On Being a “Traditional” Librarian

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on December 16, 2013.

For the past few months, in addition to being a full time student, I’ve also been working as a librarian at an elementary school.  The other day, I was talking to a friend about my job, and she excitedly asked me, “Do you read stories to the children?! I used to LOVE when librarians would read me stories!”

This tiny comment made me irrationally angry, and in my head, I started ranting: librarianship is about SO MUCH MORE than books and storytime.  Librarians do so many different things, from archives to digitization to information literacy-why don’t people realize this?!

But then I stopped to think for a moment, and I wondered WHY, exactly, I was getting so angry.  Yes, I wish more people understood the variety of different roles librarians can play, and didn’t picture librarians as people who sat behind a desk reading all day.  And yes, there are a variety of amazing nontraditional roles out their for librarians to pursue.  But at the end of the day, I’m glad I spend my days helping students get excited about reading.  I’m happy to be a “traditional” librarian.

Does this mean I don’t think students need exposure to technology, or digital and information literacy instruction, or the opportunity to create things using digital media?  Absolutely not.  These are important skills for them to have as they navigate a society that is increasingly reliant on technology.

I am very glad that many of my classes in library school have featured forward-thinking professors and exposure to new resources.  I think it is great that library school teaches us to be creative and innovative, because libraries need to evolve to meet the needs of their communities.

But none of this really matters if the patrons we serve can’t read.  They won’t be able to check out eBooks, or evaluate and analyze information, or read the directions for an online form, or even check their Facebook pages, if they don’t have basic print literacy skills.

The students I work with are 5-9 years old.  They still have a sense of wonder and curiosity and excitement about EVERYTHING.  They love checking out books, and they can’t wait to share with others the cool things they find in those books.  When they listen to a story, they hang on to every word.  So yes, I continue to start many lessons with a story.  And I continue to focus on how to find books in the library, and genres of books, and reader’s advisory, and other “traditional” librarian duties.

Don’t worry, I don’t view my library as a book warehouse, or sit behind my desk reading all day.  I still teach my students about research, and databases, and using web 2.0 tools to share their knowledge with others, and digital citizenship.  But those read alouds?  They are helping students to develop the literacy skills to do all those other really amazing things.  And so I’m happy to spending my days “reading to the children,” in perpetuation of the librarian stereotype (sometimes I even do it while wearing a cardigan).  Because that is what my community needs right now.

What are your thoughts on the more “traditional” librarian duties?  Do you have a favorite book to read aloud to kids?  Let me know in the comments, or find me on Twitter @alisonjane0306.

8 replies

  1. I sometimes think about this when I have to shush college kids or remind them (for the hundredth time) that they can’t have Jimmy John’s deliver to the library. I’m a circulation supervisor and I am glad to be in public service…maybe it’s not glamorous, but it is important…even if it is “traditional” and “para-professional” work (I hate the term para-professional, btw)


  2. This phrase “Because that is what my community needs right now,” sticks with me from this post. That’s our job – we serve the community we work in. I work in a rural community and yes, my interactions with kids have to do with the books I share with them. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job and (from what their parents tell me) it is one of the kids’ favorite things about coming to the library!

    My favorite readalouds right now are:
    anything Pete the Cat or Elephant and Piggie
    Wild about Books by Judy Sierra
    Press Here by Herve Tullet


  3. I have almost the opposite issue. I work in PR for my library and I struggle with people not seeing me as a librarian. I worked hard for the degree and it’s frustrating to hear people say “oh, so you aren’t a librarian, then” when I tell them what I do.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As librarians and librarians-to-be, it seems like we still have a way to go in informing people about what we [plan to] do, as we get comments like the one you got about reading to the children, and others about the “demise” of print in the face of ebooks, or questioning the need for librarians in light of the internet, for example. One way to think about it is that we need to educate the parents (or our peers, relatives etc.) while educating the students/patrons. Everyone’s a potential library patron! 🙂


  5. I think the “traditional librarian” will be making the gradual shift as we have more and more digital integration in the field. I, for one, haven’t had much opportunity to be able to teach the students in my school about downloading ebooks, and doing general research, and using other digital aspects other than Wikipedia and Facebook. But I do have time to help them find research books on the shelves on particular topics, or recommending books that they might be interested to read, but also making the librarian more accepting of all patrons, or my case, the social “outcasts” that find more peace in reading a book during lunch rather than spending time with their peers.
    I make my library comforting, with interesting boards and an active mind full of information and resources. Things that make the kids want to come into the library, which is not easy in a junior high school environment. It’s something I’m trying to make easier, inviting and just over all better.
    Fortunately, a lot of the teachers who require any form of research in their classes have also taught their students how to find what their looking for. Perhaps not with the same vigor as a librarian might, but they say “Don’t make Wikipedia your primary source”.That’s the start, the rest is up to us to create awareness. I may not have time to inform all students on how to use the internet, but I have been looking for creative ideas to help the kids out.
    – Krys


  6. I totally love this piece. Technology is just not for everyone. I am currently pursuing studies in librarianship and, truth be told, my best part of the job is story time. And to answer the question, my favourite story for read-aloud is ‘Ananci and the Moss Covered Rock’ by Eric Kimmel.


  7. Thanks for this post. I love to read to kids and help them find books. Technology is great, but I love nothing more than talking with a kid about the books that they read.

    Read alouds right now- Dragons Love Tacos, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, The Lorax


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s