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Answering the question: “What does it take to be a librarian?”

Posted on January 29, 2020 at 6:00 am

By Dana Mannino

As I have shared before, being a librarian is pretty awesome. So it’s no wonder that I am often asked, “What does it take to be a librarian?”

Of course, I treat this as a serious reference question and immediately launch into a technical description of the degrees and experience that we look for when hiring and which schools offer the education required.

While this answer is factually accurate, I think it misses what’s at the heart of being a librarian. So I am seizing my chance here on the blogosphere to share with you a much more complete answer of what it takes to be a librarian.

A Master’s Degree

So we couldn’t escape the mundane and technical answer entirely.

People with all levels of education work in libraries, but in order to have the word “Librarian” in your title, you must have a master’s degree. In fact, librarians who work in law libraries or in universities often have additional advanced degrees such as a law degree or a second master’s.

So, school. It takes a lot of school to be a librarian.

Passion

All of the people I know who work in the library do so because they want to make a positive difference in the world.

The library supports varied interests and passions. So what is most appealing to each of us and our areas of focus are as varied as we are. Here are some of our passions:

We come to work each day to make these things happen. There’s a lot of job satisfaction in being a librarian.

Flexibility

One person’s chore is another one’s pleasure.

Librarians support each other’s passions as well as work directly on our own. Children’s librarians sometimes host a budgeting class, and business librarians sometimes present storytimes.

You don’t have to love the topic, but you do have to be willing to step in and help.

Personality of a bar tender

People come to the library when they need information. In other words, when life has handed them a situation for which they are not equipped.

These very personal situations spark questions like:

  • “Where are your parenting books? My son was just diagnosed with autism.”
  • “My brother is an alcoholic, and it’s getting really bad. I wonder what I can do to help.”
  • “Where are your books on prostate cancer?”
  • “Do you have a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting?
  • “Do you have anything on domestic violence?”

Entering a library can be a person’s first, empowering step to equip themselves for a new reality. They need someone who can talk with them with respect and empathy.

This is not every bookworm’s cup of tea, but it is an important part of being a librarian.

Skills of an event planner

Every event at the library takes at least as much coordination as a successful dinner party. Many can feel more like staging a musical. I spend a lot of time making sure a projector is set up in the meeting room, a craft closet is stocked with googly eyes, and a sequence of events is lined up for my storytime.

The emails fly fast, and there are lots of small details to keep track of. Where can we hang a piñata? Do we have enough glue sticks? Did our presenter turn in their W9 form? What is plan B if the pass closes while our out-of-town musicians are traveling here?

If you think you’d be a good a wedding coordinator, but you don’t want to deal with mothers of the brides, consider becoming a librarian.

Stage presence

Ask any performer what it takes to read the mood of a room and respond accordingly. Now ask a parent how many moods their toddler can experience in a half hour. Put those two elements together and you will get a feel for presenting a toddler storytime. It takes chops.  

Not every librarian is assigned to regularly present a storytime, but all librarians are called on to display some stage presence.

As a librarian, I have found myself in front of TV cameras, church congregations, rooms full of local business people, and mobs of kids. If you can’t see yourself doing the chicken dance in public, librarianship might not be for you.

Connections of a community organizer

Libraries respond to the needs of their communities. They have to be deeply embedded in their community to know what people need and who can help.

My colleagues and I develop relationships with elected officials, homeschool groups, social service organizations, banks and credit unions, churches, arts organizations, veterans’ boards, retirement communities, small businesses, scout troops, news outlets, knitting clubs, local authors, and so many schools.

If you want to know who’s doing what in Spokane County, become (or ask) a librarian.

Be able to delight in the small things

A child signs their first library card.

A job seeker returns wearing a suit and a smile.

A kindergartener finds a familiar book on the shelf and squeals, “Mom! They have Frog and Toad here!”

A senior learns how to increase the font size on their eReader and suddenly they can read again.

Two teens meet up for their first date in the manga section.

A kid wins the science fair using the library’s 3D printer.

A grandma uses library computers to make CDs of herself reading books for her far-away grandchildren.

Librarians witness moments like these every day. A successful librarian cherishes them.

Curiosity of a lifelong learner

At this point, you should be concluding that no one has everything it takes to be a librarian. And that’s true. No one starts out with all the qualifications. To be a librarian, mostly you must be willing to learn.

Lots of librarians start out suffering from stage fright. The instructor who taught my storytelling class confessed to throwing up before every storytime for the first year.

Developing community relationships can take years.

No one responds perfectly the first time someone tells them “I have cancer.”

Libraries are places of lifelong learning, for librarians as well as the people in the communities we serve.

So that’s (some of) what it takes to be a librarian.

Does this sound like you? If so, you should stop by and talk to a librarian.

We will give you a very thorough and technical description of the degrees and experience that we look for when hiring and explain which schools offer the education required. And then we’ll head into storytime and do the chicken dance. Because we’re librarians.

Dana Mannino

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