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identity crisis

August 10, 2012

So, yes, the librarians come last. The thread on “Librarians” in The Atlas of New Librarianship, that is.

While writing these posts, it has been very hard to divide these ideas into separate threads, they are so deeply woven together into the whole cloth of librarianship. Of course, Lankes had to deal with that himself, so I certainly can’t expect to have an easier time of it. It’s the librarians that are really woven in throughout this book and these concepts.

But, guess what? This is the part that I struggle with the most. Throughout these posts I’ve been talking about librarians and referring to myself as one, but that doesn’t actually come trippingly off my tongue. On the one hand, traditional (mis)perceptions of librarians (the shushing, pinch-faced bunhead who will protect the book, not the reader) are firmly ingrained in our culture. On the other hand, during this Information Age, both the values and skills of librarianship are now distributed among many different people, jobs, places, and tools. The mission expressed in the Atlas is carried out far beyond libraries, and far beyond librarians. So why on earth am I paying dearly with my time and money to go back to school to become a librarian?

There’s a real irony here. I want to become a librarian so I can be a part of changing the world to be a place where everyone can be their own librarian. I am pursuing a degree through online education, so that I can position myself to help break down the current system of academia and help build a system in which everyone has access to knowledge building and can be recognized for their knowledge and skills, not just their credentials.

What I want to do as a librarian is to help teach our communities how to take on librarian-like behavior themselves. If a community is filled with the spirit of librarianship, then does it matter if someone is specifically designated as librarian, or has an advanced degree? I’ve been librarian-ish, without realizing it, without even thinking of wanting to formally become a librarian, for most of my life. Can’t I help draw that out in other people? How much of our mission is to provide our skills in our communities, and how much of it is to spread our skills to our communities?

There’s a whole uproar right now over the idea that in online environments, people are calling themselves curators or archivists to describe their information organizing activites, even though they don’t have any credentials. Some of it is pretty abominable, but rather than criticize this behavior, I think it’s our job to spread the knowledge of how to do it better. Digital technologies and other aspects of 21st century culture have led people to be more self-sufficient, in many ways, including their information seeking behavior. I think we should support this rather than criticize it.

So, what’s the place of the librarian in the future? Perhaps I need to settle more into the idea of being a librarian in the present before I can really tackle that question. I’ll get back to you.

References

Lankes, R. D. (2011). The atlas of new librarianship. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press .

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