Who gets to call themselves a librarian?

5 Feb

I was noticing the other day that I have this annoying habit of telling people I’m a librarian when they ask me what I do, even though I’m not currently working as one. And then I have to launch into a long-winded explanation (Well, I recently got my library degree, but I haven’t found a professional job yet…). This made me think: I have my MLIS, but am I a librarian? What determines librarian-hood? The degree, or the job?

With the job market how it is right now, there are many of us MLIS-holders who are still looking for employment, are employed in part-time and/or on-call or support staff positions in libraries, or employed outside of the library profession. Do we get to call ourselves librarians, or is that right reserved for those with the job title?

It may be self-serving, but I really feel that being a librarian is more than just a vocation. It is a way of looking at the world and information that does not turn off just because you may be doing something else for a living (or still looking for work). Maybe it’s because during my period of unemployment after graduation, I worked so hard to stay involved in the profession in whatever way I could, that it became part of my identity and I started really thinking of myself as A Librarian. I’m not ready to give up my dream just yet, even though I haven’t found that first professional position.

What do you think? Is a librarian something you are, or something you do? Those of you who aren’t currently working as professional librarians – do you call yourselves librarians?

25 Responses to “Who gets to call themselves a librarian?”

  1. Andy February 5, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    If you really want to step in it, you can bring up the fact that non-MLS people are commonly referred to as librarians or function in that capacity.

    To answer your question, I use the term ‘librarian’ because it’s the easiest explanation for what I do.

    • ruth February 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      i like to think of it this way: there are many who can do the job without the degree, and there are many with the degree who can’t do the job.

      no, i don’t have the degree (mine is indefinitely unfinished). i have another degree that i earned because i wanted to, not because i had to. that education serves me well in my job and, coupled with skills that i learned on my own and through professional development opportunities, has earned me the trust and respect of my peers and administrators. i earn far less pay than many for doing much more work than some. but i enjoy my work and i’m happy.

      yes, i do “librarian” work alongside my degreed peers. but no, i don’t call myself a librarian. i believe the term is more valued by the people who have the degree than those who don’t.

      i look forward to the day when the library profession realizes out loud (not on paper or in theory) that it takes a village to grow a library.

  2. shinyinfo February 5, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    Damn right, I don’t have my MLIS yet and I am a MFing Librarian. Where I work, I am THE ONLY Library Staff person so I do all the collection development, reference, circulation, public programming, and liaison work. I’m also the representative on our Consortium’s Board. Tell me I’m not a Librarian.

    • amandag February 5, 2011 at 11:33 am #

      Yeah, that’s another category of people I didn’t really consider in the post, but who are definitely relevant to the discussion: those without the MLIS but who are doing librarian work. Thanks for the reminder that this labeling issue affects us all.

      • Betsy Miller February 5, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

        And the whole MLS / non-MLS kerfluffle is why my tag line on LinkedIn is “Career Library Worker”.

        My job descriptions there show what job duties I perform (and have for a couple of decades); my affiliations show that I pay my dues in professional organizations. And I proudly list my Bachelors degree in Library Science …

  3. Sondy February 5, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Oh, I firmly believe a librarian is something you are, and you can definitely call yourself one with pride. I got RIF’d from my librarian job last June due to budget cuts. A week later, I went to ALA Annual and knew I was among my people. I was still a librarian, even tho not working as one. Happily, I’m working as a librarian again now after someone retired.

    You ARE a librarian! Be proud!

  4. Paula Ganyard February 5, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    I am a librarian and have been for 15 years. I have only worked in library positions for 8 of those 15 years, yet I considered myself a librarian the entire time. It is the knowledge, the training and the skills that makes me a librarian. So yes you are a librarian…be proud of it and welcome to the profession. Good luck with the job hunt.

  5. Andromeda February 5, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    I think I struggle with exactly this same problem :/.

  6. Sara February 5, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Heck yeah, you’re a librarian. I’m working with information architecture doing mainly taxonomy and content management, but it still requires a librarian skill set. It doesn’t matter about your title or employment status. What matters is the skills you use on a daily basis. The ‘new’ librarian plays so many different roles, and you’re using your librarian job skills every time you research and apply for a new position!

    • janholmquist February 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

      Being a librarian is a state of mind. It´s your skills combined with your values. You are a librarian. Employed or not. Good luck with your job hunt….

    • Lea March 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

      I love the idea of the “new” librarian, and I think it is so important in today’s world, where many, many people don’t even think that our profession is relevant anymore. It is absolutely essential that we expand the roles that we play within our field (beyond just reference work, for example), which is actually a great thing because it broadens the definition of what a “librarian” is and what we can do! Titles shouldn’t limit us, and I think that in the future librarians with the greatest qualifications will be those with the widest range of skills and experience, not those with the best job title…

  7. Jim DelRosso February 5, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    I completed my MSLIS (and CAS in Digital Libraries) in 2009. I still hold the same position I did then, which is not considered an academic librarian position, though the work I do is very much librarian work.

