Instant Ideas and Collaboration

#uklibchat summary, on Classifying the Librarian – 6th May 2014

A summary of our April chat on reading can be found below.  A full archive of the chat can be found at


1. How would you define what a “librarian” is? How would you define what a librarian does?

The most succinct definition which echoed similar thoughts by others came from @preater “I’d have to go with an answer about organizing information and facilitating access to it.“

Another neat definition came from @clareangela “a librarian helps people find stuff cheaply, efficiently and cleverly”

The classic “A librarian is a search engine with a heart” was also mentioned.

There was some discussion about using books in a definition of what a librarian does but there was a strong feeling that not all librarians work with books but books do contain information and that all librarians have a role in facilitating access to information.

This sense that not all librarians are the same in their aims came up relating to literacy. All those responding felt that training customers in information literacy was part of what a librarian did, but as @poetryghost brought up, promoting literacy is part of the work of public libraries, where to a certain extent it is taken as a standard in other libraries from academic to specialist, and the only overlap in this area might be in reader engagement and development.
Customer service also came up as a core activity that librarians do.

2. Has your role change significantly in the last few years? If so how?

A range of changes were mentioned but a common theme was the way in which new tasks from management of various kinds to promotion (including online promotion), had a tendency to mean less face to face customer time. In this there was some discussion of the way in which becoming more senior and more involved in management particularly has this tendency to reduce or change customer contact.
Some also mentioned having had to change jobs or roles in an organisation on a regular basis making any change within any role hard to pin down.

3. If your role has changed, do you feel changes have moved you further away or closer from your core library and info work?

Most people felt that their work had basically expanded but they still felt that what they did was library and information work. There was a mention of tech support as a new role and printing support, also VLE and new technologies

4. When are new projects or tasks creative ways to engage your users and when are they a poor fit for your library aims?

Most people felt that creativity was generally a bonus, so long as it was set up with the right aims. As @LucyWoolhouse put it “From my limited experience as long as the project is created around helping the user, it generally works well.”
There was some mention of the problems of non LIS funding meaning either timescales or project aims may not be a best fit, and others mentioned the need for care with digitisation projects in order to make sure money was spent wisely. Consultation was also brought us as a good way to make sure a project was a good fit.

5. How can libraries support special needs and mental health in our interactions?

This one was an interesting question, and highlighted again the difference between sectors. As a sector with a limited or closed audience, academic librarians mentioned the ability to join up services more seamlessly in a way that is more difficult in for example public libraries. Some academic librarians mentioned either being briefed on specific student needs – such as diabetes, or being able to follow up on students with problems, something very difficult in a public library setting.
Signposting on to other services and training were both brought up as useful tools. The only specific service mentioned was “Recovery Education Centres” or “Recovery Colleges” as mentioned by @emilylovedhim as places “encouraging Mental Health patients to develop skills for recovery”.
It was also mentioned that libraries are often seen as safe non judgemental spaces and we should be aware of that in our interactions with our customers.

6. Do your managers always appreciate all the roles that you have?

There were some varied answers here. Good managers should really understand what their employees do, but for a variety of reasons, this can be difficult, specially if there have been cuts, or if your manager is not from the library field. There was also some talk about the importance of communication and informing your manager about what you do, and “managing your manager”.

7. Any good tips for persuading managers that the non-library thing you do is important? (eg marketing, specific outreach)

  • Evidence of success in other organisations
  • Link to library objectives or strategic aims of larger organisation
  • Evidence of impact through usage statistics
  • Use of pilot or trial run

8. How do you react if your manager(s) ask you to do something that is clearly outside your job role?

There were some variant perspectives on this.
For some new challenges were welcomed, specially if short term and well planned for with a clear value, as an opportunity to demonstrate the reach of existing skills or learn new ones. Often job descriptions will have a line about doing anything they are asked.
For others there was a need to clarify priorities and make sure any long term changes were put in writing into the job description.
@LucyWoolhouse had the opposite problem
“In an old job I had to develop subject knowledge but that wasn’t allowed to be in JD because I was too low pay grade.”

9. Is it realistic in the 21st century to only stick to ‘true’ library work in your job?

There was some question of what “true” library work is and some humour around library work stereotypes and misconceptions (don’t forget the knitting!), but the question was clarified to refer to the contrast between more traditional info literacy and newer areas such as marketing (specially online marketing). But the view of many was summed up best by @AgentK23
“where there is an information need, there is true library work to be done”
and @ClareAngela
“If the needs of the users change, you have to change, preempt change and go with it”
Library work as a customer focussed field follows the needs of its users.
LIS was mentioned as a field that often has early adopters and a rapidly changing field, and that particularly web content management and graphics were becoming a new normal in library work.

About gabyklib

Gaby has been a librarian in a public library in the UK since 2004. Her current role is covers working with all library customers through project work, reports, outreach and promotion including website maintenance and social media. Previously she was a children's librarian with particular focus on Teens.

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This entry was posted on June 13, 2014 by in Discussion Summaries and tagged , , , , .


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