Your Life Work: 1947 vs. 2016

I recently watched a short video from 1947 about librarianship. In it, they briefly discuss some key attributes of a good librarian, as well as the different roles librarians may fill. Watching this instructional video seemed to highlight the differences between then and now, as noted below:

1947: The various tasks of a librarian can be summed up into five categories: cataloguing, reference, circulation, children’s librarian, or school librarian.

2016: There are more tasks for librarians than I even know (granted, I’m still quite new to the inner workings of the mysterious library). There are all of the above—though the positions may no longer look the same—plus countless others. There are librarians with managerial roles who work on budgeting and planning, or who focus on collection development. There are tech librarians, archivists, and media coordinators. It is not easy to sum up the role of a librarian into five simple categories these days, as the library itself is no longer what it used to be.

1947: Librarians are mostly white females, with the odd male librarian filling a upper managerial role or possessing a specialty of knowledge that isn’t considered womanly.

2016: Libraries everywhere are ethnically diverse, with a near even split between male and female and a solid mix of all types of people in every type of role! Okay, maybe not. Librarianship is still a female dominated career (my cohort within my MLIS program alone has about a 1:4 male/female ratio, and I think that’s on the better end of things). This aspect has not changed a whole lot over the past 69 years, though it has improved. Just this year, Carla Hayden was nominated to lead the Library of Congress. Now I know what you’re thinking, “this is just another female filling another librarian role. Whoop de doo.” But, I would like to point out that not only is she the first female to fill the position, but the first African-American! Double win! (Also the first official librarian…weird) Basically, what I’m trying to get at is that it is no longer expected that only women fill the bottom ranks of the library, but there are now mixed genders in all the roles.

1947: School librarians are there to “direct the young reader’s interests into approved and worthwhile channels.” (5:19-5:26)

2016: School librarians are supposed to help supply “worthwhile” materials, but not to the point of taking books out of a child’s hand and replacing it with another “better” book as seen in the video. Now, I haven’t spent much time in a high school library in recent years, but back in my day my school librarian let me browse at my leisure and helped me find the things I asked for.

1947: The cataloguing room looks something like this:

your life's work 255

Film Still, 2:55

2016: Cataloguing today is mostly done on computers using the system of choice. While the room may not necessarily be all that much neater, gone are the days when thousands upon thousands of cards are needed to be filled out and meticulously filed under author, title, or subject. Cataloguers today need only to type the information into their system. As an added bonus, there are no longer space constraints, so cataloguers can include as much information as they deem necessary. On the down side, there is a lot more information that is expected to be included for every resource.

The library has changed a lot in the last 69 years, though some aspects have remained the same. I am happy that libraries have made the advances they already have, and I am excited to see how it adapts into the future.

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