There’s more to life than books you know…

But not much more. The video above is a 1947 vocational guidance video on librarianship. The video plays out like a stereotypical old vocational guide, complete with a cheesy script and that old time narration. The first thing I noticed was that the roles of librarians have not fundamentally changed since the video was made. We still do reference work, we still catalogue in the back, we still do readers advisory, we still do community outreach/public relations, and we still strive to provide high quality customer service (among many other things). There is more to life than books for librarians though. We have evolved (and are still evolving) as a professional field in many ways, including the adoption of programming in practice. Note how the video mentioned that librarians use the latest technology to provide educational service. That has fundamentally not changed in any way. The technology itself has changed but we still do “educate”. The level of pedagogy that librarians engage in is exponentially growing, much to the chagrin of “traditional librarians”.

On that note, at what rate are “traditional librarians” dying off? While I did just spend a paragraph arguing that librarianship has not changed fundamentally, it is obvious that the profession (and the buildings we operate it) is greatly shifting from the processes we see in the video. Besides the obvious (card catalogs being obsolete, using computers in everyday tasks), there is also the not so obvious. Roving reference is being introduced in public libraries and in universities. Embedded librarianship is popping up in communities where librarians can go out into the community and provide the same services as if they were sitting at a reference desk. There is also the fact that libraries are taking out shelf space and making way for desks, collaborative learning spaces, and computers. Librarians are pushed to stay current and with the times.

At what cost? Integrity? Discipline? I had a conversation with a colleague of mine who is a little less than connected than the modern library school student (or even the modern person). He has no phone, no Twitter, no knowledge of coding or even that librarians are learning coding. He guffawed at the notion that librarians were using twitter effectively, engaging with other librarians around the world, collaborating in the Web 2.0. “What do they talk about on Twitter? Books?! Hey look at all the books we have!” These are the words he said to me. He is a nice and smart guy. I am just concerned that his notion of librarianship will die out, while mine with thrive on. Should I continue to learn to code? If this whole library school thing fails, at least I’ll have a leg up on a Bachelor of Computer Science by learning Python and MySQL early.

The video is an accurate representation of what librarians do in a basic way. However, it is a glimpse into the past, and we are constantly fighting to stay alive as a profession. There IS more to life than books, you know, but not much more? Maybe if Morrissey was writing 20 years later he may have changed his tune.


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