to call at the physical library, it appeared more like a prison, with strict security and cage-like gates, manned by unfriendly security guards. Perhaps the difference between our experiences is due to the fact that we were on different continents, who knows?

    I hope my article didn’t come across as suggesting that we should be flogging ourselves with the need to stay abreast …indeed not. Rather, as professional librarians, it is something we should welcome at any given opportunity, and should make time for. If, for any reason, there is a ‘season’ where doing PD is not possible, then we should just get back into it as soon as we are once again able to. Keeping up, even in a moderate way as you put it, is keeping up. The technology landscape is too vast for us to know it all, but here and there we can zone in on something needed or embraced by our community. Can we help set-up a LinkedIn account on a smart phone for example, or show a student how to use Adobe Spark? We may all be able to use Google Drive, but do we know how to use all it’s ‘tools’…? Then there’s Office 365, Bing Classroom, OneNote and OneDrive. What about Twitter or Pinterest – not only for social celebrity catch up. Box was used recently in a workshop I attended, and not everyone knew what it was, much less how to use it. These are the things we can incorporate into our own lives, or do workshops on, to find out how they work so that we can assist where needed.

    Community engagement and cultural competence? Wow! Vital as a professional! In-fact, for most of our communities in the modern world, cross-cultural/inter-cultural competence is also required. So it’s not only about technology. I did not intend to place emphasis only on technology, but it is one of our greatest challenges.

    I agree that using unqualified library personnel contributes to the downgrade of the profession. It’s especially sad when this happens within school libraries. Therefore it’s up to us to stand as professionals, whether we have either a LIS diploma or degree, and to be recognised as being as vital to the community we serve, as a doctor or a nurse.

    Hope you’re having a great day.


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