Friday, 21 November 2014

What IS a Librarian? Yet More from Library Camp 2014

What IS a Librarian? I asked at the session which I facilitated at Library Camp 2014. Of course, being a librarian I knew what I was, and the jobs that I did, and the various roles and activities that other librarians do. My reason for asking was to try to find the refined essence of librarianship, the one thing that can be explained to people to show the special skill that a librarian has to have. Like a builder constructs buildings, a medical doctor treats ailments, an accountant looks after finances. There are many nuances to their jobs, but that is their raison d'etre, their reason for being, so what is a librarian's definitive description?

I hoped by the end of the session that we would come up with a sentence or short paragraph that can the define the main quality of librarianship that can be used on websites, campaigns, in literature, letters to MPs, anywhere that the real job of a librarian needs to be explained. In the end we came up with the thought that maybe one snappy definition was not necessarily enough, the phrasing needed to be suitable for the intended audience, but we only had a scant 45 minutes to pursue a basically philosophical argument. We did come up with a number of ideas that certainly identified the threads that make up the tapestry of librarianship, and some good sentences.

I did not do a statistical survey of the jobs of the 15 or so people that came along to the session, so I can't scientifically say that they were a randomised sample of library staff, but I do know that some were qualified librarians, others were not. Some worked in public libraries and others in academic libraries, but they all agreed about the following aspects of librarianship.
  • Librarians are a conduit of Knowledge
  • Librarians support and facilitate Knowledge creation in the community
  • Librarians engender empowerment
Those three statements on their own are powerful thoughts. They demonstrate that librarians deal with the flow of  knowledge from one individual to another. We all thought that there was an educational aspect to librarianship: a librarian doesn't know all the answers, but knows where to find them and can teach other people to do the same thing (information literacy). We realised that there is a spiral of knowledge creation, where a librarian is a key component: a librarian helps someone discover knowledge, the individual gains understanding and then can impart that knowledge, which is collected and distributed by a librarian. This bit really could do with a diagram, I need to think about this.

Meanwhile, here are some of the statements that were constructed:

"Our business is helping people access information"

"A librarian serves and empowers users and communities by sharing, facilitating and supporting access to knowledge and information"

"A librarian is a conduit of information who supports his/her users, and through sharing and facilitating this knowledge, thus empowers them"

"A librarian is a facilitator who supports the user and shares knowledge with information to empower and server their appropriate audience"

Well, I think there is enough there to show that a librarian is a Knowledge Broker. It is not all about books.


It's about anything that can contain knowledge: people, computers, images, maps, data, objects and artefacts, anything.


I promised the people who came to my Library Camp session that I would blog about the session and perhaps write something about it, so I am sorry that it has taken me a while to get around to it, but now I have I am inspired to go into more depth, and write that article.

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