For impatient readers: The video is at the bottom of the post
Recently, Natalie DeJonghe* released the results of a survey she conducted for one of her classes at the University of Wisconsin. She intended to find out how librarians perceive themselves, and -more relevant for this post- how the public perceives librarians. The results are somewhat surprising, given the stereotypical view of librarians that we encounter all the time. Librarians still conjure a certain imagine in people’s minds:
- Ladies, mostly older and white (this was a new one for me) with buns, wearing glasses and dressing somewhat conservatively.
- Help people to find books and sit behind a desk and read all day, occasionally shush patrons.
At least once a week I encounter a person whose opinion is in dire need of being updated (to say it nicely), and they are surprised when I briefly tell them about all the things that we do.
Based on this, I always have the feeling that people do not perceive our profession as something that requires a lot of education, experience, and skills … although I am pretty sure I demonstrated the skill of patience by actually telling people about our job and not smack them on the back of their heads.
So imagine my surprise when I looked at Natalie’s results. Librarians are perceived as:
- Scholarly, tech savvy
- Intelligent, capable, detail-orientated individuals who make the world a better place
- Skilled person that helps patrons with a variety of needs, such as research, internet and email help, book recommendations, and just general local knowledge.
- Intelligent, well read, educated.
- Important now and in the future (!)
Not just the survey results paint this picture though. When I was working at a public library, I was surprised by how many people assume that librarians “just know things”. And questions were not just book-related. Patrons would come in with their e-readers, hold it up to us and say “Please explain to me how this works.” Noticed something here? Yes, exactly. They did not ask “Do you know how this works, and can you explain it?” The same goes for computer programs, job applications, a variety of skills, questions about movies, music … pretty much everything you can imagine.
So how come that despite this positive image, librarians are still perceived the way I mentioned above?
Have a look at what the Occupational Outlook Handbook has to say about us:
- Librarians help people find information from many sources. They maintain library collections and do other work as needed to keep the library running.
- There may be competition for librarian positions, but those with library science training may be able to use those skills in other settings.
I think the OOH needs to update their description … the skills we have are valuable to settings outside the library.
Another great example for misconceptions is the article Beyond Books, published on finance.yahoo.com (and people wonder why I don’t like Yahoo …). In this article, the job outlook for librarians is described as “terrible”. And why? Because
“[...] Many middle-class workers have lost jobs because powerful software and computerized machines are doing tasks that only humans could do before.”
The example given is the following:
“Steven Herman, left, head of the Library of Congress storage facility, at the Library of Congress in 2003, in Washington, and left, a “bookBot”, an automated retrieval system at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University in 2013, in Raleigh, N.C. “
Notice something? Librarians are, again, illustrated as people who put away books (or retrieve them). And honestly, having a robot do that work is great! It means that professionals don’t have to waste their time doing tasks like this but can actually focus on their duties, which is so much more than just reading and sorting books.
Preaching to the choir here. The point is: We need to be depicted accurately. For those interested, here’s a great article about what it takes to be a 21st Century Librarian:
“[...] In the digital age, when information is increasingly becoming available online, there is a propensity to say that libraries and librarians are redundant. This is not the case. Information available online is often of dubious origin and there is still a wealth of information behind paywalls that can only be accessed by those who have paid.”
And for those who have not yet realized it:
We are fun to be with, and by no means wallflowers!
*Natalie can be reached at email@example.com