Is a MLIS and a love of books enough?

“So… you’re going to be a librarian? They still exist?”

That’s the question (or some variation of it) that I’ve found myself answering the most in the past 11 months since applying to and starting my MLIS.   Or, I’ve found myself the recipient of blank stares when I tell someone that you need a masters degree to be a librarian.  Call it crazy, but it seems to be a secret that you need a graduate level degree to be an information professional.

A librarian at the British Library of Political and Economic Science collecting books for readers in the reserve stacks, 1964.

Collecting books for readers in the reserve stacks at the British Library of Political & Economic Science , 1964.

It turns out, though, that this isn’t a new requirement.  In 1947, as this vocational guidance video demonstrates, there was a need for librarians to have had attended library school.  And to also have a love of books.  These ideas were echoed in 1963 by Sarah Wallace in her work “So you want to be a librarian?”  and in 2010 by Lauren Pressley in her own “So you want to be a librarian?”  But, are a MLIS and a self-proclaimed love of books enough to make you a librarian? Are those the key ingredients to creating a library organization that is responsive and relevant and needed?

In a world that pivots around Google, Facebook, smartphones and Twitter, it is no surprise that the libraries of 1947 are becoming a thing of the past.  In a world where hundreds of books are now storable and portable on Kindles and Kobos, what good is serendipitously wandering through the stacks or routine trips to the library?  These are the questions that lie at the heart of budget cuts and funding for public libraries: if there’s Google, why have libraries?

This is the climate of the knowledge society that we live in today.  These are the questions that librarians and library advocates have to weather.  But luckily, even in the face of skepticism that libraries are still relevant, they are surviving and even thriving.  Shockingly, libraries are even being created, not torn down.

But why? Well, because…

google lib

And because libraries, and those who run them, are dynamic, flexible and adaptable.  Library managers understand that in order to be relevant, their institutions must be reflective of the community it serves. They understand that (libraries (and librarians) must be up-to-date, modern, and accessible.  For some communities, this means being completely book-less. Yes, you read that correctly.  Bookless.  Zero.  Books.  For others, it means outsourcing (Miller, 2012), networking, and building partnerships outside the brick-and-mortar library building.  And for the rest, the library needs to be a community hub, a third space, or a safe place.  And in order to be so, a library needs its staff to be the driving force behind this mission of community.

So yes, an MLIS and a love of books are good starting points for undertaking the under appreciated and essential profession of librarianship.  But, a librarian also has to be a leader.  They have to listen to the current needs of the community the library serves, and they have to be able to anticipate future needs.  They have to be passionate, and believe in the future of their institutions.  Librarians must be resourceful, innovative and progressive, even in the face of budget cuts and death threats to the library.  They must be aware of the multiple external political, social, cultural, economic, and geographical forces that overtly or subtly impact the library and its patrons.

Librarians (and library paraprofessionals, too) have to do much with little, all the while serving the patrons’ needs – anything from how to use the photocopier to where to find “Harry Potter” to how to make possum pie to do you have this book about that thing that’s written by this guy whose name I can’t remember but it’s blue?  And because of this, the libraries of today will not resemble the libraries of the future.  Oh they’ll still exist, but not in the form they do today, and certainly not like they did in 1947.

Tl;dr: Libraries must always be changing and librarians are superheroes.

Thanks for reading!
– K


Miller, R.  (2012).  Damn the recession, full speed ahead.  Journal of Library Administration, 52(1), 3-17.  doi:10.1080/01930826.2012.629963

Pressely, L.  (2010).  So you want to be a librarian? Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

Wallace, S. L. (1963).  What is a librarian? In So you want to be a librarian? (1st ed., pp. 15-36).  New York, NY: Harper & Row.


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