Who's a Librarian? And Who's Not?


Interesting blog entry from KM the Librarian about a discussion on the above-mentioned issue.

The other day I got into an "argument" with a student about whether or not I was really a librarian. His position was that I wasn't a librarian--I was actually a teacher who happened to have an office in the library.

It was a weird discussion to be having. As the conversation continued, it became clear that he was, in no small part, trying to annoy me. But I don't think the original statement was meant just to taunt me. We ended up trying to pull in other students to make our respective cases--his that I wasn't a librarian, mine that I really was. The general consensus seemed to be that I was definitely a librarian. And probably also a teacher.

I was thinking about the discussion I had with him, and with other students, in light of one of the phrases I so often hear when it comes to changing the perception/image of school librarians:

"how do we make them see that librarians [fill in the blank]"

This was not a student I know particularly well, nor have I worked with him a lot. He's new to the school this year. There's nothing I've done to try and "make" him see anything. I've just been doing my job the same way I've been doing it for years, and he came to his own conclusions.

We will never "make" anyone understand anything about school librarianship. We will do our jobs, and people will come to conclusions. It is frustrating that our colleagues, our administrators, and our legislators don't always understand our jobs. But there is no position statement or pamphlet that will truly change that. They are carrying with them perceptions of school librarians formed when they were in school.


He was trying to pull your chain, guess what he did. Next time say "bless your heart" and move on.

Of *course* he was trying to pull my chain--I get that. But if I said "bless your heart" and moved on every time a student tried to pull my chain, well. . . I'd have a lot more free time. I'm an educator, so I engaged him in discussion. It's my job.

take away his library privledges and then make him recognise the fact that you are a librarian and not to arse about ;)

That might not create the desired impression of libraries/librarians. :)

Would prove you're the librarian though ;)

Plain and simple - a librarian has a Masters degree in library or information science! Case closed.

The Librarian of Congress - James Hadley Billington - does not have an MLS. Guess he is not a librarian. Would you agree with that statement?

Yes, I would. Billington is the head of a library. He's not a librarian. My credentials for making that statement: I've been in the library field for six decades, I was president of an ALA division, I've written books that have been used in library schools...and I'm not a librarian, and consistently say so. I don't have an ML[I]S. I'm not a librarian. My wife does and is.

The boss of an engineering company might not be an engineer. Why would you assume that the head of a huge, institutional, politically-sensitive library would be a librarian?

>>Why would you assume that the head of a huge, institutional, politically-sensitive library would be a librarian?

For one Billington's title is librarian. I don't necessarily think a non-engineer in the head position would be called the "Chief Engineer" if they were not one.

Another difference between engineers and librarians. There are certain task that are illegal to do if you are not a licensed engineer. So the head person may not be an engineer but they have to have licensed engineers to do the actual work.

Yes in libraries you need people with the skills to do the work especially if the "head librarian" is librarian in title only. But in the library anyone can e hired to do a job and you are not violating a law if you hire someone to do cataloging and they do not have an MLS.

All that said I get your point. But is there any scenario where someone without an MLS could be a librarian in your book? Or is MLS the bright line rule? What about a bachelors degree in librarianship? They exist. Since there is no licensing requirement for librarians maybe a bachelors degree might be enough to hold the title of librarian?

Somebody with a bachelor's degree or, more typically in the US, an AA degree as a library technician, isn't a professional librarian, at least not in my book. Neither am I.

My personal preference is to equate "librarian" and "professional librarian," and I have the greatest respect for library staff and others in librarianship without the degree--of which I am one. And yes, I think the ML[I]S is the bright line.

Is she a teacher with some library courses to help her work in a library or is she a librarian with a master's degree? Considering how much librarians freak out whenever someone without the masters gets called a librarian I'd say no if she's just a teacher.

In this case (I'm the writer of the original post), I have both an MLIS and a teaching certification (and am a former high school English teacher). So, when people ask, "Do you consider yourself a teacher or a librarian?" my answer is generally, "yes."
But I'm also not one of those librarians who freaks out when someone without an MLIS gets called a librarian--I think it's part of the picture, but by no means the whole story (to mix a metaphor).

'By their fruits ye shall know them' This phrase should guide you. leave and behaviour like one and your clients shall accord you the maximum respect as such.

Libraries, like museums, are classed as educational institutions. All librarians are educators in part, simply because they teach people how to educate themselves.

School librarians also need teaching certificates in order to work. They also teach students how to use the library.

But the argument is null. Teaching is part of a librarians' job, but usually only in public services. Other librarians jobs, from electronic databases to cataloging to shelf maintenance, are not educational tasks.

Als forgotten is the fact that libraries are cost efficient. It is cheaper to have one place with reference and research materials, than to duplicate many of the important items in each classroom, and to do without the more expensive items that could be purchased with the savings.

Ditto for the public library- it is cheaper to have a central place for reference and reading, than for each citizen family to have their own, inadequate library. The reason public libraries exist is that each community recognized the need for continuing education, adult education, and the information needs of the community. The result is education. But you need librarians for this.

And remember Aristotle's statement- education is lighting a bonfire, not filling a bucket. Everyone needs continuous learning, especially in the third millenium.

So glad the LISNews community enjoyed engaging in conversation on the topic.


Sometimes the degree really is the only distinction between a Library Associate/Assistant and a Librarian. As a working library associate, I have the same responsibilities and duties as the librarians (except for the branch manager and department head, who also supervise and manage). I serve on the same committees, projects and share the same amount of reference desk time, including virtual librarianship. I am in the process of earning my degree, which will change my title and salary come this May, but not my duties. This can be very difficult to explain to someone that I am not a librarian yet, not until I receive my degree. Yet, I have the same duties and sometimes additional tasks than the librarian, with the exception of course of the managers who do have additional responsibilities that I do not.

I am trying to get reseach on this kurby law cant seem to find any information on internet

I work at a library. You need a masters degree or in the process of to be a librarian. I get annoyed when people assume that if you work at a library than you are a librarian. Personally I am a Page and get assume to a librarian all the time. Then the people get rude/ annoyed when I redirect them to an actual librarian to help them.

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