Being a polymath sometimes isn’t a brag, it’s a way of life, a work life anyway when you are a librarian. In Lori Goetsch’s 2008 article ‘Reinventing Our Work: New and Emerging Roles for Academic Librarians’ she argues that work in libraries isn’t changing as much as completely being revolutionized to keep pace with civilization’s technological advances.
In short, a librarian in today’s world can’t just know their Library of Congress shelving locations–now they have to be as skilled in computers, customer service, and archives. Once long ago each of these skills was reserved for a specific member of the staff and that was their sole purpose. In the past years that has changed to where each member of the staff has to be able to wear many hats or find a new job.
The article brings up the fact that twenty years ago, a librarian would likely be the only one using a computer, would likely have physical reference materials, and would teach patrons how to look materials up in a card catalogue. Today nearly all of that is obsolete.
Positions in a library have been fluid and rapidly shift as the needs of their communities have changed. The average middle class patron carries more computing power in their pocket than most libraries had for entire data centers thirty years ago. So now to remain important to society, so too the librarian needs to adapt. In order to adapt librarians need a liberal arts education.
This is important for a myriad of reasons but the most important is because the librarian has to be more than just a book shelver. Librarians are to many the gatekeeper that bridge the gap of the digital divide. So then the average librarian must be anything but average. They need a skill and knowledge set of nearly any possible question that may come up and have the psychological training to be able to serve their patrons.
My take away from the article goes further however. Think of the community using libraries. They likely aren’t the same people using it thirty years ago. When I was a child everyone used a library but for the things that Google does for us now. So why are libraries still important?
Libraries are important because not everyone is able to use or afford a computer and internet and a home to use it. Some people have all the technology and resources and yet have no idea how or where to look for information. My personal opinion is that the shift in society along with our technology has made the library an important institution to close these divides in our society. To do that we need librarians who are well versed in many disciplines. We need the liberal arts in the stacks.
What do you think? Do you find the library to be important? Do you think librarians need liberal arts majors more than they used to?
Goetsch, Lori A.(2008) ‘Reinventing Our Work: New and Emerging Roles for Academic Librarians’, Journal of Library Administration, 48: 2, 157 — 172