Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Questions about becoming a librarian (Part 4)

[Continued from: Part 3]

Question: What makes a good (public service) librarian?
  • Response #1: I'm still figuring that out myself.
  • Response #2: I'm pretty sure I'm not there yet.
  • Response #3: I hope your answer isn't, "I don't need a librarian, so I don't really care".

I thought really hard for this post. For responses #1 & 2, it's not a matter of modesty (if I were, I'd have named this blog "The Humble Librarian").

Started writing this sometime on 7th Oct but kept putting it in draft because I could give a satisfactory answer to myself. Not that I couldn't think of answers. There were just too many.

I'd considered approaching the question indirectly by answering "What makes a mediocre librarian", since a "good librarian" is someone who's the opposite of a mediocre one. Nah, didn't work.

So in the end, I settled on these FIVE points:
#1 - A "good librarian" is someone whose existence is recognised by the reader/ user/ customer.
This is the most basic. Be it seen or heard, your presence must be made known to the customer, however vague. In short, the customer must know that the librarian exist. I know this point is debatable but I convinced myself eventually. Even if one is the greatest librarian in the world, if the customer doesn't recognise your existence (and therefore the value you add or create) sooner or later, they're going to ask, "What do I need you for?", even though they use the library.

#2 - A "good librarian" is someone who is accessible.
This is a logical step up from #1. Librarianship is fundamentally about Service. There is no service in the long run (or at least not one with the librarian employed) if customers cannot reach the service provider -- whether it's a face-to-face service, or correspondence via email, or whatever is the gizmo-of-the-day.

#3 - A "good librarian" is someone who produce results.
The key word is "results". It implies the entire range of personal and technical competence of the librarian -- search skills, book talking, facilitation, cataloguing, managing budgets, managing staff -- whatever the tasks assigned. The results are in accordance to what the customer wants.

#4 - A "good librarian" is one who understands and applies Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science.
The Five Laws are:
  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his or her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The Library is a growing organism.
The following web resources explain the Five Laws in greater detail:
http://www.aallnet.org/products/2003-28.pdf (see page 413, para 10)
http://www.slais.ubc.ca/courses/libr517/03-04-wt2/projects/ranganathan/contri.htm#five (written from a fictional first-person narrative)

#5 - A "good librarian" is someone who's passionate about their job
"Passion" implies that a good librarian tries hard to go beyond the "mediocre" and "adequate". The job, ultimately, is about providing a service to customers. There can never be good/ excellent service without passion in what we do.

Ok, I admit I tried to emulate Ranganathan's FIVE laws by coming up with five points. Of course mine are nowhere as elegant as his, and I'm certainly not that pompous to assume I can call mine "Laws".

In anycase, I feel pretty happy about these five points. However, if you were to ask me now, "What makes a good librarian?", my first response would still be those three stated at beginning of this post:
  • I'm still figuring that out myself.
  • I'm pretty sure I'm not there yet.
  • I hope your answer isn't, "I don't need a librarian, so I don't really care".

You might also want to Google for "what makes a good librarian" and see what comes up.

In fact, the best answer might just come from non-librarians. If you're not a librarian and you're reading this, please, I'd really like to know what you personally think are the qualities of a "good librarian".

(Next: Part 5)



  1. Anonymous11:35 pm

    Interesting posts on librianship.
    I feel that there a few things I must comment on. I study to become a librian at The Royal School of Library and Information Science, Aalborg, Denmark.

    The major thing that got me started on this study was the passion for information and knowledge - a bit hard to explain, but I find that the ability to find out everything about everything and pass that information on to someone is just plain cool. Being someone who can navigate in the abundance of information available today is great. "Knowledge is power" all over again - I may not know, but I can find out... that's power to me!

    As a librarian in Denmark I also build on some good traditions in the library-field - the library services being free and the materials covering all topics, regardless of moral, religious or political point of views in the materials. That's not unique for Denmark, but I still find it a great basis for the library as a central base for the democratic society.

    turbolofi [@] gmail.com

  2. great post, ivan!

    i'll share this among my colleagues here in manila! btw, the asian children's fest is fast approaching. i miss singapore. hope to visit your country again. perhaps by 2007?

  3. Thanks Lofi. Nice to know another Dannish librarian. Your last para supports my point #5, I think.

    Hey Eruannie, be sure to look me up when you're in town.

  4. BiblioAcid adds "curiosity" and "broad-mindedness" to the list of qualities. Some other interesting talking points over at her blog. It's in French, so use one of the translation tools (check out the "useful links" at the side bar here).


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