What does a librarian do?

Bobbi Newman, at Librarian By Day, noticed a search in her logs that read: “what is a librarian’s day like?” She writes:

I’m assuming it’s someone considering becoming a Librarian and I thought what an amazing opportunity! If I post about this and get others to do it too, it will allow librarians to share amongst ourselves (our positions are changing so rapidly) and also to let the public know what we do.

I can understand her impulse, as my most frequently visited post is How To Become A Librarian. In fact, it became so popular (so quickly), that I amended my tongue-and-cheek post with a link to real information on how to become a librarian. Since my job is a fairly unique one, I thought I’d share a little about what I’m doing, in the (similar) hopes that it might inspire others to pursue this rather satisfying, if unorthodox, occupation.

I should start with the basics. I’m a research librarian in a Holocaust Museum. I previously worked in different library environments — academic and public — before moving into this specialized library, where I act as a solo librarian.†

Today involved the following:

Completed an annotated bibliography for our Teacher Education Institute
As far as I’m concerned, the bane of library work is the annotated bibliography (clunky, time consuming, static, and out-of-date by the time they’re printed). Nonetheless, almost every course that’s taught uses a guide of recommended resources which is nothing but an annotated bibliography.

Searched for material to use in a Censorship Exhibit/Program
For the first time since I moved to the museum, we’re going to be doing a program for Banned Books Week. The program — a collection of dramatic readings by local actors/performers/poets — is already well into the planning stages, but I’ve just begun pulling together the material for the exhibit, which concentrates on the destruction of books and literature during the third stage of genocide.

Cataloged a small collection of children’s books
While cataloging was never my forte, you have to expect a healthy dose of it when you’re the only librarian. I’ve found that it’s easy to manage when you fold into a workflow that has a lot of variety.

Ordered $350 worth of books
Collection development has always interested me, and it’s something I’m always eager to tackle. This was a fairly light order, but there were two titles in my “cart” that I wanted to get as soon as possible.

Fielded a half dozen reference questions
Unlike cataloging, this is my forte (Jim Carmichael would be so proud). The average day is consumed with varying amounts of research, depending on the types of requests I get, and since I have a non-typical library, I tend to get non-typical reference questions. For example, I spent a large chunk of the afternoon attempting to determine if three Communist partisans were hanged in Kaunas (Kovno) on December 12, 1941.

That was what a librarian did today. Thanks to Lauren for pointing this out.

†A librarian who works alone and is expected to perform all the tasks that larger institutions divide among different positions.

Update: If you’d like a more detailed accounting of what a librarian does I would recommend buying Lauren Pressley’s book. You can find it in my Amazon recommended reading box on the sidebar.

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5 thoughts on “What does a librarian do?

  1. tim Post author

    Unfortunately, I’m in training all this week, so my single day snapshot is going to have to stand for now.

  2. effinglibrarian

    I don’t talk about what I do because some people I work with read my blog, but here is what an effing librarian does (not that anyone cares):

    regular duties: troubleshoot pc, printer, wi-fi, database issues; answer system-wide email; work virtual and actual reference desk; other crap I can’t think of at the moment.

    sample of what I’ve done/do during June-July.
    weeded 50 books;
    requested 300 books (someone else places the order);
    shot and edited video for upload to youtube,
    ordered equipment replacements and budgeted items for purchase;
    editing system-wide training materials;
    produce monthly system-wide posters, training schedules and promotional materials;
    bring cookies to my co-workers;
    edit monthly programs to fit into PowerPoint show displayed in library and copy show to laptop;
    assist with pc and projector and sound set-up for public programs;
    teach instruction classes to public;
    monthly, quarterly and annual stats;
    prep supervisor’s laptop for webcast;
    attended day-long workshop;
    blogged my ass off;
    other crap I dump from memory after I leave work.

    I’ve made 5 of these presentations this summer:
    from list provided to me, edit book descriptions, collect images, created slides in PowerPoint to promote books; save slides as .png images formatted for high-quality svcd display (easy); dump images into Nero Vision Express, add slide transitions and timing; burn slideshow to CD as svcd program for playing on DVD player in lobby to promote books.

    and do whatever anyone asks me to do.

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