Recently, we were talking at work about a group of librarians coming to visit our campus. Several people chuckled about what it would be like to have so many of them moving about the campus. I was a bit startled to find that many still hold on to the stereotypes about who librarians are and what they do.
The common vision of the librarian as an introverted, cautious, old-fashioned person just isn’t true now (and may never have been).
In my experience, many librarians have secret lives – experiences, skills, and interests – that others would never guess they have, but that make them better librarians.
Did you know that one local librarian is a recently retired trapeze artist? She performed for more than 10 years with circuses and acrobatic shows all over Europe and North America. Her experiences flying about high in the air have made her flexible, both physically and mentally, and taught her to think quickly on her feet.
Another local librarian helped organize a clandestine band of junior high parents. They met and practiced in secret for several months, then surprised their children at the final band concert. Organizing events and building community is actually an important part of what librarians do.
One librarian is a member of a medieval re-enactment group, which re-creates historical settings and activities. The ability to bring history to life is surely useful in the library, where the staff often play a key role in igniting a passion for the past in young visitors. Many of the local librarians are very well-traveled, which allows them to convey a personal understanding of global events and locations to their patrons.
We have a psychic on staff at the library, which may help with being able to sense the type of books a patron would be interested in reading. There are also many who write their own books, demonstrating a deep passion for literature.
While most of us see librarians sitting and talking to people or moving quietly about the facility, they are, in fact, quite an active group. One is training as a competitive barrel racer. Others are belly dancers. There are several long-distance runners. These individuals are committed to improving their fitness, which will help them maintain their focus on the demands of research and data management that are part of a modern librarian’s daily life.
There is something else that all these librarians are experts on – libraries. They are very well-trained, with graduate degrees that cover library operations, information sciences, copyright laws, organizational management, and community engagement. They understand what libraries are, and what they could be.
Gone are the days when libraries were simply quiet places to browse books or read. Today, they serve as community centres, where people gather to learn, connect, and engage. They are not quiet – they are active and vibrant.
Modern librarians understand that the buildings that house libraries need to be open, accessible, modular, and versatile. They are the experts, and they should be engaged in the conversation around choosing the new location for the library.
Why are the proposals for the new library being reviewed by just the town and county officials? Why aren’t library representatives included in this critical phase in the process?
The town and county leaders are right – this conversation has dragged on far too long. Perhaps it needs to stop being about politics and needs to start being about what kind of library we need.
We should be letting the experts on what the library should look like frame the criteria for selecting which proposal to accept, and our leaders should be willing to bring them into the conversation.