Activate Librarian Superpowers Now!

The first couple of weeks of the semester are all about introductions and getting to know new classmates as we delve into the material. In my fully-online program at San Jose State University, these introductions are done in discussion threads where we might give a quick summary of where we’ve been and where we hope to go. After reading a hundred or so of these get-to-know-you posts throughout my four classes, I began to notice a common thread. Many of my fellow classmates, just like myself, had arrived in librarian school through unexpected and circuitous routes. One of my classmates had been a dancer and choreographer, another was a digital marketer, another a hairdresser, an electrical engineer, some said they were reinventing themselves, and many described previous “career attempts” and current career changes.

I began to wonder if, again like me, many of my classmates were “multipotentialites”. What is a multipotentialite? Around 2010, the term was coined by Emilie Wapnick to describe “someone with many interests and creative pursuits”. Similarly, the term “scanner” was first coined by Barbara Sher in 1994 to describe someone “who loves to learn new things, who loves discovery and variety, and gets a big kick out of solving problems.” Doesn’t that sound like a librarian? Even our very own American Library Association lists lifelong learning as one of our Core Values of Librarianship.

In her new book, How to be Everything, Wapnick does a great job of describing the five “superpowers” of people who have a lot of interests and creative pursuits. We all know that librarians have exceptional superpowers, and as it turns out, multipotentialites share a few.

Idea Synthesis

The first, idea synthesis, is something we practice a lot in our LIS programs. We take seemingly unrelated ideas and draw parallels and connections. We then turn those ideas into papers and presentations for feedback, and (viola!) after a few years we receive a Master’s degree.

Rapid Learning

Second, we develop skills for rapid learning. By practicing lifelong learning, we become really good at it! We can take all of the great information we acquired from our previous studies, careers, and odd jobs and apply it to the new task at hand. We may not know how to build a website, but we know how to search for tutorials and experiment until we figure it out.


Third, we are adaptable. We know how to thrive in different roles and environments. Librarians know how to shift from one thing to the next since we do so many different jobs throughout the day. We might research topics for patrons, agencies, or organizations, order books, shelve books, help more patrons, update the library’s website, teach a class on online searching, help more patrons, write a grant for future funding, give a presentation to the board of directors, help more patrons, fix an IT disaster, and then maybe help some more patrons. And that’s just before noon.

Big-Picture Thinking

We are good at idea synthesis and making connections, and this includes connecting our ideas to bigger problems and figuring out how to solve them. One of my classmates, frustrated by the underrepresentation of diverse authors, envisions installing a prominent section to spotlight such authors in her library. Another wants to change hiring practices to promote diversity among librarian ranks. Another has ideas for ways we can change the outdated perception of our industry. LIS students are big-picture thinkers who want to take what we’re learning and make big changes in our world.

Relating and Translating

Finally, we relate to people by connecting to them, by connecting them with one another, and by connecting them with information. Because we know how to find information, we also know how to translate information so that others can understand it. This is what reference librarians do every day. It’s what we do when we liaison inter-departmentally in academic, special, and corporate libraries. It’s how we communicate with government agencies and local organizations to express our value and translate that into our need for funding.

After all of these years of doing different jobs, running different businesses, living in different places, and studying different disciplines, I know I will never be just one thing. The world is full of so many interesting topics and new and exciting things to learn. Fortunately, as a librarian, I will never have to choose between them.

Where did life lead you before your LIS program? Share your story in the comments!

Cover Photo: Stencil, Metropolitan Museum of Art [Public Domain]

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