Table Talk: You need a degree to be a Librarian?

Yes.

Yes, you do.

Seriously?

Seriously.

But all you do is check out books, right?

Nope. Far from it.

I was asked the other day if I was the librarian. I am merely an assistant. I know that may come off as negative, but I don’t think so. I really don’t. And even though I’m just an assistant, I think my job is pretty darned cool.

And while my permanent position is a library assistant, I am temporarily assigned as a branch manager for a small library. Knowing this, someone asked me if I’m upset that I can’t apply for the branch manager position because I don’t have a degree (and they asked while I was grocery shopping, mind you. Unusual place, I know, but it’s a small island and well … you know how that goes sometimes–and, thinking about it, maybe not so unusual). They admitted they didn’t understand why a degree was necessary and since I was on grocery shopping time (and doubt this person wanted to listen to passionate, ten minute speech on the importance of a LIS degree in the middle of the grocery store), I smiled and politely told them “a degree is a huge help for a librarian.” It didn’t completely satisfy this inquisitive mind, but it appeased them enough that they let me buy my microwaveable lunch for the next day.

And so I’ll give my, somewhat, lengthy answer here.

I truly believe that librarians should, at the very least, have a Bachelor’s degree. And I am not disappointed, one bit, that my assignment is temporary; that I will go back to being the library assistant when the librarian steps in.

Why?

The answer is simply this, a Master degree in Library and Information Science helps the librarian exponentially when it comes to assisting the patron and I believe it’s because the mind is conditioned to think a certain way. An academic background trains the librarian to think like a researcher and, essentially, trains the librarian to zero in on exactly what the patron is asking.

As a really basic example:

Patron: “Hi, I’m looking for a book on plants. Do you have a book on plants?”

This can go two ways.

1) Librarian: “Yes, we do.” *does a keyword search for plants on the library database* “You want to look in section 580.” *hands the patron a slip with the call number on it*

or

2) Librarian: “Yes, we do. Are you looking for information on identifying plants or taking care of plants?”

Patron: “Oh, taking care of plants. Like, you know, growing your own plants.”

Librarians: “Great! Are you planning on growing anything specific? Vegetables? Or maybe fruit?”

Patron: “Yes, mangos. My neighbor gave me this mango seed, but I’m not sure how you even grow them!”

Scenario one the librarian did help the patron. The librarian provided exactly what the patron asked for, pointed them to the plant section so they could browse the books on plants.

However, in scenario two the librarian asked some questions that helped narrow down the search to not just plants, but to growing plants. And not just growing plants, but growing mangos which in turn can narrow it further because the patron may have better luck finding a book on growing mangos in the Hawaiian/Pacific section instead of the main section since libraries in Hawaii have a specific Hawaiian/Pacific section and mangos are a big deal in Hawaii.

I’m not saying that you need a degree to ask questions, but keep in mind this is a very basic scenario. Things get trickier when patrons ask about local history, such as:

“I hear Russia had something to do with Hawaii. Do you know anything about that?”

or when they ask about family history, such as:

“I’m trying to find the tombstone of my grandfather, who is buried in a Japanese graveyard somewhere around here. Can you help me?”

or anything that may need more information to help them narrow their search so you can get them close to what they are looking for.

A degree helps train your mind to assist with these things. You learn to read bibliographies and indexes. You learn the language of information; what it is you are finding, where to find it, and most importantly, how to find it. I’m lucky I’m naturally curious, love information, and have some academic familiarity. 

And sure, the main reason someone comes into the library now days is for entertainment; they want to rent the most recent movie or borrow the most popular book on the New York Times Bestseller’s list, but the heart of the library is information. No matter the vessel providing that information and if you missed it, I provide a pretty thorough definition (at least, I think so 😉 ) of what a library is here.

Overall, I am not disappointed to step aside so an actual Librarian can manage the branch because they’ve been trained to do it. They’ve been educated in the ways of information and I hope to achieve that, some day. Just because it’s cool 🙂 .

6 thoughts on “Table Talk: You need a degree to be a Librarian?

  1. Princess of Dragons

    Hello. I too am an assistant librarian, but I’m actually applying to do a masters starting in September. I’m really looking forward to it and seeing what it can add to my knowledge, because I get frustrated when I have to tell a student I can’t help them, and they need a librarian, but they are all out at lunch or busy!

#JustSayin