This morning as I packed my bags for another adventure (Texas Library Association Conference 2015) I thought about the variety of librarians that I would encounter this week. Conferences have always been one of my favorite ways to continue my education. When I talk to students about scholarly communication, I explain journals by pointing out that scholars are usually not able to get together in one room to share their research so one of the ways that they “talk” to one another is by publishing their research in academic journals. Of course, each time I use this example to teach the concept of scholarship as conversation I am thinking in the back of my mind that there are exceptions in the form of conferences. One special time a year when my disciplinary “peeps” are gathered together in a convention center and are completely immersed in the world of libraries.
When we talk about scholarship, I can’t help but be enthusiastic when I think about what is about to transpire. The scholarly conversation that is usually given to me a few times a year in print is going to unfold right in front of me. I’ve been invited to listen in on the great things that are happening in Texas libraries and libraries across the United States – perhaps even around the world. Even better, I’m going to spend a few days with a group of people who know exactly where I’m coming from because they are from the same kind of place. We can share ideas for better instruction, find out new ways of providing information services, and talk about ways to engage our college students with the library. What’s not to love?
This will be my third TLA to attend and one of the things that always stands out to me is the diversity that can be found within my own profession. I joke to my non-librarian friends that at a library conference I can expect to see a wide range of librarians – from fanny packs to tattoos and everything in between. Despite the persistence of the librarian stereotype, as I scroll through my conference session offerings I’m once again reminded of the many parts and personalities that make up the modern library as we know it. Being that this week is also National Library Week, I would like to take a cue from my fellow blogger Traci Ledford and highlight just a few of the different types of librarians that I’ll be rubbing shoulders with in Austin this week. TLA has 28 “round tables” to reflect the diverse interests of its members. By highlighting just a sampling of these interest groups, I am hoping that you’ll get just a glimpse of what variety exists within my profession —
- Acquisitions and Collection Development – Having once been a part of this fine group, I can tell you that this is a fun job that also requires a tremendous amount of what seems like constant analysis. These people are responsible for acquiring and maintaining the collections within libraries. They devote their time to studying patron needs and interests to make sure that the information that you need/want is available to you. They also work diligently to ensure that you have access to the most quality information available. They study gaps in the collection, weed items that are no longer correct/relevant/usable, and carefully evaluate their ever-shrinking budget to make the best decisions in terms of spending.
- Archives, Genealogy, and Local History – If you want to have a fascinating conversation about history, these are your go-to people in my world. This group is tasked with the preservation and access to history – can you fathom how big of a job that must be? The specialized training that they must continue to undergo within this field is extensive — they have my utmost respect. If you have ever watched one of those genealogy shows (PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow or NBC/TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are?) and wondered how they just “happened” to find that obscure document detailing the whereabouts of someone’s second cousin twice removed, I can guarantee you that someone from this branch of the discipline was involved.
- Automation and Technology – Often referred to as “systems librarians” this talented group of people is devoted to “the art and science of combining the principles of librarianship with the abilities of computing technology.” If you haven’t already noticed, today’s libraries aren’t just about books. One could make the argument that they never really were – they are about information and access. Books were just the way that it happened up until the age of computers. Today’s library relies heavily on technology and to make all of that happen, we need a specialized professional who knows the theories of librarianship and can speak the language of computer science. From hardware to website design to intricate software, this group is vital to making information accessible in the 21st century.
- Cataloging and Metadata – When I describe these professionals to my students, I generally stick with “these people make my job much easier and make my information skills look much more impressive.” The cataloging librarians of the world create reliable search experiences for library users by categorizing information, setting and maintaining standards, and providing subject analysis of the library collection. You as a library user should know of the extraordinary attention to detail that goes into every single catalog record that enables you to almost instantly find the book on the keyword/subject/author/title you are interested in accessing. As my metadata (the data about the data) professor once said, without a cataloging system basically what you’ve got is a big pile of books. You want Harry Potter? Good luck. See ya next Thursday.
- Reference and Information Services – The TLA description says, “encourages the advancement of information, bibliographic, and research services in all types of libraries.” This is the area of librarianship that I hope to always call home. Providing reference assistance to patrons who are in need of information gets to the core of why I love being a librarian. These are the question answerers — the constant thought on our brain is “now where would that particular piece of information live?” Reference librarians are those who eagerly await your inquiry and aspire to being able to connect you with that perfect information source.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! This year’s theme for National Library Week is “Unlimited Possibilities @ your library.” While it is meant to draw attention to the fact that libraries are more than just warehouses of books, the theme makes me reflect on the career paths within my own discipline. As Traci highlighted earlier, these people I am called to work with paint us a picture of community – one body, many parts. Whether they come with cardigans and buns or hipster glasses and tattoos, I’m glad to be numbered among this diverse group of professionals.