Is the role of the librarian becoming obsolete


Michelle Oesterman: "I am a brand new student to the LIU Palmer School MLS program. My intentions
are to become either a school media specialist or a childrens librarian but
I have one major concern. Is the role of the librarian becoming obsolete
due to the internet and other forms of new technology? It will take me a
couple of years and a fair bit of $ to complete this degree and I hope there
will be jobs available! Any thoughts??"

Answers below, or email her: mfmoran1972 at


What is it that you hope to do that you think the Internet can replicate effectively (or effectively enough to price you out of the market?) I'm not a school librarian, so I can't speak to the specifics, but I think the Internet makes us more necessary rather than less relevant.


Much as it may seem so, I'm not weeniing out with this reply, though I *am* avoiding giving you a direct answer. I have my own view on this matter, but I'd like instead to offer you a starting point for your own thought. Here it is:

What is the fundamental difference between the Internet making *librarians* obsolete and it making *libraries* obsolete?

I want to state this clearly for my potential critics: You cannot surmise my own position from that question. I don't end up where you would guess I would in asking that. But I'd like Michelle and anyone else to start at that spot, then analyze outward from there. It's edifying. But you can only do it honestly if you're non-defensive.

Using that question as a starting point you can come up with well grounded opinions to such questions as:
- Will the librarian's role disappear?
- What impact will digitization have in the long run?
- How will consumers prefer to receive their info?
- How will LIS programs need to change
- What is the future of technically trained info pros?

-- J.B. Bryant

Michelle,The path to be a school librarian is different from a children's librarian. The school librarian often has an education degree, teaching certificate and certification in library work.The children's librarian at a public library will have an MLS.It is hard to switch between public and school libraries.In either case, there will always be a need for library services to the young. They need book talks, story times, someone to instill a love of reading, and learning. Someone to show how to find information, help evaluating sources (not everything on the 'net is true!), so they grow up to be intelligent users of information.

The Internet cannot (or at any rate should not) conduct storyhours or hold book parties, important parts of the work of a children's librarian!

Why Do We Need a Teacher-Librarian or a Library When We Have the Internet? has a few comebacks to the first part of your question. Librarians: We're Not What You Think has some more advocacy information, but nothing you won't cover in your issues in librarianship class.

Job market predictions for librarians go up and down and depend on who you ask (and especially which career type you look at -- as someone who works in a library that has over a dozen cataloging positions and not one webmaster position, I would hope that the professional prospects in certain underrepresented areas of librarianship would start growing more). The Bureau of Labor Statistics says we'll "grow more slowly than the average" but of course the ALA has continually conveyed cheerier outlooks. As well as getting those damn boomers to retire an equally important issue is librarian salaries.

If you answer reference questions as well as you read comments to your posts, then your patrons are in serious trouble. I didn't disagree with anything you said. My response had nothing to do with your first post. I took issue with the response that labeled the original poster's message as "absurd" - and said "how dare she ask it". Let's treat people - especially the new folks - respectfully. Go back and read it again.

