In praise of librarians


Books 7 by Brenda Starr
Information overload. (Photo by Brenda Starr)

Another day, another article about how librarians are becoming extinct. I wonder if that’s really true. Libraries, yes.  But librarians? Really?

I used to know a trainee librarian. We used to joke that she had to spend an hour a day practising saying “Shhh” and glaring at people over her glasses.  I suspect that’s what a lot of people think librarians do. Not true. They do a lot more than that.

Information has value and librarians are good with information. If you want to know anything about anything, your first port of call (after wikipedia), should be a librarian. They won’t know the answer immediately (well, they might, I suppose, depending on the question), but they will know where to find the information. If it’s something particularly tricky to find – they will at least know who has the tools to dig it up.

When I needed to know which worming pills were used in the 1960s (my life is so glamourous), I phoned up the science desk at the British Library  and spoke to a librarian who found me the right journals to look in. There are librarians who specialise in local history, those who specialise in medicine, those who specialise in chemistry, in engineering, politics, digital archiving, patents, you name it. They can search databases, rummage through archives, find contacts for experts, source copies of rare documents. If that weren’t enough, they can recommend an author that writes like that author you already like.

I suggest that librarians are not going to go extinct. In an age where there is more and more (and more) information available, we need people with the skills to sift the nuggets from the noise. Librarians will probably need to rebrand themselves. They will be managers of information, searchers for fact. I’ve put some time into coming up with more fun names and my favourite so far is Information Ninja. Discrete, silent and (mostly) dead on target.

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9 thoughts on “In praise of librarians

  1. I hope too that librarians will not disappear. I recently joined a library that is in a temporary premises while they re build the library, and the librarian was so helpful in regards to the book I was trying to find.

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      1. you’re welcome Rhoda, which is why I am loving being near an English language library after nearly six years in Italy 🙂 I’ve borrowed a great stack of books. Can’t get enough!

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  2. Hi Rhoda ,thanks for your recent like of my FB page from which I unfortunately seem unable to like back. I have shared this interesting post there.

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  3. I tried writing in a couple of local libraries. They were so noisy that I decided I might as well work in coffee shops instead where I could get a cappuccino and a piece of cake. I do like an old library with wooden pannelling-there’s a really nice one in Richmond, Surrey (think it’s the Reference Library) where it is possible to write and anyone who talks is told to shhhh.

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    1. I love an old fashioned library with the wood panels and leather bits on the desks. There aren’t many of them left now.
      I write at home because my laptop is too old and cumbersome to take to coffee shops. Besides, I’d eat far too many cakes.

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  4. My vote is for Information Ninja! I never realised the role librarians play. probably because the ones over here only know how to peer over their glasses and go “shhhh”.

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