Thursday, 7 July 2011

How do we describe who we are and what we do?

Does anyone else seem to have difficulty doing this? I was having a chat to my friend and colleague, who is also enrolled in the Master of Information Studies at Charles Sturnt University, and we think it's rather a difficult thing, because many people don't know for sure what a librarian does. And I don't think we're necessarily very good at telling people what it is that we do do. Oh for sure, we all say 'I'm a librarian' at dinner parties and at the pub, but what do people think when they hear that's what we do?

I'm not sure about you, but I often have people ask me if I spend a lot of time stacking books (it's called shelving people!) or envying me because of all the time I spend reading books while at work (!)

Clearly I am not the only one who struggles with this. A quick Internet search throws up a lot of forums and discussion threads where the perennial 'What does a librarian do?' question gets asked, even by librarians themselves. I guess it's the sentence that comes after the 'I'm a librarian' that people get stumped on, the subtitle to our job titles (haha- get it? Subtitle. Sorry, you'll have to excuse the lame book-related jokes- I just can't help myself.)

How do you describe what you do in one sentence? This link on LibraryThing provides some interesting answers. I also find just a simple one liner such as 'I help people find information' insufficient, because that's not all that I do! So then in a social situation I often  find myself listing some of the cool projects or things that I'm working on, which usually works a treat (except it means I may start going off on a tangent while the poor person looks at me glassy-eyed...)
Just for kicks, I did a Summon search for just that: 'what do librarians do', to see what results I got. For those interested, my search returned 148 074 results (59 864 of them classified as journal articles and 33 752 identified as journal articles from scholarly or peer reviewed sources.) Whoa. Lots of people have  researched and written about this topic, so I am clearly not the only one who thinks about this.

I harkened on one article, randonmly, that was published in American Libraries, to see if that author gave a definitive one-liner, and in fact the author, Charles Curran (2001) did! His response to this question is that librarians and information scientists ODAPCOSRIU (pronounced O-DAP-COS-RI-U, to rhyme with 'what librarians and information scientists do') Catchy hey?

The acronym stands for the following:
Origin
Dissemination
Acquisition
Properties
Cassification
Organisation
Storage
Retrieval
Interpretation
Use

This definitition was published in 2001, which is pre social media, pre ebooks, pre Google+ ! I wonder what else could be included in this acronym now? I also wonder where the teaching/infomration litereacy element fits in?

As much as I like the idea of describing what we do in an easy (even rhyming!) acronym or oneliner, I think it is a nigh on impossible task, as our jobs are constantly changing and evolving. Or maybe we should just make up t-shirts to wear in the library that say Change Agent on them?

What are your thoughts? What else should we include in the definition?

Reference:
Curran, Charles E. "What Do Librarians and Information Scientists Do?" American Libraries 32.1 (2001): 56. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 5 July 2011.

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