When You Forget How to Librarian

Eva —  October 6, 2015 — 6 Comments

bustedtees.574aa52d-f1dc-40ed-a51f-0d8980a0This 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.



Eva Davis is the Director of the Canton Public Library in Canton, Michigan--not Canton, Ohio, or Canton, Massachusetts, or Canton, Mississippi. (It is an easy mistake to make.) Eva honed her supervisory and management skills working in customer service, research, and publishing before heading to graduate school at the University of Michigan School of Information. She became a librarian in 1998. She was an intern and then the teen services librarian at the Plymouth (MI) District Library before moving to the Ann Arbor (MI) District Library, where she was Head of the Youth Department at the Downtown library, Head of Youth Services for the system, Head of Branch Services, and finally Associate Director for Public Services. Eva has held her dream job as the Director of the award-winning Canton Public Library since 2008. She received the Michigan Library Association's Frances H. Pletz Award for Excellence in Teen Services in 2003, and is a graduate of both Leadership Ann Arbor and Leadership Canton, where she learned that she is moderately Affiliative according to MAFF, her color is "Green" on the Four Color Personality Test, and her Myers-Briggs Type is INTJ (although she has worked diligently and consistently on improving her Sensing, so she now leans ISTJ). Follow @CantonLibrary and @EvaDavisCPL on Twitter. (Photo credit: Susan Kennedy)

6 responses to When You Forget How to Librarian


    Managing is still librarianing, isn’t it? It’s just at a different level. You’re still serving the community, albeit more indirectly.


      I certainly think so! But enough librarians have posited that I’m not a Librarian (noun) anymore because I don’t librarian (verb) a majority of the time that I’m wondering about it. I suspect it means more to library managers that we be considered Librarians than it does to anyone else. Does it matter? I don’t know!


        Well, as a library student & future librarian, it matters to me that all types of librarians & librarianing are included in the definition. Including managerial librarianing. I think the profession can only benefit from a broad & inclusive definition. I’m sorry that there are things that make you feel like you’re not librarianing anymore. But from where I sit, I would say that you definitely deserve to claim both the noun and the verb.


    Do you librarian? As a director, I empathize with you. I can research the weird stuff as well as or better than anyone on my staff, but quake at the thought of suggesting a teen book. The question is, though, can your staff do their work better because of you?

    Do you provide the resources they need (let’s move that table over here so you have space to work), the support (yes, that’s exactly the right program for the kids), battle for funding (a raise!), push them to find peers, and knock down walls that are in their way (we can get a permit for that)? Doesn’t that mean defining a need, researching resources, and providing options?

    We directors librarian directly for a smaller clientele – our staff. And through them, we serve the community.


    Really enjoyed this. I just started working towards my MLIS and I’m finding that management and leadership is what I’m most interested in. Hopefully down the road I’ll be able to take courses in that direction!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Feeling Lost in Librarianship « Library Lost & Found - January 22, 2016

    […] Rising to a leadership role can make you feel disconnected from front line library work. You might even forget how to librarian. […]

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