Monday 2 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 2: Systems Librarianship by David Cook

My name is David Cook, and I'm a Systems Librarian at Prosentient Systems in Sydney. I'm originally from Canada, but I have lived and worked in Australia since early 2012. I started working in libraries in 2006, and while I only received my MLIS at the end of 2012, my experiences in libraries have already - quite literally - taken me around the world. Even now, I have daily conversations with librarians and software developers from New Zealand, the USA, Germany, Norway, Argentina, France, England, Finland, Canada, and other countries from every continent except Antarctica. We discuss bug fixes, enhancements, new features, and the future of the open source library management system Koha that we use and collectively develop. We also share a good many laughs, and while we were once strangers, we have become a community of friends. Last year, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to put names to faces when I presented at Kohacon13 in Reno, Nevada in the USA. Spending a week eating, laughing, sharing, and collaborating with developers and librarians from around the globe will always be one of my favourite experiences in librarianship.

Yet, since I started working in libraries, I've struggled a lot with the concept of librarianship. Prior to receiving my degree, I was often doing traditional librarian work, but I didn't have the professional legitimacy granted by possessing the MLIS. However, after acquiring my degree, I found myself doing what is often considered non-traditional librarian work. I started wondering if I was legitimately still a librarian even with the degree. As a systems librarian, I don't interact directly with patrons. I don't manage physical branches or curate collections. I don't write or debate information ethics and policy. However, I do build and maintain the systems that are integral to all of that traditional work. But does that make me IT or am I still a librarian or am I both? I will make Koha work in the antiquated Internet Explorer 8, but I will also give advice about cataloguing in RDA. I will batch update a library's MARC records. I will create a custom OAI export profile in DSpace to protect donor's private metadata. I will debug some Javascript code. trying to say that it's grey. When is something considered art? Is it when you put it in a gallery? Is it in the eye of the beholder? Professional standards, provided by ALIA and the MLIS, provide us with much needed structure, but our gaze still matters. What does it mean to "me" to "be" a librarian? 

For me, being a librarian is about vision. At a high level, this vision ultimately encapsulates connecting people and information, and understanding the myriad issues and practices associated with this mission. At a lower level, it's about actually putting theory into practice. I would enumerate the different practical roles but there are too many to name. In terms of my practice, I believe that library software management and development is a fundamental and increasing part of connecting people and information. Traditionally, we have mastered physical objects in the provision of library services, and now is the time that we master digital objects. I don't know the precise path forward for everyone, but I think librarianship has curiosity, research, and experimentation at its core. We will do whatever we have to do to provide library services to our patrons. Working on software, I'm a step removed from those patrons, but they're always on my mind. My vision is to provide my fellow librarians and patrons with the best software possible to facilitate the connection of people and information. In my experience, that's librarianship.

Follow David on twitter@minusdavid

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