What we do

This is my first blog-style entry, so I'll make it more of an introduction than a journal entry. I’m a director in a small public library. I’ve worked in libraries since 1985, first as a shelver and technical processor at the University of Wisconsin, then as an acquisition assistant at Plymouth State College after a move to New Hampshire, where I achieved my MLIS from the University of Rhode Island. After a move to Florida, I started working in public libraries, first as a reference supervisor and eventually as a library director. I’ve been involved in four expansion projects as a librarian, three as director.

I titled the subject line “What we do� because I’ve read some recent entries questioning the frustrations of the post-master’s job search, and the state of the profession, especially surfer rosa’s journal athttp://www.lisnews.com/~surfer rosa/journal/. I remember what my job search was like, and believe me, I feel your pain. At one point I applied to four jobs at the same university library, which I didn’t get, and then they hired me as a temp to work one of the jobs while the person they hired over me went on maternity leave. Ouch.

Getting hired as a professional was very difficult, for some reason. All the experience I had pre-Masters suddenly didn’t count. The economy at the time wasn’t great, so I wound up volunteering and joining the local library association. Word of mouth eventually got me interviews, and the experience I had post-Masters as a volunteer got me the job. I just didn’t think it would be that hard. I think it’s because we what we do isn’t understood well by non-librarians, and as a result, we as a profession are undervalued, understaffed, and underpaid – so as a result, there aren’t a lot of jobs out there, the ones that are held onto, and there aren’t a lot of people who move out of it into other careers.

Understanding what it actually was that I learned in library school took me a while. I mean, I know the classes I took, which were typical of most programs: foundations, cataloging, reference, administration, etc. What did I *learn*, though? What did I know that I didn’t know before the MLIS. This is an important question, especially for those who rail against the “glass ceiling� of the “piece of paper� that the MLIS represents.

It took a while, using my skills and knowledge, making many mistakes, getting some things right, and learning again things I thought I’d already mastered. Talking to patrons, finding what they were asking for, and eventually learned to find what they needed.

I had learned how to help people.

That sounds too simplistic, so I’ll round it out with the closing of a lecture I gave on reference services during an in-service course.

We study the organization of knowledge. The word information has little character, because information, without relevance or context, is useless. Knowledge, however, is that piece of relevant information that has importance to that patron. It is the auto repair manual for the blue-collar man who has no money for repairs but has to drive to work or lose his job. It is the landlord/tenant laws that prove that a woman was illegally evicted so she can get back into her apartment and her daughter can sleep at home again. It is the fifth title in a romance series to entertain a reader. Our skills enable us to take the once piece of information from the vast cultural ocean our society has created and bring it to the individual who needs it.

It’s a great thing. To me, there is no greater thing – to share your knowledge for the benefit of others.

It’s what we do.


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