Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Questions about becoming a librarian (Part 2)

From: Part 1

Question: What does a librarian do?
Reply: How much time have you got for my answer? :)

Ok, my personal answer is at the end of this post. First, in typical librarian fashion, let me refer you to information that's already available out there.

A colleague recommended this webpage, which I found to be quite good if you want a detailed overview (er... did I just use an oxymoron here? Anyway, you'll see what I mean). The information is by the U.S. Department of Labour.
Most librarian positions incorporate three aspects of library work: User services, technical services, and administrative services.
[Last accessed: 28 Sept 05]
Though it's focused on the U.S. context, that section on "Nature of the work" is general enough to represent most librarian-related jobs, covering a wide range of specialisations -- public libraries, academic, government/ institutional etc. You can probably skip the rest of the webpage as the rest of the information is very U.S. specific.

Here's something about the responsbilities of a librarian working at NUS libraries:
Your responsibilities include acquisitions and cataloguing of materials, indexing of newspapers and journal articles. In addition to promoting the library collection and services, you will assist users to identify the relevant sources of information and conduct user education programmes. You will also assist in the development and administration of library IT applications.
[Last accessed: 28 Sept 05]
I'd say what's listed there is quite typical of the job scope in academic/ university libraries. You can also generalise it for research and privately run corporate libraries.

Here's what the NLB website says about tasks that a NLB Librarian performs:
  • Selection, management and development of library collections
  • Implementation of service standards
  • Supervision of staff
  • Promotion of library awareness programmes and user education
  • Participation in project teams to develop services, facilities and collections
  • Possible areas of specialisation: public relations, systems work, media services
[Last accessed: 29 Sept 05]
Of course you don't necessarily do all of the tasks (e.g. not everyone supervises staff). But you'd probably do most of it if you've been at the job after a certain time. It's really a matter of degrees.

Unfortunately I didn't have time to do a more throughout search for library job postings for other institutions like NTU and SMU. You might want to email your enquiry to AdultServices@nlb.gov.sg ask@nlb.gov.sg. They'd really save you time (I'm not just saying this because I'm responsible for that service. If you're not satisfied with our service, email me).

My personal take of what a librarian does: If you've bothered to read thus far, chances are you might find some of the earlier terms unfamiliar and generalised, or too job-specific. So here's my version in hopefully more familiar terms.

As a librarian (particularly one how works in Public Libraries), you're a:
  1. Retail/ Sales Executive (you help people with their "purchase", advising them on what "product" to buy or use)
  2. Marketing Executive (you have to publicise the library's services and products)
  3. Event Manager (organising programmes and activities)
  4. Trainer (you may conduct training for public or colleagues)
  5. Talkshow host (you chair programmes and events; facilitate book discussions)
  6. Administrative Executive (lots of reports to write; you may have to manage budgets)
  7. Inventory/ Store Manager (the books and information resources are your products; you might acquire, or recommend, materials to be added to the library)
  8. Security Officer (you have look after the safety and well-being of those who use your premises)
  9. Customer Relations Executive (you deal with customers, both the nice and not-so-nice ones)
  10. Project Manager (you may have to organise and lead projects; you most certainly work in teams)
  11. Researcher (you answer reference enquiries and help customers search for information)
  12. Writer (you write book reviews, for example)
  13. Coach (you might end up mentoring or directing staff)
  14. Customer (you read; you have to; enough said)
There's probably a few more to add, so feel free to comment.
(Coming up: Part 3)



  1. "Question: What does a librarian do?"

    There are likely as many answers to that question as there are "types" of Libraries. As each type of Library has a specific focus, mission, or purpose... (Use a word that is comfortable for your understanding of "The reason behind why THAT Library exists.") each type of librarian would do a different thing.

    The Librarian is a "hat rack" kind of person, wearing whichever hat is required at the moment to ensure that the Library continues to exist. Some Libraries have one Librarian who must wear all the hats. Other libraries are fortunate enough to have many Librarians, each wearing only one hat.

    To "wear a hat" implies do a task. I know that the tasks at my library are likely very different from the tasks at your library. This is HOW we do our job. Even though we do our jobs differently - I'm certain that at the end of our day we have each achieved the same result.

    The people using our library had a satisfying experience and gained access to the information they sought. As Librarians we made that happen - that is what we do.

  2. Anonymous2:21 pm

    i must say your job sounds fascinating...=)..

  3. That is a great list of what a librarian does. I think for people wondering about the profession, looking at it in terms of other professions, like coach or executive, would give an idea. It sounds like you wear a few hats. Like the commenter who refers to librarians as "hat racks" persons, I am a multiple hat wearer. Working in a smaller campus means I have to be willing, ready, and able to do various tasks. I am not complaining though. I think in my case, having this option makes my job interesting, but it is not for everyone. For some people thinking about a career in libraries, working for a large library system or university (if choosing an academic route) would mean more specialization. So, maybe another question to add for those considering such a career is what kind of setting, small and intimate, or larger and more specialized?

  4. OT, but have you read this?


  5. Anonymous11:33 am

    thanks for popping by my blog and for your suggestions. i have added the email link and the RSS feed link. so do include it in the feeds you read..=).. and btw, i have also added your Raw Notes to my links.


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