Service with a Smile, or Why Librarianship is Not Dying

In the chaos that always comes with the beginning of another school year, I, like so many colleagues across the country, find myself drowning in work. To-do lists only seem to get longer, never shorter, and much of the work that takes up my days is work that I did not anticipate, that seeks me out unexpectedly and takes me away from my planned to-do list. In all honesty, this is something that I actually cherish about my job: the unexpected. I have to laugh every time a non-librarian remarks that my job must be boring. I think we can all agree that it’s quite the opposite – on any given day, you really don’t know what will come through the door!

The Evolving Job

Reflecting on the chaos I have witnessed in this brief start to the semester, I marvel at how faculty service has grown over the years. From resource finders and research assistants to guest lecturers and trainers of student research assistants, our relationship with faculty continues to mature. Today, our relationship is even more complex; not only do we still perform all the services that have come before, but we have ventured into ever varied roles for faculty.

My job title, for instance, is Educational Technology Librarian. In addition to exploring technologies that can enhance library services, I am equally responsible for assisting faculty with technology that can enhance their curricula. This service can take many forms (although I like to differentiate myself from IT; I am really no help if your computer has a virus, and my solution when programs aren’t working is just to restart the machine!); in my first two years on the job, this has primarily involved the creation of research guides tailored to specific courses, but suddenly this year, faculty interest has expanded.

Our university has relied on a home-grown learning management system (LMS) for several years now, but we will be moving to a third-party service, Canvas, in a couple of years. Faculty are encouraged to make the transition early, and many of our faculty jumped on board, right before the start of the semester. Enter me. In the first two weeks of the school year, I have been bombarded with questions from faculty and faculty secretaries about how this new system works. Naturally, I am happy to oblige and am frankly thrilled that they are finally realizing the world of service I can provide them; but secretly, I don’t know much more about this new LMS than they do! My knowledge is mostly home-grown, playing around with my test site and learning from a fellow librarian who has taught with Canvas before. But I come up to their offices and we troubleshoot until we figure it out; if we can’t, I call the university IT department for higher-level support.

Service: The Role that Never Changes

Like many universities, we have an office on campus dedicated to learning technologies, staffed with professionals who are tasked with knowing all there is to know about these technologies and providing regular training sessions and one-on-one support for these technologies. To keep myself abreast of the technologies our faculty might be interested in, I attend nearly every training session they offer, but certainly these learning technologies staff members are more knowledgeable about these technologies than I. So why would faculty come to me for support? First of all, I am not all the way across campus and can provide immediate support. Second, I am familiar with the law school environment and curricula, so I have better knowledge of what features our faculty will use in their courses. These needs can often be vastly different from those of the undergrad faculty the campus learning technologies office usually sees. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I am here to help them whenever they need it and for however long it takes. I am not going to cut them off at 5 o’clock because it’s quitting time. I’m a librarian – I don’t have a quitting time! I am here to serve our patrons, and I would consider it a disservice to cut someone off because a certain hour has passed.

Everything Changes, Everything Stays the Same

And that really gets to the heart of my realization. In library school, we were told over and over again that libraries are dying. The more optimistic professors would say that we’re not dead, but our job is completely different now. With all due respect, I think both points are wrong. Yes, the job has changed, as jobs inevitably will, but I believe the basic principles are the same. We’re all familiar with S.R. Ranganathan’s five laws of library science:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

These principles still ring true today, however modified. Books are for use, and so are research guides and online course pages. Every reader his or her book…or CALI lesson…or database. Every book…or tablet…or LibGuide its reader/user. Save the time of the reader (whether for research assistance or technology assistance). And the library is definitely a growing organism. So yes, my friends believe I spend my days answering research questions, shelving books, and/or shushing people, but in reality, the job is so much more. Dying? Not from my vantage point. Different? Yes and no. Different materials, different technologies, same spirit of service.

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About ashleyahlbrand

I am the Educational Technology Librarian at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law. I am deeply interested in exploring how emerging and existing technologies can be used to enhance library services and legal education.
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