Why I am a librarian. (An academic librarian, in particular.)

Anne-Marie Dietering tagged me in her excellent post on this meme, here.  I’m going to try to do it justice, though I’m sure I won’t give half as coherent a response as she did.  Caveat lector!  (And these responses are in no particular order, I hasten to add.)

I’m a librarian because…

  • I love libraries.  And I love what they stand for–a thoughtful, civilized society that extends intellectual opportunities to all of its members.
  • I love the serendipity that library work brings into my life.  In what other job can you take a little walk from your desk at lunch, browse a reshelving cart, and come back with three or five or seven new things that pique your curiosity?  Libraries are good for the dendrites.
  • I love teaching.  I love working with students.  I love being a part of the educational enterprise, as flawed as it may be, because I believe that education should be one of our top priorities as a species.  See above, re: civilized society.
  • Elizabeth McCracken told me to be a librarian.  Really!  I took a novel-writing class with her at Iowa, and she told me that being a librarian was a good job for a writer, because see above, re: curiosity.
  • I love walking through the collections.  It’s old-school, but I love books.
  • I love seeing people actually using the collections.  Seeing a guy stagger past me to the checkout desk with a stack of fifteen books on Roman civilization in his arms?  Priceless.
  • I love fiddling with new bits of technology, fitting them into the massive enterprise we’re already engaged in.  I love that it’s part of my job to figure out how to use Zotero and del.icio.us and Captivate and Ajax in teaching and research…that it’s my job to know about these things at all.  Every so often I remember that not everyone’s job is like that, and it’s sort of startling.
  • I really, really like not being tied to a corporate agenda.  The university has its own agendas, and so does the library, but overall they’re agendas I can get behind.  As a friend in library school once said, librarianship is an honorable way to make a living.
  • I love being connected to the academic enterprise.  I love having the opportunity to attend lectures and readings, bone up on research that’s happening around the institution, read people’s books, have opinions, talk with intelligent, educated people, and generally use my brain.  I love that.
  • I like how books smell.  Better than e-readers!  (Note:  this is not a wholesale refusal on the e-reader front.)
  • I like university campuses.  On the whole they’re good places to work.  Usually green, often peaceful, occasionally with beautiful buildings.  Nice places to go for a walk at lunch (if you can ever get away from your desk…)
  • I like the routines of librarianship.  Not all the time, but in general I really like the pace and rhythm of library work.  I like the ways it brings me into contact with faculty, students, and other folks on campus.  I like the structure of it.  Sometimes it gets hectic and crazy, but when it’s a little calmer (not too calm), I really like it.
  • I like my colleagues.  I’ve met some wonderful people, lifelong friends, through libraries and library work.  I’ve worked with some incredibly talented, compassionate, wise, wonderful people.  Librarians are some of the best people in the world.  When we’re happy and well-treated, that is.  😉

On the whole, I’d say I’m a librarian because it’s a hopeful, optimistic profession.  Librarians build a solid public good.  We build storehouses of knowledge, and then we open the doors to other people who have other jobs.

I sometimes think of it this way:  we all live in a house together, and we want it to be a good, solid, decent house, with a minimum of chaos and a maximum of happy community.  Librarians have a particular job to do in making that house run right.  So do firefighters and nurses and teachers and veterinarians and possibly even ad execs.  (??)  They do their jobs, we do ours.  I’m pleased and proud to be doing this job.


7 thoughts on “Why I am a librarian. (An academic librarian, in particular.)

  1. amlibrarian says:

    awesome! I was definitely thinking “academic librarian” too. I like the idea of an honorable profession – that is very much how I think of it.


  2. Thanks for this post Karen–we added your post to our inventory on the posts related to the meme over at Free Exchange–www.freeexchangeoncampus.org.

  3. Barbara says:

    I would do whatever Elizabeth McCracken told me to do, too.

    You point out some of the guilty pleasures of being a librarian. And the principled ones, too, like not being corporate. I’ll remember your saying it’s a hopeful, optimistic profession next time I hear a librarian say nobody reads or libraries are a thing of the past – and it will cheer me up.

  4. Thomas says:


    I really enjoyed reading your post. I have been trying to decide on whether to become an academic librarian or a public librarian. I feel more of a pull to academia now. I have one question though…what don’t you like about being an academic librarian? Thanks!

  5. CT says:

    Thanks for this. I work in a library as a page, and it hit me recently that this is an enterprise that not only has potential for advancement, but interesting advancement. Not only is a librarian a concrete profession — teacher, lawyer, construction worker, etc — and not something vague (“consultant”), but it’s one that requires training and a dedication to learning, and to art. It’s also a professional position. Its social value is limitless. It’s nice to have this personal take on something, as I’ve been considering going down the library science route since having started at the library.

  6. Claire says:

    Thanks for writing this! I was wondering about something I heard today, though. Do you have to go through teacher’s college and THEN get your Master of Library/Information Science to be an academic librarian? It would be great if you could describe the process of becoming an academic librarian…
    Sincerely, an aspiring academic librarian (who also goes by Claire)

  7. Jennifer says:

    Thank you so much for this insight. It is a breath of fresh air amidst the negative things I hear about becoming a librarian. I love every one of your points, especially your love of learning in and of itself.

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