July 28, 2016

Your average librarian was never average


Your average librarian was never average

Your average librarian was never average

To you, regular library-goer, the following will likely not be news. Much more likely it will be the affirmation of something you’ve known or suspected all along: the job of the librarian is far more dynamic and demanding than the shhhhs, old newspapers on sticks, and rickety rolling ladders of pop-culture lore would have you believe.

I couldn’t possibly write “The History of the Roles of the Best People, Librarians.” Not only because I have all these books to market, but also because even a mere primer would be a sizable book. Suffice it to say that the role of the librarian has never been so simple as the stereotype who walks around shelving books. Rather, it is a career that is changing, expanding, all the time. It must, to keep pace with changing technology. As the shape of information and collections changes from material to immaterial to whatever, so too does the methodology of the collectors.

All of this is made clear in this interview between the Atlantic‘s Adrienne Green and real-life twenty-first-century librarian Theresa Quill. Quill is research librarian at Indiana University who specializes in ancient and digital mapping and the relationship between geography and cultural behavior.

Quill describes her role as one that is constantly changing, refreshing: she must update traditional responsibilitied — like shelving, archiving, preservation, restoration, customer experience, and readers advisory — as new tools become available that assist either in the collection of information or in making it accessible. Librarians are constantly adapting, learning, and utilizing:

Even for people who are quite tech-savvy, the general abundance of options and tools makes it really difficult to invest the time in every element of research and tools that you might need. I think it’s helpful for the librarian, especially in the case of mapping, to be able to be the expert on all these different things so the students don’t have to go down every little avenue and try to learn every tool. I spend a lot of time doing research consultations with people, and then teaching workshops. A lot of those are for some sort of digital product or tool.

As information presents itself differently to the world, it is, in Quill’s estimation, the librarian’s job to make it understandable, and therefore useful, to those hoping to wrest something meaningful from it. That part of the job won’t change—which is good, because that’s the best, most important part.



Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.