I work in a small health science library in a hospital setting doing reference work for physicians. I’m the acting health science librarian at my hospital system. I have no imposter syndrome here. I’m claiming this title. I’m also a full-time postgraduate student studying Library Science. So that’s me. You can call me Jess.
I was probably eight years old when I decided I wanted to be a librarian. I was sitting in one of the “quiet rooms” at my local library working on my multiplication tables when I made two significant discoveries. 1) I didn’t want to do any more math and 2) libraries are nice. I hadn’t decided to be a librarian at that point, but in my mind, that is the exact moment that started this journey. The sun was streaming through the windows exposing the floating particles in the air, the quiet room was crisp with the air conditioner, covered in a blue tint from the window glass, my dance uniform was spilled on the floor from my backpack just waiting to be used hours later. Yeah…that was a moment for me.
Now, I already know what you’re going to ask me. How do I know what you’re going to ask me? Maybe I’m psychic. Or maybe it’s because countless people have asked me the exact same questions that you are currently thinking. Also, complete disclosure, at one point I was the one asking these questions. It’s okay. I know the answers now. I’m happy to share them with you.
Anyway, let’s get started. I have a very special guest here with me today for my inaugural blog post that’s agreed to do an interview for all you curious readers. Any guesses who the guest is? I’ll give you a hint. You’ve already met her. It’s me. I’m the guest. We’ll call the other me Jessica.
So! That interview
Jess: Hey! Thanks for doing this interview with me. It would have been really confusing and kind of self-centered if I just sat here and talked about libraries by myself.
Jessica: Wait?!? Are libraries a still a thing?
Jess: Sure is, pal! You’ve probably seen some pretty nasty articles talking about how libraries are a dying thing but let’s be real here. Those are poorly researched fluff pieces. In fact, libraries are more a thing now than ever before! There are currently more public libraries in the United States than Starbucks.
Jessica: Whoa! Really? That’s really cool.
Jess: Yep! A lot of people seem to think that the only thing libraries are useful for are books but that’s not true. A lot of libraries are lending out other things their communities needs now, things like baking equipment, instruments, prom dresses, even power tools.
Jessica: Power tools? But why?
Jess: Well, different people need different things. Why not?
Jessica: But what do librarians do?
Jess: Science. Librarians do science.
Jessica: No. Really. What do librarians do?
Jess: Seriously, librarians do science. If we’re real, the librarian title is really their street cred. They technically should be called information scientist. Our good friend Wikipedia says “information science is a field primarily concerned with the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval, movement, dissemination, and protection of information. Practitioners within and outside the field study application and usage of knowledge in organizations along with the interaction between people, organizations, and any existing information systems with the aim of creating, replacing, improving, or understanding information systems.”
Jess: So librarians are information scientist. They teach people how to use technology, or they help people find and use information. They’re also really great researchers. Think of it this way. You go to a librarian when you have a question, right?
Jessica: Like Google? Are librarians Google?
Jess: Sorta. But better. We’ll skip the philosophical debate and get straight to it. Think of it this way. Let’s say you wanted to know what Martha Washington’s famous cake recipe was. You can google that and get a bazillion results for people with recipe recreations of her recipe. And those aren’t technically wrong. But those are just their recreations of her recipe. Or blogs about the cake. Or a video of Martha Stewart making her version of Martha Washington’s cake. But you just want the basic recipe for First Lady Martha Washington’s cake. Yeah?
Jessica: Okay. I’ll play along. That stuffs great, but it’s not exactly what we’re looking for.
Jess: Well, remember how I said librarians were trained researchers? This is when the librarian is going to put their cardigan on and do some science for you. And maybe ten or so minutes later they’re going to find a resource that’s not a web link, maybe a periodical or a published research paper that wouldn’t traditionally be a Google result. The librarian is going to get it for you and let you know that Martha Washington’s Great Cake recipe was 40 eggs, four pounds of butter, four pounds of sugar, five pounds of flour and five pounds of fruit.
Jessica: Holy cake!
Jess: Right? Crazy. So Google can help you find an answer, but librarians help you find the answer.
Jessica: Okay. That’s cool. But I thought librarians just read books all the time?
Jess: I made that mistake too, don’t feel bad about it.
Jessica: So they – I mean the librarians – go to school for this? To help us find cake recipes?
Jess: In so many words, yes. Library Science is a postgraduate degree or a Master’s program. So the librarians get very specialized training in helping you-
Jessica: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa. Wait. You need a Masters to be a librarian?
Jess: Haha. Yeah. That’s a pretty big shock for a lot of people. But if the librarians are information professionals, then wouldn’t you want them trained in the science of information? Would you see a doctor who hadn’t been to medical school? It’s the same process, really. Librarians are tasked with collecting and protecting information just the same way as doctors are tasked with caring and protecting your health.
Jessica: I guess I never thought of it that way. I just always thought of it as books and reading.
Jess: It’s okay. A lot of people do.
Jessica: This all sounds really great to me, honestly. Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in library science?
Jess: Yes! Real talk. The library world is excellent but remember how I said earlier that libraries are busier now than ever before?
Jessica: Sure. More libraries than Starbucks.
Jess: People who are going into library science need to have realistic expectations. This all sounds so great to so many people that the job market is just a little over-inflated. I’m not saying this to discourage you, I just want you to know all this stuff before enrolling in the program. I mean, we’re talking student loans here. If library science is something you feel very passionately about then you need to consider your lifestyle seriously. Start now. Get into a library now. Start volunteering. It’s going to be next to impossible to get that first library job post grad school if you have no library experience. And then once you finish your masters, you’ll need to be willing to expand your mileage search when looking for librarian positions. If none of these things bother you, then yes, go for it! I fully support you. Let’s do this!
Jessica: But I thought you said libraries were doing okay?
Jess: They are! Library use is up. Way up. But funding keeps getting cut due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what the public perceives libraries are. And there’s also a small issue of the slow turnaround on positions and job availability. The jobs in libraries are so awesome that people just aren’t leaving their posts. And really, depending on how you look at things…that’s not a bad thing. It’s also a continually evolving field. New positions are constantly being created. Remember, I work in healthcare. You might want to seek the opinion of someone in a public library or academic library to see what they think. There are so many different types of libraries out there, don’t believe that just because you have a library science degree means you have to work in a what you think is a traditional library.
Jessica: Okay. That makes sense.
Jess: Yeah. Grad school is a big decision. I want you to have all the facts before you jump in. If you’re going to be a librarian, then do it, just be aware its something you need to be willing to chase.
Jessica: Like a tornado.
Jess: Or, ya know, I was going to say your dreams, but a tornado also works I guess.
Jessica: Okay. Where do I start?
Jess: Well, here in the states you need to find an ALA – that’s American Library Association – accredited school to enroll in.
Jessica: Okay. Cool. Thanks, Jess!
Jess: No, thank you for letting me interview you!
Whoa! That was fun. I hope this helps those who are considering this field. I’m very fortunate, and I acknowledge that, but I’ve definitely chased my fair share of tornados to get this far. Happy chasing, fellow library lovers.
If you would like more specifics or have a question I didn’t address, ask away. I’ll be updating here occasionally with grad school musings, book reviews, and just general post. I might be an acting librarian but I’m still a grad student, and I’ll share as much of my journey with you from acting librarian to MLIS as I possibly can.
– Library Jess