library bookshelf with person in background
Behind the Scenes

What Librarians Really Do

As a professional librarian, if I had a dollar for every time someone said, "Wow, it must be nice to have such a quiet and peaceful job," I'd be rich. Librarianship and libraries are often misunderstood and shrouded in outdated stereotypes. That's why I am writing this article—to help de-bunk some of these myths and misconceptions surrounding the elusive world of librarians. Let's take a look at some common questions and comments we often get.

"I would love a job where I get to sit around and read all day."

Me, too! However, this is not what I was hired to do. Reading novels is a recreational activity that takes place on our own time. And while it's true that most librarians love books and reading, we also enjoy investigating facts and helping people find answers to their questions.

Being a professional librarian is an exciting, challenging, and fulfilling job that, to the surprise of many, requires a Master's degree in Library and Information Science. Here are some of the specialized skills we learn in library school.

There are many types of libraries, from public libraries that serve a whole community to libraries that support unique information needs, such as college, hospital, corporate, and government libraries. And there's much to learn about navigating and organizing information for the people who use the different types of libraries.

First, professional librarians must understand how information retrieval systems work and how to structure searches strategically for the best result. And then there's the reference interview, which is how librarians ask discerning questions to understand what information the customer wants. Excellent investigation skills are essential!

That's not all

Along with finding the best information sources available, we must understand statistics and how to gather and analyze data—such as the feedback we get from community surveys to see if we are meeting your library needs.

Librarians must also know how to build and maintain collections. Our shelves are full because we have librarians working hard to put items on them that are timely and relevant and uphold everyone's right to intellectual freedom.

Fun and equitable programs like storytimes, book clubs, and class visits are only possible because we have programming and outreach librarians with expertise in structuring, developing, evaluating, and delivering engaging programs for our communities.

And there's more!

Added to all this, libraries are busy places, and someone has to organize and run them. Librarians in management positions—including our CEO, who is also a librarian—make big-picture, data-based decisions on how we fulfill our organization's strategies, direction, and purpose by using our knowledge and experience as information professionals. Indeed there is so much to know and learn in this profession, and I feel I've barely scratched the surface.

"How hard can it be to read to children?"

As any adult who has attended one of our storytimes will tell you, storytime is much more than just reading a book. Librarians who develop programs for younger audiences have a thorough knowledge of early literacy and child development, and we structure our storytimes and children's programs to foster these skills. We do this by specially selecting books and activities for each program based on who we're serving—babies, toddlers, or preschoolers. We understand the importance of rhymes, songs, sensory play, finger plays, and the development of fine motor skills.

And reading aloud to children doesn't stop when they become independent readers. We continuously learn and build our skills, so children of all abilities and reading levels connect meaningfully with the wide world of books.

Of course, children aren't our only audience! Storytime is as much a learning experience for parents as it is for children, and we aim to give parents the tools to go home and practice early literacy skills with their children. Librarians are great champions of reading, and we believe it's never too soon to start little ones on their lifelong reading journey. Learning should be fun and exciting, and as librarians, we want to instill a lifelong love of books and reading in our customers by making the library a magical, warm, and safe space.

"Do I have to be a librarian to work at a library?"

Like any organization, it 'takes a village' to run a library! Alongside professional librarians, the library relies on the work and expertise of many people with specialized skills and training to run smoothly. We also have programmers, customer service associates, and student pages who deliver programs, help customers, check in/check out items, and replenish shelves (among many other duties).

And there are specialists in various other jobs—facilities, information technology, marketing, accounting, human resources, and cataloguing our collections, to name a few—that make our library run efficiently. Some libraries also utilize community volunteers to help with certain tasks—and every public library in Ontario has a team of dedicated volunteers who their local elected officials appoint to make sure the library's work is carried out as planned.

"Everything is going digital. Are you worried about libraries becoming irrelevant?"

Not at all! That's because libraries are up-to-date with technology, and, as librarians, it's our job to be tech-savvy! Just like we keep our physical book collection current with relevant and reputable resources, we do the same with our services. In fact, we offer our customers free technology training classes and programs. And we provide free Wi-Fi, computer access, and even laptops and iPads that you can borrow. Much of our collection and resources are digital, including eBooks, eAudiobooks, streaming music, movies, and more!

Even though we happily embrace the digital world, physical books will be around for a long while. Many people still prefer reading a physical copy of a book or magazine, and only some print books have a digital edition. And information and knowledge are always in fashion. All this to say, we're hip, we're cool, and we're staying put!

We're Here to Help You

I could go on forever because I am so passionate about the library world, but I have lots of important librarian work that needs my attention. That being said, please ask us any burning questions you may have about libraries, librarianship, and library school. We are always happy to share our knowledge and answer your questions—because helping is at the heart of why we do what we do: to serve you, our cherished community.

Lovin' the librarian vibe? Check out these titles!

Emma graduated from library school in 2021 after completing a B.A. in Child and Youth Studies, minoring in Drama in Education/Applied Theatre. She decided to become a librarian after working many years as a library page throughout her high school and university education. Her favourite books are Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Her dream librarian job would be one where she could bring her cat to work.