This year marks my seventeenth year as a librarian, but a couple of weekends ago, after a patron flagged me down five minutes before closing asking for help, I realized that I probably shouldn’t call myself that anymore.
I was walking around the library assisting with closing when the patron waved at me from a computer. I blinked slowly when she finished telling me her need and realized it would take me longer than five minutes to figure it out. So I smiled and said, “I’m not sure. Let me get someone who will know and I’ll be right back.” I found one of our interns, who of course helped her with plenty of time remaining before the computers shutdown.
The patron left satisfied, which is fantastic, but I realized that I’ve been managing for so long that while I am still technically a librarian (noun), I’ve forgotten how to librarian (verb). As a director, I’m too far removed from direct librarian-ing to lay claim to knowing how to librarian anymore.
I don’t regularly staff a desk or put on programs or conduct outreach or select materials. I certainly don’t catalog or process library items. I occasionally assist at Checkout, and I have been known to cover a desk in an emergency or for a meeting, but those instances are few and far between and typically end with me saying, “I didn’t mess up too much, I think!” when the “real” librarian or circulation assistant comes back.
I don’t have a degree in management, yet that’s what I “really” do: Manage the work of the library. Does that count for anything in the ongoing debate about what it means to be a librarian? Never.