What Do Librarians Do?

Someone asked me the other week what librarians actually do. I dread this question because I’ve never been able to come up with a concise, articulate response. Here is my attempt at doing so, from the perspective of a public law librarian who moonlights as an academic reference librarian.

Librarians make people’s lives easier:

  • We know the types of resources we should look in for each type of information (ie. Look for books when looking for broad information or an overview of a topic).
  • We take complex information and communicate it in an understandable way (ie. Someone may want to know the reason a certain act/statute was created. A law librarian is able to explain that you can find what is referred to as “legislative intent” by looking at the Debates of Parliament. And then we’d show you where to find the Debates online and how to search them because it is tricky!).
  • Most people don’t know how to ask questions. We know the kinds of questions to ask to help people figure out what they’re really looking for (ie. “I’m trying to find the law about child support,” when what they’re really looking for is information on the procedure of how to vary a child support order.)
  • We know how to pick out search terms from a person’s question. And the type of language used in research databases and specialized areas (ie. Someone might say, “I want journal articles about how the behaviour of children is affected by physically abusive parents,” and we would pick out key phrases to use in a database like: “family violence” “behavioural problems”).
  • We can tell what a reliable source is.
  • We are really nice! And that’s important because sometimes it’s scary to ask for help or information.

When I tell people I’m a librarian, I occasionally get a response of, “How does it feel to be in a dying profession?” But libraries aren’t about books, they’re about information and librarians help people navigate through that information. This then leads into the Google argument, “Everything’s online now through Google so we don’t need anyone to help us search,” but that is so wrong!

  • A lot of things aren’t online. And even when they are….
  • It can be difficult even to find free information online. For example, someone wants to know, when a strata council vote requires a majority of ¾ and there are 15 votes, is it 11 or 12 votes that makes a majority. Doing a Google search using the keywords “strata” “votes” “bc” “majority” does not pull up the freely available online resource that explains the answer.
  • Many databases function on paid subscription and are only available within libraries, or large companies that are able to pay for them.
  • Many databases are difficult to search. At my workplace there is one database, which will remain nameless, that contains a resource that is so incredibly useful and I use it multiple times a week. However, the online version is impossible to use. Even if I enter in the exact name of the section I’m looking for, it ends up being the 24th result.
  • Again, most people don’t know how to ask questions. If they don’t know how to ask for what they’re looking for, they certainly aren’t going to know how to search any kind of resource for that information.

That wasn’t very concise. I think I’m just back at square one. If anyone has any good ideas, please tell me so I can steal them.

Also, I started fostering cats. Here is my current kitty, Mitzi!