“So What Do You Do?”

I don’t know about you, but I cringe when people ask me this question. Why, you may ask? Contradictory reactions.

When I say I’m a reference librarian, sometimes the reaction is, oddly yet interestingly, excitement.

Them: “Oh! How nice! I’ve always loved libraries!”  or “I love to read!” or “What a great job! How fun to be able to read all day!”

Me: (big smile)

Thank you, but no. Yes, libraries are wonderful places and we librarians love our chosen career and, yes, many of us love to read. But, alas, we do not get to read all day. I wish. Except review journals and computer screens!

But, on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had quite another reaction.

Them: “Really? Huh.” (looks blank)

Me: (sighs inwardly and smiles politely)

Many people have no idea what librarians do all day. Really. And I admit that even I hadn’t a clue when I got my first library job as a page shelving endless carts of books over twenty-five years ago. But I quickly learned and was quite fascinated.

So here, in a nutshell, is what reference librarians do all day:

We help you formulate a research strategy.

This is my favorite and the number one reason that I am a librarian. We love to do research. Tell us what your project is and we’ll help you devise keywords to find subjects that will lead you to sources that will assist you. We will search every catalog, every database, every reference and citation to find as much information as possible. And we’re happy to show you how you can, too!

We help you learn how to use library resources that seem really confusing sometimes.

Whether looking at multi-volume reference book sets, downloading an e-audiobook, or searching an online journal database, we can teach you how to use the library’s resource tools so that you, too, can understand (and maybe even teach others).

We evaluate and order the materials in the library that you use and enjoy.

Librarians are given budgets every year in specific subject categories–mine are crafts and world literature–with specific dollar amounts to spend on new materials so that our users can discover new and exciting things every day. And this includes digital, electronic, as well as physical item formats.

We help you navigate the library building so you don’t get lost and help you find treasures.

Some libraries are huge buildings with multiple levels, corridors, and nooks and crannies. And we realize that can sometimes be intimidating. Librarians want to make it exciting and fun and love nothing more than to see our patrons light up with delight as they discover something new or finally find the answer to their question.

~Maria

21 Comments

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21 responses to ““So What Do You Do?”

  1. I’m a librarian too! Not a reference librarian though. I do love my job, but yes some people think it means you get to loll about reading all day. I liken my position to half an office job, half sales/retail. But I still love it!

  2. I’m a librarian too! Not a reference librarian though. I do love my job, but yes some people think it means you get to loll about reading all day. I liken my position to half an office job, half sales/retail. But I still love it!

  3. acwaechter

    I’m a writing instructor at a large university and we have library sessions each semester as a required part of our courses, as a result librarians are some of my favorite people ever! I feel like I have a much better understanding of the library and all librarians do because of those sessions. Thanks for all you do!

  4. I tend to tell people we’re up here making magic, because so much of what we do is hidden and hard to quantify. As long as the end results dazzle, though, we’re doing something right… great post Maria!

    Leigh Anne

  5. Heidi P.

    I’m a hospital librarian. Talk about getting blank looks when I tell people what I do. . .

  6. It bothers me when people assume that librarians aren’t necessary because of Google. You’d be surprised how many highly educated people can’t find stuff on Google, and a lot of important resources are found behind pay walls.

    • Ed Almaguer

      People who assume librarians aren’t necessary are anachronistic. I’ve heard people say libraries (much less librarians) wouldn’t be necessary anymore once the internet came into existence. I’ve even heard someone say they get all their information from (gasp!) Wikipedia! The horror! The horror! (apologies to Joseph Conrad).

  7. Grace, I hear you. And evaluating the validity of the free stuff available via Google is another thing we do, too!
    ~Maria

  8. Pingback: Library Schism: How Do Librarians Define Their Profession? | Eduhacker

  9. I often get the blank stare or the “so what do you actually do?” questions all the time and more than a couple times from my parents. I think you’ve done a great job of detailing some of the reasons librarianship is such a vital and important profession. (And itsn’t just pushing a creaky trolly around all day!)

  10. Jo

    I’m a reference librarian (yay!) and I love this post — I feel like printing it out, and having it handy to give to people (family and friends alike). :)

  11. This is fantastic! I’m a Library Assistant, so I dread this question. I’m not technically a librarian, but non-library workers have never heard of a “Library Assistant”. I usually get around it by saying “Oh, I work at the library!” And then explain that I work the “check-out” desk and create programs for kids and adults. But I’ve definitely had the “must be nice to read all day” comments. So glad I found this blog!

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