Someone To Look Up To – Finding Your Library Hero

In my Introduction to Library Science class, we were told that a primary goal of the class was to start the process of professionalization. Wikipedia describes professionalization as,

“Professionalization is the social process by which any trade or occupation transforms itself into a true “profession of the highest integrity and competence.”[1] This process tends to involve establishing acceptable qualifications, a professional body or association to oversee the conduct of members of the profession and some degree of demarcation of the qualified from unqualified amateurs.”

Obviously the class included a sketch of the history of libraries, a snapshot of the state for the profession, and a cursory exploration of issues and values with in the profession. But I left the class feeling particularly uninspired in large part because I felt like we had just skipped over the librarians. Even when we dealt with the history of libraries the librarians themselves were a largely absent. There were a few exceptions of course, a discussion of Dewey and the creation of a professional librarian class, but from my extra-circular readings I knew there were librarians behind the stories we were reading.

Part of any culture, including professional cultures are the myths we tell amongst ourselves.  Central to these myths is the hero(ine). In many fields these take the place of those who change practices and publicize their accomplishments. Or practitioners who are exceptionally good (ie: Louis Brandice or Howard Zinn).

Librarians need heroes too.  Not just Melville Dewey, but a whole host of library Allstars to look up to. Finding them can be difficult especially if you’re in a distance program, or the MLIS department at your school has weak roots in the community. Learning about people in the area who can serve as heroes or even role models can be difficult. Nonetheless, finding heroes within our profession is key to our cultural development. I have a few heroes and heroines myself. Some of them I know personally, others, like Sandford Berman, I learned about by reading books like Revolting Librarians Redux; you can find a plethora of good role models on the web. Regardless of where, and how we find them Heroes and Heroines should be instrumental in shaping our own practice of librarianship.

We should always be watching the librarians around us, finding those who represent the best in us, and copying their best practices. When the time comes ultimately we have to buckle down, or stand up for our patrons learning from the triumphs of others can be key to building character within ourselves. Having a good hero(ine) can make upholding such burdens a bit easier, even if the extent of those burdens is monotony.

Who is your library hero(ine)? Why? What are the qualities of a library hero(ine)?

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14 replies

  1. My Library Heroine is an academic librarian who inspired me to become a librarian. Not only does she have a smile on her face every single day – she also makes other people smile when she interacts with them. I think her informal and formal instruction strategies are so very successful because she’s personable and approachable. I think those are qualities every librarian should have. (okay I will stop gushing now)


  2. What a great post for national library week! My library hero is my instruction librarian boss-lady who has really helped me discover my passion for information literacy instruction in an encouraging yet intensely challenging way.

    Of course you can’t have just one library hero/heroine! All of the librarians on twitter and blogging about issues in our profession make a difference to me. And of course all of my co-workers who are at the reference desk at midnight despite awful weather, there during crazy undergraduate parties (check out #onlyduringlittle5 to see the crazy bike race activities going on this week), and those who race to answer our instant message questions before another librarian can snag it.


  3. My library heroine is an MLS instructor I took several classes with. She is so passionate about the field and it shows in her professional research. Before I took a class with her, I saw her speak at a presentation about research she was conducting with some LIS PhD students and she blew me away with her intelligence, passion, and humility. I knew I had to take classes with her and learn as much as possible from her.


  4. One of mine is my elementary school librarian. She’s the one that took me aside, when everyone else was reading about Barbie and G.I. Joe, and gave me Lois Lowry. She always had a new book waiting for me. Seriously, amazing.

    Professionally, it’s Michael Cart. Is research into young adult books is phenomenal.


  5. For me it’s all of the incredible librarians that I spoke to when I was applying to library school. Those librarians are still in my corner and still motivating me just as they were when they first expressed to me the passion they have for their jobs and the profession. One is a school librarian and one a public librarian and I really do credit them with putting me more securely on my path.


  6. I like these responses b/c it suggests that someone’s library hero doesn’t need to be a librarian who is particularly well known in the profession, but is simply a librarian who may serve as a personal mentor, displays great passion for their work, has good stories to share and can be counted on to listen and provide advice/counsel when needed. Do keep in mind that we may also want to find heroes in fields peripheral to our own, such as an educator, an academic administrator or faculty members. Potential mentors are all around us. Having non-librarian, external perspectives can be helpful to our development.


  7. I’m in the midst of reading Confessions of a Lapsed Librarian, the memoirs of Ronald C. Benge, a librarian/library school lecturer who spent many years establishing library schools in newly-independent third world countries. He may not be my library hero, but I think he’s a good example of what can make a good library hero: he had a mission, a cause that he believed in, and he went to the ends of the earth to further it. To me, the best librarians are motivated by specific passions and goals, and their job positions are simply means to those ends.


  8. My library heroine is a retired librarian who remains passionately dedicated to early literacy, the intersection of information and social justice, and the idea that librarians have the power to change the world through their impact on patrons’ lives. She inspires me to never settle for the status quo and to keep fighting the good fight as an advocate for patrons and their rights.


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