“You need a degree to be a librarian?” is often the first question I hear in response to my master’s degree in library and information science (MLS). The answer is yes and no. Many fantastic librarians do not have advanced degrees. I, however, decided to pursue my MLS for two reasons. First, I wanted to work as an academic librarian at a college or university, which typically requires an advanced degree. During and after my studies, I worked in various departments at the library at my university. Working at the university library provided me with practical experience. Second, I wanted to learn more about the field of librarianship — historically, theoretically, and practically — which also prompted my decision to earn an MLS rather than only working in a library.
Stereotypes aside, working in a library is so much more than sitting behind a foreboding desk, shushing noisy patrons, and stamping and shelving books. The library is also much more than just a place. Libraries are about information. Anyone can walk into a library and find an endless world of information. Libraries are keepers of books, journals, magazines, films, recordings, computer files, databases, artifacts, and more. However, the library is not simply a gatekeeper of information. Librarians strive to make information easily and freely accessible to all. Not to put myself out of a career, but the most successful library would be one in which librarians are obsolete because of the ease of access to the information.
Fortunately, librarians are also teachers, helping patrons learn how to find sources. With each new advance in technology, libraries and librarians must keep up to continue providing patrons with relevant sources and services. As a child, I clearly remember learning how to use the physical card catalog. Now with computers, the internet, and online databases, libraries use online catalogs. Searching for articles in journals and magazines no longer means flipping through the pages of a print index. Instead, libraries subscribe to electronic databases. The current library exists both physically and digitally. Who knows what the field will look like in the next couple of decades? Whatever the future holds, the library and librarians will be there to teach patrons how to wade through the informational landscape.
My time on the library board has coincided with my earning my MLS. During library expansion discussions, one important consideration that I learned from my studies that I brought up multiple times was that we needed to build a library for my grandchildren, not just a library for us or even for our children. The library is a keeper of the past and present but must also have foresight into the future. A library that is simply a building in which to store things is already outdated. First, the library is the last true public space, which the expansion at the public library fills through new and larger community and meeting rooms. Second, with our ever-growing dependence on technology, libraries must provide computer access and internet access to patrons. Through the expansion, the public library now has more public computers and continues to provide patrons with WiFi. Our society is dependent on the internet, but not everyone can afford a home computer. Thus, the library helps fill the informational and other needs of the community.
Now that I have children, I continue to find more and more value in the public library. My children and I visit our public library as well as other libraries in the area a few times a week. Every child should be exposed to books and other information sources. As a parent, I love that I can check out an endless supply of books from the library for free. When I need a book that our library does not own, I can even hop online and request a copy for another library — for free. Although naysayers may scoff at the value of the modern library precisely because of the digital age in which we live, only a small percentage of information is actually available online for free. The rest you must pay for or is still available only in print. My children love playing their iPad, but they also love sitting down with a pile of books from the library. Not even Google, an app store, and an e-reader combined can provide the service and information offered by the library.
Although I did not decide to pursue a career in librarianship until college, I spent my childhood with books and in libraries. I fondly remember hanging out at my public library during the hottest days of the summer, soaking up the air conditioning while reading book after book. In junior high, I decided to reorganize the classroom library for my favorite English teacher because I wanted the books to be more accessible. I even helped attach barcodes to the books in the high school library during the switch to an online cataloging system. Then, as an undergraduate, I stumbled into a work study job at my university library and my career path was ultimately set. From our little public library to a much larger university library, the library has played a huge role in my life. Through the current expansion, the public library can continue to inspire current and future generations to value libraries and librarianship.
An Open Letter About the Continued Importance of Libraries: https://www.flickr.com/photos/benchun/3256355240/ (CC BY-SA 2.0) and https://www.flickr.com/photos/blue_mountains_library/23645852345/ (CC BY-SA 2.0)