Librarians We Need

Confession: While I’ve been working in libraries since around 2011, I did not think I wanted to be a librarian until about 8 months ago when I started to look at jobs. In my defense, I spent my first four years there maintaining the stacks and checking in library materials and I studied international studies for my undergraduate degree. In that position, I hoped to work abroad and share my knowledge with the world. My big idea was to go big to make big impacts. I had thought that the way to do this would be by working for some company, non-profit, or government agency. That might still be true, but it is also true that those places need librarians, especially on the local level. In my search, I found that not all of those positions are called librarians; some are called Information Specialists. Some are called Archivists. Others are called Outreach Specialists. At the end of the day, these are all librarians. It took me about eight years of working with the public library to realize that. If it took someone in the profession that long to realize it, how long are we expecting our communities to realize what we do, how we do it, and the skills needed to accomplish it? How long are we expecting it to take the kind of people we need to work in libraries to realize it?

Good news: the American Library Association is working on it for at least one part of our field. I have been absolutely obsessed with their National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment . ALA is supporting this study to get data on how libraries help their communities and the skills librarians need to accomplish that. I am particularly fascinated by the skills they list necessary for library programmers–because no one told me these things were a part of my job. They were skills I learned as I needed them to be an effective library staff member. The skills listed are: knowledge of the community, interpersonal skills, creativity, content knowledge, evaluation, financial skills, outreach & marketing, event planning, and organizational skills.

As library science and information students, this information is critical for our preparation for the workforce. Many of these skills will come with time and on-the job training, such as financials, but many others could be practiced while we are in library school through experiential education. We all know how hard it is to get employed at a library, but maybe we can use these graphics to find jobs that meet these skills and take opportunities that prepare us for work in libraries. For example, if you’re in library school to become a public librarian, it would be great to have a position at an after-school program that requires you to plan enrichment activities for students. It could also be great to spend some time in a senior center, maybe volunteering to teach them computer skills. If you’d like to get in on the technical side, it might be a good idea to offer to catalog a library for a church or other organization with lots of information to organize.

There is another element here to think about: how are libraries and library schools attracting people who have these skills and the passion to serve? Well, I support the idea that it’s up to us to be advocates. Courtney Baron wrote a great article for HLS on this in 2015. She lists: know the bigger picture, prepare an elevator speech, update your CV, maintain a portfolio, and keep a record of achievements. I would like to add to her piece that we need to recruit people through our hiring processes that meet these nine library programming competencies, recruit these students for library school, and we need to incorporate outreach as part of our activities. We can accomplish this as alumni of our schools through donations geared towards activities that promote these skills or hosting webinars for library organizations. Librarians and library staff need to accept the responsibility of changing the perception of libraries and embrace changing competencies in order to fulfill our true purpose–serving the information needs of our communities.

Speaking of jobs, there is good news there, too. From 2018-2028, librarian job growth is expected to grow 6%, as fast as the average. So, as long as we are remembering to be creative in our job search, develop these competencies, and act as our own advocates, we will all be okay after graduation.

Courtney Evans is a first semester MSI student at Florida State University with an interest in academic libraries and how libraries function in communities. You can connect with her here:

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič – @specialdaddy on Unsplash

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