Wednesday, April 13, 2011

being a librarian

A book is a fragile creature, it suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements and clumsy hands. So the librarian protects the books not only against mankind but also against nature and devotes his life to this war with the forces of oblivion.
- Umberto Eco1
In my old job I was a Librarian. Yes, librarian with an capital L. I was an archivist, but I was also a Librarian (Senior Assistant Librarian for most of my tenure). Librarian is some academic libraries have faculty status so Librarian is a formal title indicating rank just like Professor. In this academic world not all librarians are Librarians and, yes, I freely admit that I occasionally caused a bit of uproar by using the term librarian (little L) unintentionally excluding people when others assumed I meant Librarian-with-a-capital-L.

While I served on library committees, worked with librarians on various projects, presented at library conferences, and occasionally prodded subject specialists to add certain titles to the circulating collections, I wasn't really a librarian. Or, at least I didn't feel like one despite by ALA-accredited degree and Nancy Pearl action figure.2

Now in this new position I really am a librarian. While I'm mostly a department head, an archivist, and a records manager, I oversee a library. There's a circulating collection and rare books and satellite libraries, oh my! And I'll be helping with many of the library functions as well as working on implementing an electronic catalog (yes, we still have a card catalog). It's quite exciting to be a librarian. In addition to learning about the collections under my care and about my new employer as a whole, I'm accustoming myself to thinking like a librarian more of the time.3

Since I'm not going to be doing book-of-the-month posts for the student services blog anymore, I thought I might occasionally feature a book from my new library's collections. These will likely be different types of books than I've usually featured on the blog since our collection doesn't include much fiction and is pretty geographically and historically specialized. It should be interesting and I think it'll help me get a better handle on the types of books we collect (our collection development policy circa 2000 is detailed, but it needs some updating).
  1. The Name of the Rose (48). The quote doesn't really have anything to do with what else I wrote in the post (and is equally relevant to the archival profession), but I decided to include it anyway.
  2. I have both the original and deluxe.
  3. People often think that archivists view the world the same way as librarians. I'm as guilty as the rest as my simple explanation of what I do occasionally goes something like this:
    - What do you do?
    - I'm an archivist
    [silence accompanied by blank stare]
    - a special kind of librarian
    (though usually I've just said that I work in the special collections area of the library). However libraries and archives have different roles leaving librarians and archivists with very distinct points of view (some simplistic differences: secondary vs. primary sources, item- vs collection-level description, access vs. preservation). Thinking as an archivist I'm liable to want to throw out much of what I as a librarian should want to keep to ensure we have a robust collection.


  1. Okay, this is how out of the loop I am... I knew nothing of the job change. Spill it, woman!