When I say the word “librarian,” who do you picture? Someone gray-haired and bespectacled, perhaps glaring from behind a desk, just waiting for you to dog-ear that old copy of Life magazine?
Well, sorry to have to share this, but that librarian is dead.
A lime green jacket? Not a tweed blazer? Rachel Borchardt, a
science librarian who works at American University, was probably the hundredth
librarian I’d met in a year, and even though most had surprised me with their
eclectic hobbies, fashion sense and formidable online savvy, it takes a while
to fully reboot and shake loose that first “librarian” sketch.
Thankfully, Borchardt confesses she had her own preconceptions about being a librarian. “I thought that we would just sit at the desk all day and answer questions, which I was really excited about.” She didn’t know about all the meetings, special projects and the teaching. She was definitely nervous about the teaching. But she doesn’t have any regrets. Now, when she talks about teaching information literacy, she says, “[I]t’s a chance to change students’ lives. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true.”
It’s time to get acquainted with the new
7 Misconceptions About Librarians and One Truth
They are all quiet.
David Lee King was a DJ and an assistant recording engineer before he became a librarian. And he has yet to surrender the mike. In a Library 101 music video, King and Michael Porter, the Interactive Strategy Manager at WebJunction, an online learning network, croon, “When libraries first started out we weren’t quite the dream...” http://www.libraryman.com/library101/
More than 500 library staff members around the world
participated in the video, complete with animation, flashing stage lights and
grown men playing air guitar and real guitars, too!
They don’t care what you think.
The adage “children should be seen and not heard” has been made redundant in most libraries. The new philosophy is active listening and learning. Shannon McClintock Miller, a librarian at Van Meter High School in Iowa, recognizes that some of her students know more about computers than the teachers do. So she started a group called C.E.W.L. (Computer Efficiency Workers League), the schools’ own Geek Squad. She also routinely invites students to play teacher. One seventh-grade student was so adept at using Presi, an alternative to PowerPoint, that Miller had her present a lesson to the class.
They are arrogant.
a librarian at San Jose Public Library in California, says when she’s giving
someone instructions, she talks to that person as though the person was her
mother. “[T]hat causes me to show a certain level of respect and patience and
really explain things at a lay level that might not otherwise be a natural
impulse for me.” She says it’s an effective strategy, “[but] only if you like
They read every book.
Rachel Borchardt explained that
there are many different kinds of librarians and they have different
responsibilities. She’s an academic librarian, not a public librarian. “If
someone says to me, ‘I just finished reading Harry Potter and I really liked
it. What can you recommend?’ I’d say, ‘That’s cool! Glad you liked it. But I
have no idea what you should read next.’” But if she were asked where to find
resources about, for example, “the role of amygdala in emotional processing in
autism,” Borchardt would be that person’s new best friend.
They all earned their master’s degrees in library science.
Helene Blowers, the digital strategies director at Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio, says, “By some people’s definition I may not be a librarian because I do not have formalized training. But I have worked in libraries for 17 years.” Blowers not only taught herself, but she developed an instructional program called 23 Things, also called Learning 2.0, to help other librarians explore new technologies on their own time.
They don’t want you to have fun.
When the public library near his home in Indiana blocked access to Facebook and MySpace, Michael Stephens, an assistant professor of library and information science at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., was upset. “There are probably young people in this town that don’t have a computer at home, or Wi-Fi or an iPhone. They hear about Facebook, but they don’t have any experience. To me, the library is a perfect place to help break down those barriers.”
Stephens, along with many of the other librarians I spoke with, are serious about librarians “letting go of control.”
They were destined to be librarians (all the stars aligned).
took a personality test to help her determine what career she’d be best suited
to. Her results suggested she become a “professional philosopher.” She laughed.
“I have no idea what that means,” she said. “[A]ll the qualities that it said
that I had that would have made me a poor fit as a librarian were because they
were assuming that the person needs to be really rigid and rule-following and
not necessarily friendly. But the things that make me good at my job are actually
the very things that that test thought would make me bad.”
Librarians are your friends.
“Librarians are guides, not gatekeepers,” Stephens says. They want you to have fun learning, and there are a lot of different ways to learn.
“We exist to help you,” Borchardt says.
Librarians are passionate about service. And school librarians, in particular, have a stake in their students’ futures.
Joyce Valenza, a librarian at Springfield Township High School Library in Erdenheim, Pa., penned her own Manifesto for 21st Century School Librarians. “My guess is that when they [students] land in academic or business environments, they’re going to have fewer bubble tests. Instead, they’ll be asked to develop a meaningful thesis or argument, defend a point of view, invent, create or present something compelling,” she says.
Today’s librarian exists to help all of us grow as critical
thinkers, as researchers and as creators. This I know to be true: Librarians
are our friends.