Big Picture

Crossroads and Trailmarkers

There seem to be a lot of crossroads, lately. I’m in my second year of graduate school, with commencement hurtling towards myself and my classmates here and at other schools. The questions of self-definition that I avoided last year have come back, not so much haunting as classifying. I still believe that good librarianship is manifold, but I’ve also started nailing down my interest areas. Here’s what I’m thinking about:

Librarians are in a unique position as translators. We tend to be focused on people, whether you care to call them members, users, patrons, or just “the community.”  That said, we also have the sorts of skills that allow us to interface with many different systems, some more arcane than others.

We can code-switch on a conscious level, speaking and reading SQL & ERD’s with the programmers and DBAs building our databases, then turning around to assure business executives of the importance of these information resources. Different approaches are needed with each group, and they both have their own jargon–what might be vital for an executive won’t matter for the DBA, and if a DBA can’t justify resources in terms of ROI and other business language, they won’t get the support they need.

Librarians are educators, from the early-literacy crusaders in public and school libraries to academic and special librarians presenting highly specialized information to field experts, doctors, and lawyers. A portion of our brains is always “on tap” to assist with information gathering, but even more so, we can then help with information comprehension. What’s the value of a resource that can’t be understood?

Better information brings light, and we know how to gather and share information like no other field.

Librarians tell stories. They may do so quite directly, and I imagine that a favorite memory for many people is the local librarian with her book (or his guitar, or her puppets) reading aloud to a captivated group of children…and a not-so-secretly-listening audience of parents. Librarians today, though, are also starting to tell other stories; stories from data, community stories in social media, and stories that would otherwise be silenced.

Librarians are by no means the only professionals that tell these types of stories, and as the big-data boom continues, there will be a growing contingent of people who are well-versed in trendspotting — but we are the ones who combine that ability to tell stories with a value system that prizes transparency and education.

I see my role as existing outside of the library structure, but it’s still well within the realm of librarianship. I’ll combine the skills in parsing information in all its myriad forms with an interest in getting that information into the hands of the people who most need it. I’ll mediate the translation and communication of information between groups that otherwise could never collaborate, and I’ll facilitate the creation of entirely new ways of thinking–broad and deep, specialized and general.

I’ll do it surrounded by colleagues who are even more talented, and I’ll do it to build a career. I’ll become a trail-marker, blazing the way to good information, and be delineating the pathway I’ll tell a story.

What stories do you tell, and where do you see yourself in the larger picture of the world?

One thought on “Crossroads and Trailmarkers

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