Looking Back ... and Forward

[We're departing from our usual format to hear from Emily Johnson, a student at the University of Michigan School of Information.  Emily joined the ALA Library staff for a week, attracted by a project to bring one of our special collections under bibliographic control.  Years ago, the staff in ALA's publishing department began an archive of each book or other item published by ALA.  This collection, which is strictly an internal resource (and partially duplicated at the ALA Archives), is under the Library's care, but until Emily jumped in there was no record of what is in the collection.  KLM] 

As a student studying Library and Information Service at the University of Michigan School of Information (SI), I had the unique opportunity to spend Spring Break working with the ALA Library in a sort of mini-internship (visit the ASB site for more information on this program). While at the ALA Library, I was helping to catalog and document an internal publishing department archives that contain everything that ALA has ever published.  It was a fascinating task, with books dating back over a hundred years, and the very face of librarianship changing dramatically since then. There were two major themes that struck me as I sorted through all the books, VHS tapes, drafts of documents, and workbooks.

First, librarians have evolved and changed over the years, but have also stayed the same in some important ways. One of the oldest book series I stumbled upon is called Reading with a Purpose, whose objective was to educate librarians and patrons on the trends and stories that were happening, as well as to direct them to further explore these topics.  They’re small books (see this blog post for an example), but they offered a little glimpse into interesting topics in an easy-to-read form.  These books would most likely be published today as a blog, offering small tidbits of information and direction to further knowledge, with the added bonus of being on the internet where that knowledge is literally at your fingertips.  The motivations of patrons haven’t changed, it’s the methods used to help them.

This brings me to the second major theme: Librarians have always been on the cutting edge of what is happening in the world of technology and how it relates to librarianship.  When stumbling upon a set of slides that was a course with examples for applying the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, I laughed at how outdated and silly it seemed.  Then I realized that it was one of the best and most technologically advanced forms of instruction in 1980, when it was published. Even more interesting was the quickness with which it had been published, since AACR2 was published in 1979. Taking the mammoth text of AACR2 and condensing and dissecting it into something that could be shared with anyone who was interested in learning about the new rules was the "distance education" of the day.

As a student, I’m constantly faced with others (friends, family, former colleagues) who question the validity and necessity of going to school to learn how to be a librarian (because all they do is check out books, right?). What they may not realize is how librarians have been, and still can be, proponents for the advancement and expansion of human understanding. By testing, using, improving, and sharing new technologies, furthering our expertise, and helping patrons to explore the world around them, we have the opportunity to play a vital role in the shaping of things to come.


Emily is a student at the University of Michigan School of Information, studying Library and Information Services.  If you have any comments or questions, email her directly at johnsoem@umich.edu

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