When I began to share my aspirations of continuing my education with friends and family, I was overwhelmed with support and encouragement. That was until I confessed I was looking into the Masters of Library of Information Science program.
‘You need your masters just to work in a library?
Just to check out books for people and put them away?’
I found it difficult to explain what exactly this education would entail and the types of job opportunities that it could create for me, and for the most part everyone thought I was signing up for a life sentence of sitting behind a desk, shushing people.
Can you blame them? The popular image of a librarian, and therefore most peoples’ conception of one, is stuck approximately five or six decades in the past. This antiquated notion of librarianship is fully on display in the 1947 educational film ‘Librarian Vocation’, which gives us a glance into the world of information before the age of information. Before modern technology like computers and the Internet, a librarian’s focus was entirely on ‘bringing books and people together’. Their careers consisted of teaching and educating their communities and providing people with access to information…or at least to the limited information that they themselves had access to.
Of course, librarians of today retain the love and desire to bring people and information together, but the ‘librarian vocation’ of the modern era looks very different. The information landscape has changed, as have peoples’ needs, and nowadays librarians find themselves taking on much more active, dynamic—and sometimes entirely new—roles. They strive to teach and educate, they fight for your intellectual rights and freedoms and they seek to neutralize social and cultural imbalances. Speaking from a local level, new innovations like the Makerbus, Makerspace and the Unlab, bring information and creative outlets into the community in, encouraging involvement and providing new, tangible modes of education. Librarians today are on the forefront of information, spearheading programs and events to provide their communities with diverse learning opportunities.
As the world has changed, the scope of a librarian has broadened. No longer are MLIS graduates limited to the 5 job titles as listed in the video; our degree offers us an opportunity to work in any environment that deals with information and data collection (take a look at these non-librarian jobs for librarians). Librarians are working for large corporations, collecting and analyzing data and organizing their information. Librarians are working for Netflix fine tweaking the ‘recommended for you’ algorithm, cataloguing sound effects for Lucasarts, and—my personal favourite—working at Sonoma County Wine Library as ‘wine librarians’. These are all jobs far removed for a classical library setting and proof that the special skills of a librarian have generalized into new and unusual territories.
While it’s always interesting to look into the past and see where the profession evolved from, it is important to know that as MLIS students–we are not defined by it.