Not a Dying Career Field

by Brad McNally, former Head Editor, INALJ Ohio
previously published 11/4/13

Not a Dying Career Field

brad.mcnallyLast week, I heard a question at work that will make many of the folks here on INALJ cringe:

“So, libraries, huh? What does it feel like to be in a dying career field?”

I don’t even know how to begin answering that. I almost made a snarky comment back, but instead I just thought about it. I often see writers discuss the end of the library as an institution, and a career field (such as The End of The Library by M.G. Siegler), but I think that many times people don’t particularly realize the things that make libraries so vital. I also don’t think that people generally know what librarians do, nor do they understand that not all librarians are in traditional “librarian” roles.

Beyond this, some writers claim they can’t remember the last time they used a public library. This may be true for some people, but it isn’t true of everyone. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I used the fire station, but that doesn’t make it less important to my community. Libraries (especially public ones) do something that very few other institutions can do: they equalize people. Libraries create resources for communities, not individuals. By doing this, the lowest income person can have the same access to information as the affluent individual. Regardless of income, social status, background, or any other issues – the library offers that person information. If they don’t know how to access it, there are professionals there to help. This is exactly why it isn’t a dying career field.

Yes, to some people the library is a big building with old books and free Wi-Fi. These people often have broadband Internet at home and can afford to buy books. They don’t consider that for many people, especially in the region in which I reside (rural south-eastern Ohio), Internet in your house could be considered a luxury. This isn’t just because of monetary reasons, but logistical. There are many people who cannot access broadband because of the location of their house and the infrastructure (or lack thereof) around it.

These articles (or comments, in this case) always inspire a knee-jerk response from me, and many others, at first. I suppose that the reason this type of claim is so bothersome to me is that I don’t feel that much related to libraries is in need of defending. Yes, it is a changing career field, but so are many others. How many adults now remember the use of a whiteboard in the classroom as students? That doesn’t mean that education is dying, but that it is changing. The same could be said of any library.

  4 comments for “Not a Dying Career Field

  1. Gretchen
    May 20, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Thanks for this article. I have heard this quite often “Why are you trying to get a job in a dying field?” I always respond that it is not a dying field – libraries are as vibrant and useful as ever. I always end that if it were a dying field, there would not be so many students in library school and planning to enter library school. As long as there is interest in anything – it will not die!

  2. Crystal
    November 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Nicely stated, especially the fire station metaphor. Good job!

  3. Robin Nicole
    November 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    I really appreciate this article. I currently work at a community college where we serve a very diverse group of students. We have students who have lots of access to internet, tablets, and any number of gadgets at home, we also have a large number of students who do not have that access. I see students who spend hours and hours in here doing homework, and getting research done that they probably cannot get done at home. I wish the people that made these comments, actually came into a library and saw how important libraries are, and the roles that they fulfill. Thank you for writing this!

    RN

  4. Raquel Mendelow
    November 4, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Well done, Brad! This article made my day! I cannot tell you how many comments I have gotten myself from well-meant family friends alike too! I believe it is our job to edify the public on what, exactly is our role and what we do. I am aware that people do not always understand us because sometimes we are hidden behind the shelves performing our magic if you will, LOL! Anyway, take care and have a great rest of the day!

    -RM

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