The Librarian: Have we Really Changed?

watch it: The Librarian 1947 Vocational Guidance film

“Do you like people and do people like you?” It’s an interesting utterance, one that stuck with me throughout the viewing of “The Librarian 1947 Vocational Guidance Film”. The film is interesting from beginning to end, and it is easy to giggle at the formality of it all. It’s also easy to think that it’s sentiment is archaic, brush off the discourse and utter “we’ve come such a long way”.

In many ways Librarianship has progressed leaps and bounds; adapting to the technological upheaval that accompanied the introduction of the internet, not to mention the social and cultural upheaval the world has faced throughout wars, civil and human rights movements, and political/world power shifts. Librarianship is not the same it was back in 1947, but the statement “Do you like people and do people like you?” still sticks with me.

I wouldn’t go as far as to state that this vocational guide encapsulates the essence of librarianship. It is essentially a product of its time, depicting librarianship as feminine profession where the only males depicted are in leadership/administrative roles. It also de-emphasizes the need for a comprehensive college education (unless the librarian is entering a highly “specialized” area). These aspects have certainly changed over time as more women take on leadership roles and a masters degree is often required. However, the basic idea behind what motivates a librarian to achieve success in their career isn’t lost on current professionals. Librarians are still motivated by serving their patron’s needs and enhancing that patron’s understanding of the world. In short: librarians like people.

In her book The Nextgen Librarian’s Survival Guide (published in 2006) Rachel Singer Gordon asserts that librarians should “challenge existing perceptions of libraries and librarians, and show our continued relevance to various groups”. While it is important that we are not defined so entirely by the history of Librarianship that we remain unchanged, it is also valuable to reflect on the core aspects of librarianship. Interacting with patrons has always been a constant in the profession, and although that interaction has changed it is still very important.

There are professionals who may wholeheartedly disagree with my assertion, and that’s fine. I understand that there are librarians who have jobs in which their interaction with the public is minimal and they may not see an interest in people being essential to their career. However, even when a Librarian is not interacting directly with their patron their work is driven by the patron’s need to learn, understand, and function in a constantly changing world. In this way the question “do you like people?” becomes even more relevant and the answer a resounding yes. What information professionals do is necessarily driven by caring for the people in our community, organizations, schools ect. So while this vocational guide is dated and its use of terminology archaic it does present an interesting assertion about the profession of librarianship and makes us ask ourselves “In what ways have we stayed the same”.

Happy Tuesday!


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