First of all, keep your balls on. No need to bust a gasket just because I posted something you don't agree with. I hope you don't act like that to patrons who ask you questions you don't like, or state things you happen to disagree with, or librarians really will become obsolete.I said librarians will NOT become obsolete...and are needed. However, like it or not, there is a segment of "the profession" , sadly, some fellow librarians who are also administrators, who try to show non-librarians (mayors and city managers) that they can run libraries without professional librarians. Is it wrong? Is it shortchanging the public to do so? Yes, it most certainly is, but it is a facet of the profession that all librarians should know about and address, new or old or in-between. Lack of librarian postions does not mean librarians are not needed.It needs to be addressed and fought. Just so you know, I HAVE fought to make clear to powers that be how important it is for patrons to have professional librarians at reference desks, and how hiring a para does not save money in the long run. This was at two places whose administrators were told that paying an MLS-holding librarian, and another librarian with a second Master's degree, $27,000.00 per year was too much money! And I caught a lot of flak over it, as did some of my co-workers who were also concerned about desk service to both children and adults. Since the jobs were seen as female-oriented jobs that "anyone could do", or where "you just sit around reading and stamping out books", why go for MLS holders? One library was putting teenaged pages in the children's department because they would not hire a children's librarian. I suppose they thought that reference service to children, by a qualified and trained children's librarian, was also too expensive and not needed. Would the kids know any better? It is a sad state of affairs when librarians and their patrons are so devalued.So, as I stated in my first post, just because it SEEMS that librarians are old-style, they are not. Unless librarians address this problem of "do more with less", it does seem that we may become extinct if we seem to be too expensive at the pittance most public librarians are paid at currently. More than once I have seen professional librarian positions, once vacated, unfilled or replaced with a non-MLS worker, who frankly, was being exploited at being paid $16,000.00 per year and expected to know what a librarian knows and be able to perform as a librarian did.To the original poster-also consider special-library postitions... they pay better and you are usually seen as a valued member of the team, a professional, and you will get more respect all around.To the ballistic poster-you must be very fortunate that you work in a library where you have not experienced any of this.

Michelle –

You have asked a very good question. As a former school librarian, I saw the job turn into a veritable “rat race� in order to justify the one library position in the school. Administrative reasoning goes like this: if you aren’t teaching in the classroom surrounded by 35 kids every period of every day, your job is always on the line. And even if you do teach every period of every day, as in the case of elementary librarians, your job is still on the line because elementary and middle schools don’t have to be accredited. High schools do, so they’ll probably get to keep their librarian, at least half days, the other part of the day being spent teaching in a classroom. The district next to us just eliminated all their school librarians and replaced them with clerical staff. They won’t teach, just check out books at the desk. For a look at the job of the existing school librarian, have a look at this school’s job description: 2.htm. Technology is a huge piece.

The budget crunch in all our public institutions is making things messy right now. I would say this: be a librarian, but be prepared to be any kind of a librarian – don’t specialize too much. Get your MLS, take lots of children’s literature, but think broadly about where the career is going, especially with technology. Be great at research, organization, knowledge, and applications, and you’ll be valuable just about anywhere.

Best wishes,Michelle!

Dear Anonymous Patron:

I get your point, but just wanted to say thanks for answering this person's question in such a warm, welcoming way. She's new to the profession - and this may be her first venture into a discussion zone of this sort - and thanks to you she'll probably never be back. How dare you answer so rudely. Oh - and please tell us what study you have access to that shows a correlation between the growth of the Internet and the demand for librarians - or are you just making that up?

And to the original poster - librarians will only be made obsolete by other information providers if we allow ourselves to be made obsolete. It's imperative that we know the competition, know how it works, know its weaknesses - and know how we're better - and we can need to be able to explain it all to our user base in an easily digestible, sound-bite like explanation. Welcome to the profession - and yes, most of our are pretty nice folks - with some exceptions.

How dare you even ask such an absurd question! There has never been a better time to enter the field of librarianship. Many librarians will be retiring by the end of this decade opening up tremendous opportunities and the Internet has been a boon as it has increased demand for libraries & librarians. Circulation numbers are up across the country if you haven't noticed.

Librarians will not become obsolete due to the Internet. What may make jobs harder to find for them, however, are library administrators who don't want to pay decent salaries to professional librarians and impress city managers and mayors with doing everything on the cheap (like paying a professional 30k per year is an astronomical salary!); and a public that "loves libraries" but does not love the underpaid and overworked people who toil in them.Just because a library system does not have professional librarians, or enough professional staff does not mean librarians are obsolete.What this portends for the future of the profession , I have yet to decide. I left the field myself, and don't intend to go back anytime soon.


Another related question that will lead you down a similar road is:

"Is a librarian who is no longer called a librarian still a librarian?" What I'm getting at there is, "does the title 'librarian' limit the imagination we apply to our job descriptions?"


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