By Raymond Pun
I work in a new university where the students come from all over the world: China, U.S., Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia, etc. They all have different ideas about what a librarian is or what a library can really do for them. These students are all first and second year students. Now that we are in the end of the second year of the university, our sophomore students have a better understanding what we do and some of the freshmen now know too.
For the most part, librarians are still a mystery to many of the students. What do we really do if we are not sitting in the circulation/reference desk checking out books to them? I've presented in many workshops over the past two years on how to conduct library research and I hope by now they see what we are known for. We've also organized library outreach events involving games and food and this has been one major way to break through the stereotypes of a librarian.
However, this past semester a professor invited me to give a talk about the role of the librarian in the information world for her class on the history of science and technology. It was a major opportunity for me to speak about what I really do and don't do and why the profession is important.
This was my first time giving a brief talk on this subject because most of the times I've been invited to lead an information literacy workshop and never discuss the importance of a librarian in the big picture. For this presentation, I started the talk with library memes like the one you see below. You can easily find them on Google images these days. Some are great and they really capture the irony and reality of the profession.
Fig. 1. Find more on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/library-memes/
I also discussed the differences among the librarian profession. You have librarians who work in colleges, public libraries, school libraries, and special libraries in museum, legal, prison, medical, government, or corporate settings. I mentioned that there is graduate school training to become a librarian. Some librarians need to get a second graduated degree to become an academic librarian.
The students were impressed because they didn't know that there were so many types of librarians out there. I talked about my experiences working in a public library before coming to NYU Shanghai. I worked at the New York Public Library and shared how I provided archival and "traditional" research services such as microfilm reference. The students had never heard of or saw a microfilm before.
I followed my discussion into my new role as an academic librarian supporting digital, data and e-book services. The role of the librarian in the information world is changing rapidly just like everything else. However, librarians are just as important today as they were in ancient times to preserve the written, oral, visual or digital mediums.
I don't think I managed to persuade them to become librarians, but there was a discussion about librarians in their home countries and how many of them didn't seem to care or do much. Unfortunately, that is the case for now, but it is slowly changing. The person that was very impressed was the professor, who enjoyed the presentation more than the students. This invitation was an opportunity to build faculty relations, but also to demonstrate to students what librarians are. I encourage people to use library memes if they are invited to give a talk about the role of the librarian in society. It makes the discussion much more lively and interesting.
Raymond Pun is currently a reference and research services librarian in NYU Shanghai. He provides reference, outreach, and instructional services. His research interests include community engagement, data management, and digital scholarship services.