As a librarian-in-training (one month to MLIS!) I’ve studied, researched and queried my way through the learning curve, to get a good understanding of what it is librarians do behind the scenes.
Short story: it’s a lot.
Here’s a few things librarians do:
Collection development: Finding just the right books for that particular library and library user base. Is it an academic library at a research institution? More books to help your student body and instructors get their work done. Public library in Oregon? Maybe a few books on green gardening and hydroponics. Special library, like the one on Le Cordon Bleu’s campus? Books about food. There’s a knack to it, it’s not taken lightly. These are the books that your public counts on!
Weeding: Once the books get too old, there are too many copies, or they’re just not being checked out with any sort of frequency, librarians must weed their collections to make way for new acquisitions. It’s a tough job: I can’t even manage to do it for my own groaning bookshelves. And yet it must be done.
Organization: After the books come into the library, someone has to organize them to make sure they’re find-able. And we’re not talking just card catalogs anymore: anytime you visit your library’s website and search for a book, author or topic, someone has spent considerable time on the back end, coding all of that data so that it can be formatted to interface correctly with the library’s systems, so that you can type in a simple search term and find it.
Customer service: And then there are the in person interactions, the help desk questions, and the reference interview. If you’ve ever requested help researching a topic in a library, you should know there’s a whole science to a librarian asking just the right questions to draw out the heart of your research need and put you on the path to finding answers.
One of the ways this customer service Q&A has evolved in the internet age is through Ask A Librarian services, where you can email, text or chat with a librarian to ask a question, and get the results sent right back to you, privately, discreetly and usually fairly quickly. Lots of public libraries have this option on their library website, and even the Library of Congress has one, upping the ante by including fax and mail-in options. Depending on the urgency of your question, of course.
And in late 2015 librarians took things just a tad further by opening up the question lines to the general public, and #AskALibrarian was born. Brought to life by librarians who just want to connect you with the right book, right now, and sponsored by Penguin Random House and Read It Forward, it’s a weekly Twitter hash-tag-a-thon where you submit your question, tag it, and sit back and wait for recommendations to roll in.
As I’ve admitted on these very pages, my TBR is so, so long, but when you’re in the middle of your third or fourth re-read of a series and you just want something else like it: #AskALibrarian.
I jumped in last week for the first time in that very predicament: I needed something like the Longmire series to tide me over till the next installment. I tweeted my question, added #AskALibrarian, and in minutes I had responses coming in. Thoughtful, helpful, fun responses.
One librarian suggested C.J. Box’s series about Wyoming game warden Joe Picket.
One delved deeper into my query and asked what it is I like about Longmire. Yes, we agreed, we have bookish crushes on Sheriff Walt, but what I love about the series is the Western setting. So the librarian recommended The Royal Wulff Murders, “for another remote Western mystery” or Ivan Doig “for a literary Western.”
All in all, I had fun with the bookish banter, made some new Twitter friends, and got excellent book recommendations to try out.
You can join the live #AskALibrarian fun on Thursdays at noon, Eastern Standard Time. And if you have recommendations of your own to add, go for it! #AskALibrarian is all about people talking about good books. Kind of like what we do here.