One of the most annoying annoying thing anyone can say to a librarian is this: “Oh, so you work in a library? That’s great, it must be really nice to be able to spend your whole day reading.”
No, it really doesn’t work like this. Librarians are so busy guiding their clients to information, that it is very rare that they have the luxury of reading a book or article from start to finish, deeply, with no skimming. It’s different in my new job - having a deep understanding of the details is what I need to have. This doesn’t happen by osmosis. It comes from in-depth reading.
print is not dead
As a librarian it used to annoy me when people would insist that they needed the printed annual volume of the Corporations Act or the Income Tax Assessment Act or the Competition and Consumer Act. We have it all online, I would say, with hyperlinks to great commentary and other bells and whistles. I was often disappointed with the response.
Now I’m starting to see the other point of view. If you need to return again and again to particular sections of your Act, and you have those sections flagged, it’s faster to just use the books. I’m no slouch when it comes to using online materials - I’ve discreetly raced my new colleagues when they’re looking up a section of our Act. By the time it takes me to get to the Library page on the intranet, navigate to the relevant database and look up a section, if all goes well for me, they’ve been reading their section for about 30 seconds.
Although the better legal databases make it easier to see the context of a particular section in legislation, it’s hard to beat just turning to the next page or the previous page.
no more existential angst
Given that there’s often some personal angst in job changes and career changes, I wasn’t aware of this change at first. But I’m starting to notice this, and it is amazing. I no longer feel that I have to constantly justify my existence. This is the worst thing about being a librarian, and it’s huge relief to be free of it!
The questions have been similar in the last five libraries I’ve worked in - “why do you need so many staff, why do you need so much space, do you have to pay for all these books, journals and databases, can the library really help me / my department / my organization?”
I know, each of these questions poses a challenge, and each challenge is actually an opportunity and we should embrace these opportunities with a positive attitude. Because sometimes you (or your team) can answer these challenges successfully and it’s great. I’ve also been on the losing end and have worked in libraries which have lost most of their space or have been merged out of existence. I’m not going to turn this into a “future of libraries” post, I’m just making the observation that whether we’re winning or losing these challenges, it’s exhausting and I can’t see an end in sight - that one glorious day everybody will realize how terribly wrong they were to think that Google or wikipedia or something else could replace librarians, and so we could all live happily ever after.
The work I do in my new job is very specific and if my team doesn’t do it, nobody will. It’s not going to be outsourced and it’s not going to go away. There won’t be too many quiet moments, but if there are any, I’m going to savour them, knowing that at some point it will be extremely busy.
The existential angst I had in libraries was worst on the quiet days. They were slightly tinged with dread and guilt - that things were quiet because we had done a bad job with our marketing.