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.