Eleven years ago, I was just digging into the routine of being a student in Library School. I was working towards getting a Masters in Library Science, and at the time, librarianship was considered one of the hottest professions in the nation. Why? Well, the logic was that a lot of librarians had been librarians for quite some time and would be hitting retirement age. The hypothesis was that as these librarians began to retire, lots of new jobs would open up for, well, for people like me.
Fast forward to now, and as you might have heard, the talk couldn’t possibly be more different. People are talking about libraries becoming a thing of the past. Librarianship is being called a dying profession now rather than one that is worth pursuing. A lot of people with MLS degrees like me have found ways beyond the library to use their skills.
Is librarianship really dying?
Here’s the thing about saying that librarianship is a dying profession (or art, because really it is). When we think of librarian, we think of a person, probably with a bun in her hair, who is sitting at a desk checking out books and hushing people. Is that mode of librarianship coming to an end? Perhaps. But there is an important aspect of librarianship that could grow dramatically if given a chance, and that is the librarian’s capacity to organize, research, and find information.While some dictionaries define a librarian simply as a person who “assists with library services, there is often a tantalizing second definition:
“A person who is responsible for a collection of specialized or technical information or materials.”
How Social Media could transform librarianship
A year or so after I left graduate school, I volunteered for awhile at the Internet Public Library. The IPL was Quora before Quora existed. People would ask questions in different subject areas, and we librarians could tag the questions we were working on. The questions spanned the spectrum of questions you could imagine. One particularly memorable question I got was why medieval scripts always used “f” where “s” should be. The idea was not just to answer questions but also to refer people to resources online where they could go for more information.
Think of the possibilities that exist for these kinds of knowledge transactions six years later!
For librarians today, the sky is really the limit if you think about it. What is everyone complaining about these days?
-> “Too much info!”
-> “Not enough time to filter through the dregs to get the really good info!”
-> “So many resources, but which ones are reliable?”
Librarians are, believe it or not, not trained in hushing techniques. Rather, we are trained in how information is organized on the web. We are trained in how people go looking for information, and we are trained in how to make information accessible based on those research techniques.
A person with an MLS can become a curator of specific kinds of information – perhaps a “humanities” online curator, or maybe a curator of curators. A person with an MLS could help you analyze resources and determine whether and why they were credible. A person with an MLS could look at your blog and with professional know-how offer suggestions on how to tag, categorize, and organize your content.
To the best of my knowledge, though, none of these skills are being maximized in the online world. Instead, we are calling librarianship dead when it has a chance to be reborn.
Librarians and Engagement
How could librarians benefit from more engagement in the world of Social Media? Here are a few ideas.
• Opportunities to become a curator of information (like my #30Thursday posts) also afford an opportunity to promote others. It’s a win-win.
• Helping people on a professional basis to maximize the organization of their blog sites could earn the librarian online credentials that currently do not really exist right now. It is not SEO but rather organizing the information so that people, not just search bots, can find information.
• Constantly learning about new online resources can be a great way for librarians to engage with people. When I was studying to be a reference librarian, my biggest fear was how I would ever be able to keep up with all of the new resources that were popping up. There are online databases that are immensely powerful that people simply do not know about.
In short, if librarians begin to embrace Social Media and online engagement, librarianship as a profession could once again become one of the hottest professions out there. And guess what? Steel rim glasses and hair in bun are no longer required.
What do you think? Do you see places in your online presence where a professional organizer of information could come in handy? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
This is post #66 in the Engagement Series. If you are worried about missing a post, please feel free to hit the subscribe button. Thank you!
Image by Leslie Watts. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/Legley