What is Librarianship?
According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a librarian makes an average of $26.62 per hour to “help people find information and conduct research for personal and professional use,” (2014-15). The BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook goes on to predict that growth in the librarian field will be limited by the increasing ability of patrons to substitute the internet for a librarian (2014-15).
Who are these poor librarians that perform such a basic service that the internet will replace them? Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century further defines a librarian as someone who earns a MLS degree at an accredited school, and carries out on-the-job training that includes selecting, acquiring, organizing, preserving, and maintaining access to materials and resources (Gorman, 2000). MacKellar (2008) argues that having a MLS is unnecessary and that many librarians become so “accidentally,” focusing more on on-the-job training than formal education. In fact, she reports that only 68% of full time equivalent librarians in the United States have their MLS.
So far, we have learned that a librarian makes an average wage to do an average job, which has the option but not the requirement of higher education. The librarian may assist patrons with finding information such as “where can I pay my water bill?” or “do cheetahs live in packs?” but Google is swiftly undermining her authority in this role. She may also organize books... and reorganize them at the end of day after patrons have improperly shelved everything. On an exciting day, the librarian may select new books and materials to add to the library.
If this is who I thought a librarian was, I never would have gone back to school to earn my own MLIS. Fortunately, I believe librarian is a misnomer: a simple word with simple associations given to an extraordinarily diverse and important job. MacKellar (2008) adds “disseminate information” to the list of librarian duties, and calls upon librarians to be proactive, creative, and inquisitive. The American Library Association (2014) recommends that librarians “must be on the cutting edge of technology trends in order to serve their patrons.” Hunt and Grossman (2013) emphasize that librarians “possess many marketable and transferable skills that can easily equip them to pursue a wide range of information-based jobs or start a new career in one of many related fields within or beyond the library world.” I believe that when librarians are tied to our expectations of a library, their job is limited and marginal, but freed from this title they are also freed from these limitations.
This is why I prefer to introduce myself as an information scientist, who has the same functional job as a librarian but without the word associations. As an information scientist, connecting people to information is the essence of my profession. This may seem like a simple job, but how I accomplish it is exciting, constantly evolving, and calls upon the breadth of my education and experience.
My Future Career as an Information Scientist
I am a masters graduate student in Library & Information Sciences, with an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, and a part-time job as Collections Manager for a small field station. Though at first my education, work experience, and interests may seem tangential to each other, in fact, they converge on museums. I see museums–especially those focusing on natural history–as a source of extraordinary unrealized potential, and I believe that through innovative technology and collaboration, museums of the future will occupy a more central role in the broader scientific community.
One of my professional goals is to be instrumental in achieving this future, and I believe information science is the best study to prepare myself for this. When I decided to invest in graduate school, I didn’t choose to study a biological science because I didn’t want my work to be pigeonholed into an ecological niche; rather, I value interdisciplinary thinking and I see my future professional role as being a link between systems. My academic background in information science will be a better access point for my career goals than a narrower ecological focus.
Helping museums occupy a more central role in the broader scientific community involves making small-scale and/or nontraditional ecological data accessible and useful to large-scale change initiatives. Inefficient data management in the ecological sciences leads to wasted time, resources, and intelligence; and data sharing is inhibited by a lack of training, awareness, and economic stimulus for individual scientists. I want to be part of creating a collaborative, multi-disciplinary scientific community where shared data is a source to build on, and repetition is minimized. Because the academic world is already entrenched in a system of individual competition, I believe science-based museums are a natural to lead by example for this new vision.
Each of my professional and academic experiences to date has prepared me for my career goals. As an information scientist, I select, acquire, organize, preserve, maintain access to, and disseminate information. My work as Collections Manager at Sagehen Creek Field Station over the past three years has given me a venue to apply much of what I’ve learned in my classes at SLIS. My undergraduate education grounded me in the sciences and gave me the foundational knowledge to communicate with ecological researchers. Even my past five years living in a small ski town are useful experience to my career because through them I’ve acquired an entrepreneurial spirit and an appreciation for creating personal bonds in work life.
I am driven, and dedicated to accomplishing my career goals. I not only have the professional and academic experience necessary to be an information scientist in the museum realm, I also have the inspiration that comes from believing in a community vision–in this case, that museums will lead the future of scientific knowledge dissemination. I understand how to reach out to potential resources and ask for help. I can mediate conversations and communicate project goals effectively. I am ruthlessly efficient, and can budget time and money to meet deadlines. Most of all, I work hard, and don't measure my success through paychecks; I believe that if I follow my passion and am diligent, money will follow.
I don’t care about the size of my paycheck, however I do care that my studies and skills have a direct impact on the quality of, ability to continue, and end distribution of relevant ecological research. I do care that my work links the work of academic, public, private, and nonprofit spheres. I do care that the work I do is tangible, and applicable.
As I progress in my vision of creating a collaborative, multi-disciplinary scientific community where shared data is a source to build on, and repetition is minimized, I will rely on values to guide my decisions, both personally and professionally. Because I want my professional life to be one of my passions, it must reflect and incorporate my core values of family, loyalty, personal health, and the environment. I embody these values in my current life, and they also guide me as I look to my future career.
American Library Association. (2014). Explore a career in libraries. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/careers
Bureau of Labor Statistics. Librarians, in Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition. U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm
Hunt, D. and Grossman, D. (2013). The Librarian's Skillbook: 51 Essential Career Skills for Information Professionals. San Leandro, CA: Information Edge
MacKellar, P. (2008). The Accidental Librarian. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc.
Michael Gorman. (2000). Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.