‘Librarian’ is not a dirty word

Being at the end of all the serials routing lists at work, I noticed only today a thought-provoking editorial in the March/April edition of Online Searcher about renaming and rebranding exercises on the part of various professional organisations. Words like ‘library’ and ‘records manager’ are out and ‘information’ is in.

Marydee Ojala’s editorial reads, in part:

[W]hat information professionals do doesn’t necessarily happen in a library. We need to embrace information as fully as we embrace libraries and librarians. We need to position ourselves as being in the forefront of the information economy, not necessarily by discarding the “L” word but by proclaiming our role as information experts.

Immediately, by using ‘the “L” word’, the reader conceptualises the word negatively. They don’t need to know what the word actually is to subconsciously think of it as a bad thing. The word ‘library’ isn’t exactly in vogue at the moment, I get that, but there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the term. Libraries are not bad places. Librarian is not a dirty word.

By replacing ‘library’ with ‘information’ in the titles of professional associations, university departments and the like, we risk further removing what we do from what the public thinks we do. Public libraries and school libraries are still called exactly that. The public knows what a library is. If the public notion of what libraries do is inaccurate, then that’s up to us to fix. When asked my occupation, I proudly respond with ‘librarian!’ and promptly dispel the notion that I sit on my rear end all day doing reader’s advisory. I would never rebrand myself as an ‘information professional’, because that could mean absolutely anything.

It’s very true that many trained librarians do not work in libraries, or that their work would not traditionally be considered ‘library’ work. It’s also true that (thankfully) I’m not in the position of having to beg for funding from bean-counters who truly do not understand what libraries do, and for whom alternative terminology is obligatory. But completely removing the ‘library’ from librarianship is not the answer. Our profession will not solve its image problem by running away from the word altogether. Instead, we ought to redefine what ‘library’ means so that it loses its tired, dusty, archaic senses and becomes a vibrant word again. Libraries encompass more than just dispensing information—why not embrace all aspects of an essential profession?

Being a paid-up member of the Australian Library and Information Association, formerly the Library Association of Australia and before that the Australian Institute of Librarians, I think the organisation is doing okay in balancing the future of our profession with its roots. I would, however, be firmly against the removal of ‘library’ should it ever come up.

Our future may well be in information, but the “L” word is ours for the reclaiming.

Ojala, M. (2016). Future, thy name is information. Online Searcher, 40(2), 4. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1777697608

Bookbinding that I gone and done

Stack of three hand-bound books

In addition to full-time work, full-time study and a busy social calendar, I’ve spent the last several Thursday evenings doing a bookbinding class at our local TAFE. Last Thursday was the final class, meaning I could finally finish my projects and take them home (and to work, to show off a little bit). I was inspired to take the class by the falling-apart books I handle every day at work; I badly wanted to know how to fix them but realised that bookbinding and book repair is ideally taught in person, not on the internet. (I also felt I could do with some kind of practical hobby.) I enrolled in the class off my own bat and was pleasantly surprised to find I was not the youngest person there!

I found the class fascinating, but very difficult. I am not naturally a ‘crafty’ person and found the teacher’s style of instruction at odds with my ideal methods of learning (i.e. she preferred to explain verbally whereas I learn much better from a book). I was a very slow learner and struggled to keep up, but managed to finish all three of the books we had set out to bind at the start of the term. Our teacher had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of patience (but I know I used up a fair bit!). I’m undecided as to whether I’ll re-enrol—it depends on a few other things that are up in the air at the moment. I’d like to think I would be a bit better as a returning student.

Later this week I’ll post more about the kinds of binding we did and the techniques we used—at this point I’m happy just to have finished!

That thing that I do

Venn diagram - passion, mission, profession, vocation

Strangers have so far tended to view my BA in classics and my forthcoming MIS in librarianship as an intriguing tag-team of useless degrees. They say ‘Oh, I always thought being a librarian would be a cool job’, before smugly informing me of their success in a field I find utterly boring. I, too, thought librarianship would be awesome, but unlike them I went and made it happen.

Like many library students, I was that child who spent almost every lunchtime in the library, poring over (and ‘helpfully’ rearranging) books and playing computer games of dubious educational value. I learnt to read long before I started school and was encouraged by my doting mother, who made sure there were always plenty of books in our house. Yet I didn’t decide to become a librarian until just after I’d finished my undergrad, around the time I left a particularly unsatisfying job and realised I could do better.

Unlike many library students, I’ve been fortunate enough to find work in my field while studying. For an ‘obsolete’ profession, there sure is a lot of competition for library jobs! These days, I can’t imagine not being a librarian. It feels like what I was born to do. I love finding information, I love classifying it, preserving it, archiving it, rescuing it, presenting it to whoever is in need of it. Like Haribo gummi bears, knowledge is strangely addictive and I can’t get enough.

Beginning a blog

Good evening, blogosphere!

My name’s Alissa. I’m a student of library science and one day I will catalogue the universe.

I’ve recently found myself sketching ideas for a blog and decided to create one. With the end of my penultimate semester of uni, coupled with the advent of #blogjune, it’s as good a time as any to begin my longer-form online presence.

I can’t quite commit to blogging every day in June (I’ve already missed two days!) but aim to share some of my thoughts on the library and archives professions as a student and early-career librarian. I hope to also post reviews of LIS-related books I’ve devoured recently—I usually read too many fascinating things to keep them all to myself.

You can find out more about me at my FAQ.

Thanks for having me, and I hope to write more soon.