I am not a librarian (and neither are you)

by Naomi House, MLIS
previously published 11/26/14

I am not a librarian (and neither are you)

NaomiHouseCensusWhat do you do?  I’m a librarian!  Right?  This is how we often answer because the jobs we hold are truly what we do for much of every day. Sometimes we are lucky and hold a job we are thankful for and feel like we make a difference at.  But we are not our jobs, skills sets or duties performed.  Ultimately we are members of our communities, citizens with incredibly different privileges and perspectives first and foremost.  The space I occupy, the interactions I have with others are much more heavily influenced by perceptions of my gender, race and class than my title. In fact those factors also influence perceptions of which job title I am presumed to hold.

I spent over ten years working in various positions in libraries. I have been hired to work as a library assistant, circulation manager, loose-leaf filer, manager of students, manager of acquisitions, reference librarian and other positions.  My experience in those positions will always be different than someone else’s experience.  What we share is not an identity, for example “librarian,” but the skills a librarian learns how to do.  How we do something, like what we do, does not define who we are.

Librarians are not an unassailable group that does only good. Librarians are individuals not a personality type (INALJ is not Myers-Briggs). We see / seek solutions based in libraries because that is where our power to effect change lies.  We center ourselves in institutions that allow us to make changes that can positively effect our communities, but also can have negative effects as well. We think first of these institutions and systems as change agents (whether they actually make change or not) because we see the shared degree as a singular identity, but it is not enough to erase everything else.

When asked “what do you do?” – answering with your job title is one of many perfectly correct / reasonable responses.  But it is not who you are.  That one title does not bind us together in spite of our differences or erase the privileges or disadvantages that are our very individual realities.


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular LIS jobs resource INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ.com. INALJ has had over 20 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and now lives part time in Western NY and Budapest, Hungary. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


  2 comments for “I am not a librarian (and neither are you)

  1. Stacy Johnson
    September 2, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    This is so full of T-R-U-T-H!!!! However, I grapple everyday as to why it is such a “hidden truth” for masses of intellectually endowed people. These “people” include my adult children (one of each sex); an medical doctor practicing fellow at a university in child psychiatry and an UX architech and graduate of GA Tech. I hoped all these years that the VERY LEAST, they’d get it. Yet, they stand on the sidelines just like many others making assumptions, misjudgments, and landing in the exact uncomfortable grey space of misappropriation of a host of fulfilling work I have rendered.

    A librarian is certainly a unique professional capable of reaching some pretty highly immeasurable goals that create a better place where ever they are. They are worth every penny spent and more. I hope to take the foundations of all the skills I have accumulated and move into something more measurable because I can no longer sustain the absence of support and ambiguity of making the complex appear easy or unimportant. The only sorrow in this realization is that I’m older, female, and a minority. Rebuilding now will be triple as hard no matter how wonderful the work I can provide is.

    Yet it’s a challenge I will take on…if you know of any great paths to technical or copywriting; please share. I’m mapping the journey today. There’s no such thing as BEYOND REACH:) Forge ahead!

  2. Da'Vian Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Thank you so much for writing this, I really needed to hear and receive these words. I was formerly a Children’s Librarian and now I work at the Circulation desk of a University library and I’ve been feeling very lost and confused about where I ‘should’ be going professionally. Lately I’ve been feeling like such a failure, but after reading this you’ve helped shift my mindset. Thank you!

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