Why I Library, and You Should Too
By Marydee Ojala
Editor • ONLINE
The comment that librarianship is a profession named after a building—we’re called librarians because, traditionally, we worked in libraries—is hardly new. Physicians aren’t called hospitalists (some would say that hospitals aren’t very hospitable, either, and they certainly don’t qualify as part of the hospitality industry), and lawyers aren’t called courtians. As technology moves information professionals out of brick-and-mortar libraries, changes physical collections to electronic ones, and reshapes the entire notion of what a library is, the noun librarian is becoming even less appropriate for the profession. For many, information professional is the preferable terminology for librarian. Others find the phrase a bit awkward.
Our professional associations reflect the building metaphor: American Library Association, Canadian Library Association, Australian Library and Information Association, Library Association of Thailand, Norsk Bibliotekforening (Norway Library Association), Deutscher Bibliotheksverband (German Library Association), Special Libraries Association, and Library and Information Association of South Africa are but a few.
Job titles are more varied and reflect actual duties. We have researchers, managers (of many things), webmasters, information architects, digital collectors, information consultants, competitive intelligence officers, archivists, curators, knowledge managers, metadata specialists, information analysts, and technology evaluators, along with the more traditional reference librarians. Some titles are particularly creative, such as “data diva.” My favorite is “informationista.” I’d like an information latte, please.
Actual job descriptions bristle with action verbs—at least the good ones do. If yours doesn’t, consider revising it. Action verbs move you outside the walls of the library. You don’t have to be tethered to your desk to perform important research tasks, deliver information reports, or launch social media campaigns.
By action verbs, I mean in the intellectual sense. You can be very active when you shovel snow, but it’s not likely to win you professional points. Doctors diagnose and treat; those are nice action verbs. Attorneys write briefs, prosecute cases, and defend clients. Yet I’m intrigued that doctors “practice medicine” and lawyers “practice law.” They’re only practicing? It’s not for real?
Can librarians say they “practice library”? Do information professionals “practice information”? Can we begin to think of library as an action verb rather than a noun? I realize that very few will answer the question “What do you do for a living?” with "library” instead of “I’m a librarian,” but it’s worth considering. This could even become the springboard to a conversation about the excitement of librarying. When you say “I’m a librarian,” people have a preconceived notion about the job—and it frequently involves stamping and shelving books, much to the dismay of information professionals. As we move the profession out of the building and break free from the constraints of walls, stacks, and shelving units, we must rethink being named after a physical edifice. The work of a librarian is active, not passive. Let’s make library a verb.
Ojala is the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters
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