Libraries are ancient institutions. The concept of an information organization is one that has existed for thousands of years, well before the existence of books or the printed word. Necessarily, information organizations and their priorities have shifted with the times. Because they deal with knowledge, information organizations cannot be separated from the broader political, economic, social, and technological context that surround them. To watch this video, originally produced in 1947, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. At least, not at first.
Libraries still begin with working with people. The video announces this, and it remains true: libraries serve people who are young and old, people who are from all stations of life. The first requirement, as the video details, is a love for people and a love for books. As far as I can see, this is still true. Reader’s Advisory is alive and well (and so much fun)! However, for the modern library, some kind of IT knowledge is also needed. Librarians need to work a computer, operate search engines and databases, and have a good degree of competence with certain software.
It is still true that librarians serve a wide audience; they might work in rural areas, in busy urban centers, in the far North or in a slow suburban town. (The video even makes mention of bookmobiles – do these still exist? I certainty hope so.) As the video says, there are still many different types of libraries, each with their own special characteristics.
The video breaks different role of librarians into categories: catalogers, reference, circulation, working with children, working in a school. All of these positions still exist today. It mentions collection development and special competencies, outlining administrative positions and technical roles, all of which remain important roles in the modern library. Even though the technology has changed, the end goal, improvement of service to library users, is the same. It is true today that librarians are always developing new resources and new visual materials, working with new technology.
A bookmobile! They do exist! Image from knottcountylibrary.com
One notable anachronism is the purported need for ‘thousands’ of trained librarians. Our economy has created conditions that are far from ideal. The job search for new graduates in competitive and scary, based on what I’ve heard. Otherwise, based on this video, it seems easy to conclude that librarianship hasn’t changed much. But one of the aspects of librarianship that is most attractive to me is missing for this video: community involvement and political advocacy for information access are also crucial aspects of being a librarian. Both are necessary to keep the profession relevant. Both allow librarians to work as an important part of a community. I feel strongly that librarians should not remain neutral on political issues, especially those pertaining to a library context; namely, anything surrounding information access and intellectual freedom. Samuel Trosow’s perspective on open access is an excellent example of how political advocacy can (and should) be exercised by information professionals. Click here to read his ideas about open access and further explore his blog.*
This video promises that a library career is secure, challenging, and rewarding. It advertises a competitive salary and assures you, as a librarian, it satisfying to feel that your work is valuable and essential. I don’t think much of that has changed, and I’m really looking forward to it. I cannot wait to become a librarian.
*Librarians and political neutrality is a topic I intend to explore in a later post. It may be obvious that I feel strongly that librarians and other information professionals should be active politically. To read a perspective that advocates for neutrality, check out Candise Branum’s excellent blog post, found here.