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What is a librarian?

August 17th, 2010 by karenmartin


The final picture of what a librarian might do if their library was taken away, as drawn by Alex Hughes via Meshed Media

Continuing yesterday’s library theme, I thought I’d tell you about Nick Booth’s (from Podnosh) talk at Be2camp Brum 2010 last week. Nick asked, what could a librarian do if their libraries close as a result of digital technologies?

Nick roved the audience collecting answers while Alex Hughes represented them as cartoon images drawing live onstage.

Answers from the audience suggested that librarians carry out searches, that they act as signposts pointing people towards the information they are looking for, they host public meetings, they have indexing and cataloguing skills, they provide social contact.

Two answers didn’t make it onto the picture. One was that librarians watch over a quiet and neutral space and the other was that they watch over a potential dating space. Perhaps these didn’t make it into the cartoon because these are roles played by the library building as much as the librarian. To me this suggests that spaces have important social roles to play as well as people. If mobilising services means losing these spaces then I wonder what the social consequences of this might be? I feel that this is in some way related to the discussion we’ve been having about the role of books and eReaders. From finding that books have a number of roles that eReaders haven’t taken on I wonder if this is also the case for libraries and librarians where the relationship between the two has a very particular role beyond the obvious one of being a place where you go to borrow books.

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  • Thanks for beating me to writing this up. You are right about libraries being social spaces, but maybe a librarian at large can convene a number of social spaces, if they lose their library?

    One could be the living room of the volunteers who house some of the books, another could be a cafe where they run events.

    I was though very struck by the comments on how librarians provide a measured calm, how they set the tone for a place. Is that tone unique to libraries.

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  • Hi Nick,

    My feeling is that the tone of a place, as you put it, is created by the relationship between people, activities and the configuration of a space. So if you move the services out of the library then, assuming you want to keep the service the same, you are probably looking for a space with a similar tone. So a cafe might work for book clubs or story telling sessions as they are also chatty informal places but perhaps the calm atmosphere of a library is more difficult to find an alternative for? It’s an interesting question..