    When anyone asks me what I do, I tell them I’m a librarian. Because I am.

    • Guybrarian February 5, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

      Outside the library doors, no one cares what we are called and no one cares what kind of degree we have. This kind of discussion keeps the library school diploma mills in business.

      • shinyinfo February 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

        “This kind of discussion keeps the library school diploma mills in business.”


      • Jim DelRosso February 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

        I came out of Syracuse much better at my chosen work than I was when I went in. Regardless of my title, it was worth it to me: as Peggy said below, even when I’m annoyed with my job I love my profession, and working towards my degree made me a stronger embodiment of that profession.

        Honestly, I’m not sure why we should find the opinions of folks “outside the library doors” to be particularly persuasive in this case. Not many people know what librarians actually do, even when those same people benefit from it.

      • Lea March 16, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

        I suppose so, but it’s kind of impossible to get a library job nowadays (if that’s what you really want to do) without a degree in Library Science… heck, it’s nearly impossible to find one even with the stinkin’ degree!

  8. Gina February 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    I received my M.L.S. in 2001, but in 2005 quit my full-time job to stay home with my first son. I have worked part-time on and off since then, and am currently looking to return to a job full-time. But even when I was not actually “working” in a library or outside the home at all, when asked what I do I would always immediately reply, “I’m a librarian, but currently staying home with my kids…” It wasn’t anything I thought through — it just seemed like the natural response.

    So yes, I believe a librarian is something that you “are,” not just something that you do. It is what makes you stop to read articles about libraries or information literacy no matter where you are, what makes you interested in issues such as freedom of information and censorship. There are of course people interested in all of those things who don’t consider themselves librarians… at least, not yet! (I think many of these people are closeted librarians who just haven’t figured it out yet.) I think it’s a combination of having pursued the degree in some form, tied with your professional experience and your interests/passions. Basically, if you feel like a librarian… you probably are a librarian!

  9. Pat Toney February 5, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    Librarianship is definitely a state of mind. It can be who you are and what you do. I received the MLIS in May 2010 and currently work for a nonprofit promoting early literary where everyone refers me as a librarian. When I mistakenly introduce myself as “not a librarian” (because I don’t work in a library), the librarians around me hiss – you have an MLIS – you’re a librarian. I recently updated my LinkedIn profile to read Children’s Librarian because that is my professional state of mind.

  10. JeffieLibrarian February 6, 2011 at 6:13 am #

    The problem is not the dedication of people within the profession. It has more to do with the fact that we don’t have a coat (respected symbol). No one in the general public cares who answers the question (page, volunteer, library ast, paraprofessional or librarian). You know who the doctor is when you visit the office. There is a difference between the doctor, nurse, aides, and desk clerks. Same in a lawyer’s office. These degrees are respected symbols. I’m meeting a lot more people who know about MLS in the general public but it’s more of a ‘that’s cool’ or ‘nice.’

  11. amandag February 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Thanks for the discussion, everyone. I will continue to call myself and think of myself as a librarian. I think it’s complicated for me because I am working in a library, but not in a librarian role. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m going around claiming to be a librarian for [my university] when I’m not. So I’m trying out ways to answer the question without sounding defensive. I’ve decided for most people, “I work at the library” is probably as much detail as they want and/or need.

  12. saucurriculumlib February 8, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    I call myself a “stealth librarian” at this point. My job description is “Administrative Assistant,” but I coordinate the Teacher Ed library on our campus. On campus, I explain that I am a “librarian by training, though not by title,” since if I tell them I am a librarian, they assume I work at the main library.

    It’s hard to make non-library people understand, but I AM a LIBRARIAN. And so are you.

  13. Peggy February 8, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    I am a librarian and even on those days when I’m not wild about my job I love my profession.


  1. Tweets that mention Who gets to call themselves a librarian? « Marginalia -- Topsy.com - February 5, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Woodworth, Paula Ganyard, Kate, Rachel Collins, Sondra Eklund and others. Sondra Eklund said: Librarianship is a calling! Part of your identity! RT @agrundmann: blog post: Who gets to call themselves a librarian? http://dlvr.it/FtNS2 […]

  2. Tweets that mention Who gets to call themselves a librarian? « Marginalia -- Topsy.com - February 5, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mylee Joseph and Amy Barker, Jan Holmquist. Jan Holmquist said: Who gets to call themselves a librarian? « Marginalia http://bit.ly/gUa4zs by @agrundmann […]

  3. for Andy: librarian entrepreneurship - April 13, 2013

    […] has me wanting to start a discussion about librarian unemployment over here, what with my being an unemployed librarian, but I can’t think of any way to get that going other than “let’s all complain […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: