What Makes You a Librarian?

by Nena Schvaneveldt, Head Editor, INALJ Utah

What Makes You a Librarian?

NenaSI had no dilemma about calling myself a librarian when I was the only one around with The Master’s and not working in a library. It’s when I was a library assistant that it got complicated.

On one hand, I had the degree. I was a librarian.

On the other hand, I was doing a paraprofessional job – definitely NOT a librarian. The last thing I wanted was to confuse people by referring to myself as a librarian and reiterating the misconception that sitting at a desk in a library makes one a librarian.

So I decided that I was half of a librarian.

Is librarianship a list of qualities or traits? Is it professional duties or a salary or certain hours or a job title? Is it official when the requirements include a master’s and you have one? Do you consider yourself a librarian? If so, what did it take? Is there even a right answer to this?

This is an age-old question with tons of debate – at what point does one become a librarian?

What do you think?

  15 comments for “What Makes You a Librarian?

  1. Melanie
    September 30, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Good question. I had worked as a f/t librarian for a few years, then was laid off. During that time I was trying to find a library job without having a library job. I felt that as time passed being a librarian was slipping away. At my first job, I had a mental plate with my name and underneath it said librarian. I put that up on my dresser to remind myself I was a librarian – just without a library. Finally I got a p/t job, then another and was so glad to be back. If I had no library experience I would probably feel I was an aspiring librarian, but technically not – just someone who holds the degree. I would say I was an M.L.S in that case.

    • Nena
      October 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      “Aspiring librarian” had been my LinkedIn headline for so long… and having that nameplate is a great thing, isn’t it? I’m glad you got a part-time gig!

  2. Jeanne
    September 30, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    I have been in and out of the library world for 20 years. After I recieved my MLS, I worked as a reference librarian in a couple of public libraries. Then my career took a shift, yet I was still tied to the library world – recruiting librarians; selling to libraries; managing librarians, projects, and contracts. While I was employed in those position, I didn’t think of myself as a “librarian”. Now I do because my main focus and goal is to get back where I truly belong – in the library world doing what I love best – being a librarian and proud to be called one. Wish me luck!

    • Nena
      October 2, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      Good luck Jeanne! What an interesting path your career has taken! It’s fascinating to see the various paths that exist within libraryland.

  3. Deborah Donovan
    September 28, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    My title is Adult Services Assistant, but when I got hired, I asked my supervisor if I could call myself a librarian. Fortunately, she said yes. As an earlier commenter says, we have to get something from the work and expense of an MLS. If you had the choice, would you be working in a professional position in a library? Is it just the lousy job market that keeps you from getting that level of responsibility and pay? And do your co-workers count on you regardless of your title?

    • Nena
      October 2, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      Very good points, Deborah! That’s great that you could have that conversation with your supervisor.

  4. Chris Schultz
    September 28, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    I am no longer employed as a librarian but still consider myself a librarian. I have the degree and experience. Teachers are always teachers so why not librarians always librarians!

    • Bonnie Jette
      September 29, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      Agreed. Doctors are always doctors, whether or not they practice. Lawyers are always lawyers, whether or not they practice. The list can go on and on. I firmly believe that if you hold an MLS or MLIS, you indeed are a librarian whether or not you are employed in such a role. Having gone through the rigor of the program and either passing a proficiency exam or submitting a thesis to me is the equivalent of passing a board. I hold an MLIS but currently am employed in a paraprofessional library position. I posed this question to a library manager, and the answer I received what that I WAS a librarian in a paraprofessional position.

      • Nena
        October 2, 2013 at 12:45 pm

        I think “librarian in a paraprofessional position” best describes where I was as well.

  5. September 28, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    I agree. I consider myself a librarian because I have the training, even through I’m working a paraprofessional job. If someone asks me a librarian question, I can and do answer it. I didn’t go through the extra schooling for nothing!

    • Nena
      October 2, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      Good point – you’re putting that education to work!

  6. Jeannine
    September 28, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    I have held a paraprofessional position over the past year (although I have my MLS degree). I think I’m going to take a more general view as to what does make a librarian a librarian. At first, I would take for granted the opinions I have heard from others who are in the profession & consider it a calling more than a job. I really didn’t think of it as a calling (or a state of mind) until I was working a couple of nights ago in my temp job at a place that prints (and packages) posters and gift cards (I have to admit that, after being in this position only a few months, it makes you only not want to see another gift card again but, for me, I wouldn’t mind sending every gift card I see into a shredder). I felt like “librarian to the rescue” because the operator came up with the idea of placing the gift cards in the boxes vertically instead of horizontally which would make sense (because of the long cardboard carriers) but only if the boxes weren’t so stretched out so, naturally, the boxes were tipping over on the pallet because the 1st layer has 3 stacked on top of each other & then 2 stacked the rest of the way. I had to come up with my temporary “book end” way of stacking the 1st layer since others have zero common sense. I think, though, that I get that way of thinking from both of my parents since they were both very meticulous in everything they did. I think that tendency towards organization, classification, neatness, etc. really was learned from my parents and then, couple that with going to the public library since I was young, I guess that, while I don’t see myself getting employment anytime soon in a library, I would like to think it’s a state of mind (if you get into the whole paranormal thing, I asked a psychic what my life path was since I have had many doors slammed in my face, figuratively, when it came to library jobs; she did say ‘historian’ so that would include librarian, teacher, professor, & occupations like that).

    • Nena
      October 2, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      I think taking a general view is a good idea. I know we talk a lot about out of the box jobs on INALJ – aren’t those people doing research librarians on some level? I think that a simple “what is a librarian, anyway?” is actually a fascinating question. It’s more than just someone who loves books, but how? And how can we explain this to others who aren’t in our field?

  7. Eloise
    September 27, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    If you complete law school/the bar or medical school/licensing, you’re a lawyer or a doctor whether or not you’ve found a job. In library science, there’s too much emphasis on the position held and not on the qualifications of the person holding it. With the economic downturn, too many libraries decide to hire people with the MLIS degree for paraprofessional jobs in order to slip in professional duties or expertise without the compensation. Those people are librarians by training, whether or not they’re officially paid to do librarian work.

    • Nena
      October 2, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      This is what I told myself, too, sometimes – especially when that librarian job title was far away. My situation was complicated because I was working as a paraprofessional, and many people already thought that people working in a library are all librarians. Thanks for the comment!

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