by Naomi House, MLIS
previously published 11/26/14
I am not a librarian (and neither are you)
What 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.