I just want to geek out about my job for a minute.
I think I may have the best job in the world. I mean, I’m a librarian. I describe things for a living. People actually pay me to think about and interpret the meaning of books, maps, images, puppets, microfilm, electronic data, you name it! And to what purpose? In order to be a participant in a more well-informed society, of course! How cool is that?
This is where I was a few months ago:
I feel differently now. That’s the beauty of time and perspective; you get to change your mind about things.
Take, for instance, this project I’m working on. Sandy Berman would be proud. (If you don’t know who he is, look him up and thank a fucking librarian.) One of the
problems opportunities in the profession lies with the control we have over “authority”. Literally. We abide by strict rules regarding subject access. These rules exist for a very good reason and continue to be important. But…
But things change. Subject headings become obsolete or sometimes controversial, and the process to make change is slow. We can’t keep up with our ever-diversifying, increasingly expanding landscape of data. There is a crush of information so heavy it often overwhelms. Decisions get made in a neoliberal context for fear of budget cuts. Our ethical duty to provide information freely to anyone who wishes to use it sometimes takes a backseat to our old friend “value”. The problem with that idea is that information doesn’t have value without context. Today’s headline is tomorrow’s birdcage liner. It’s not up to us to decide which piece of information is more valuable than the next.
But, I digress. The beautiful thing about rules is that they can be broken. Even the rules that I hold so dearly to my heart. Besides, it’s not about me. It’s not about the rules. It’s about how well the rules can adapt to the needs of our users, not the other way around.
So, anyway, this project I’m working on. I won’t get into the stodgy details, dear reader, for I do care if you die of boredom whilst enjoying my blog. (If you’re interested in talking about metadata, I really want to engage with you, because I’m lonely and nerdy.) I will say it’s an amazing opportunity to not only work to add descriptive data to our collection, which helps to enhance access around the globe, but I also get to work directly with the users it will impact the most: our students. I feel like this matters.
The best part about being a librarian (because I am clearly an authority on how all librarians feel about all things always) is that moment that someone *gets it*. Whatever the “it” is. Sometimes, it’s after an instruction session where you’ve helped someone think about their approach to research differently. Sometimes, it’s the random email thanking you for posting a digital image freely online from a collection only your library holds. Sometimes, it’s working in collaboration to help someone articulate what they’re searching for. Sometimes, it’s seeing downloads of open access material from countries that have much fewer resources than your own. I feel like I can sleep easier knowing that I may be part of the reason they were able to find the *it* they were searching for.
So, this is my ode to librarians. I love you. I love us. I love what it is we do.
I also believe in us. I have to. I believe that every librarian feels the same way about information access, or at least did at some point. We have the power to make change for good. Let’s utilize it.