About My Job: The Academic Librarian

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by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

Donna Reed in the nightmare portion of "It's a Wonderful Life," be-spectacled, bunned, and timid, seems still to be the exemplar in people's head when they think of a librarian.  And, although we have a country full of college graduates, a librarian is still conceived of as the matronly local public librarian, stamping cards and finding interesting books for tweens.

But librarianship is both more rigorous and less self-important than people think.  My colleagues and I have advanced scholarly degrees (I have a BA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies from NYU, an MA and an M.Phil. in medieval history from here at Columbia, and an MLIS from Rutgers).  We know how to do research better than most faculty, as professors often don't adapt to new methodologies or technology, preferring the tried-and-true (not all, but oh, so very many).  But we are treated as service personnel by the majority of faculty and as punch-lines by those outside academia altogether.
At the same time, we are gregarious and resourceful.  I tend to feel that my bartending experience was as important as my scholarly training: it taught me how to multi-task, to handle difficult people tactfully, and gave me an ethos of customer service.  We are sympathetic, supportive, and often silly (when it works best, as in undergrad orientations).  We are au courant with technological developments (like the porn industry, we are aggressive at adapting new technologies to our own ends).

In other words, we are well-rounded human beings, not figures of fun.  It would be nice if more people realized that.

 

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