Neither Fish nor Fowl nor…

Am I still a librarian?

When people ask what I do, I can’t say I’m a librarian, because the next natural question is: “So, what library do you work at?” The conversation only devolves from there. I can tell people I’m a consulting editor with ITI Books, and they nod: “Oh, so you’re in publishing.” I can tell people I write for library-related publications, and they say: “Oh, so you’re a freelance writer.”

So, does my MLS make me a librarian? Does the fact that I worked in libraries for 10+ years make me a librarian? Does the fact that I write for the library literature and acquire manuscripts for an LIS publisher and speak at library conferences make me a librarian?

I was talking with Meredith at the CIL conference a couple of weeks ago, and she mentioned several people (me, Michael Stephens, Jessamyn West) who no longer work in any particular library, yet still do work related to libraries. A few examples don’t make a trend, but this is somewhat interesting. It’s also interesting in terms of all the talk about upcoming retirements. Were I a library administrator, I’d start thinking pretty hard about what I could do to retain good people, attract good people, and prepare them to take over the zoo at some point. (Although, the fact that I’m not a library administrator says something in itself!)


  1. Anonymous:

    I’m a librarian. I’m currently studying to become an ESL teacher while working part-time as a reference librarian, but whether I’m employed as a janitor or unemployed, I am always a librarian. It has less to do with the MLS and more to do with the way I view the world. I get *excited* about subject headings. I teach evaluation to my own 5th and 6th grade sons. A librarian isn’t what I do–it’s who I am.

  2. Julian:

    Good question. It’s like asking someone with a JD and a bar membership if he or she is an attorney, if that person is in fact a radio show host and is not even practicing law. (True story.) To further expand your question: do we define ourselves by the letters next to our names, by our current jobs (both what we do every day and where we work), or by the field in which we’ve worked in the most?

    There’s also the discussion of “librarian” vs. “information professional.” These days, does “librarian” infer that one works in a traditional library, or is it a synonym of the more encompassing “information professional” concept?

    I picked up the book at CiL, and I’m about halfway through. It’s great! I wish I had read it years ago!

  3. Anonymous:

    Yay….a Rachel blog :) These days, job hunting being what it is (a creative extended process at best) I’m reading your site almost religiously and I can’t wait to get my hands on your new book…

    I haven’t hopped on the bandwagon yet but I’m on the feed!!

  4. Ms. OPL:

    I am also a librarian who doesn’t work in a library. I publish a newsletter (The One-Person Library), I have written 5 books and am working on another (all on library management), and I have given workshops all over the world. I usually list my profession as publisher. But I am still, first and foremost, a LIBRARIAN–and damn proud of it! I only wish we spent as much time improving the image of librarians and we do avoiding the use of the “L” word.

    Welcome to the blogospherem, Rachel. It’s great fun.

    (Judith Siess)

  5. walt:

    Well, if I did have an ML[I]S, I would certainly call myself a librarian, even though I haven’t worked in a library in the last 27 years. And I wouldn’t call myself an information professional on a bet. As it is, I use “library professional.” (Or, well, senior analyst, ’cause that’s my job title.)

  6. Anonymous:

    I agree…most people who could practice law (even if choosing not to do so) call themselves lawyers. As would a doctor of medicine or a PhD or a registered architect would call themselves a doctor or an architect even if not working at a hospital/university/architecture firm; that is, if they valued or identified with that title So, I would say you are a librarian, unless you’d rather not call yourself one.

  7. T Scott:

    My wife, Lynn Fortney, has for the last fifteen years been director of the biomedical division at EBSCO — she is adamant that she IS a librarian (she worked in academic libraries for fifteen years before moving to EBSCO). A couple of weeks ago, when I met with the Elsevier managers, I sat at dinner next to the woman is coordinating services to “small customers” — and she introduced herself as a librarian, pointing out that she had spent several years at the University of Heidelberg. I know many people in similar situations. So for you, I think it’s a matter of how you choose to identify yourself. Most of the librarians that I know who do not work in a library are pretty determined to maintain their librarian identity. I’ll echo anonymous — it’s not what you do, it’s who you are.

  8. Dorothea:

    I’m firmly in the “expand the definition of ‘librarian’” camp. Librarians-in-libraries are a slowly-dying breed, strangled by deprofessionalization and blind adherence to the labor structures mightily struggling to make them obsolete (kiss-kiss, ALA!).

    If librarianship does NOT open its tent to people like you, Rachel, and you, Walt, it’s just shooting itself in the foot. Again.

    I do wish librarianship weren’t so good at that.

  9. Rachel:

    I’m not a big fan of the “information professional” term, either, though I can live with it. (Bigger battles!)

    Julian – Thanks – I’m glad you’re enjoying the book, though I don’t think I could have written it years ago :) .

    Dorothea – My guess is that I could call myself a flying spaghetti monster and they’d still be happy to accept my dues…

    Judith – I don’t know that I could think of you as anything but a librarian. So, all you librarians-outside-of-libraries are helping clarify the issue for me!

    I think we have a consensus here -

  10. Priscilla:

    I’m also a librarian who doesn’t work in a library, and I still call myself a librarian. In reality I’m a stay-at-home-mom who maintains and writes/edits to stay active in the field while I’m not “working.” And I’m editing a book (A Day in the Life, Libraries Unlimited, probably 2007) full of examples of librarians-who-don’t-do-the-traditional-library-thing.

  11. Dan:

    Even when I left the library world and worked as Marketing Director in a software firm, I STILL answered “Librarian” when people asked me whatb I did. And now I work as the “Information Officer” in a corporation, but I’m the “Librarian” to everyone who uses my services. I think if you have the degree and you do work that relates to your degree, you’re a librarian

  12. Anonymous:

    I’m a librarian, and I’m in my third round working outside a library.

    In their current state, libraries are not as attractive as they once were as employers. The rate of change doesn’t track salaries, and the generational clashes are real.

    My sympathies lie with the next generation, which has to prove its skills to an older generation who hasn’t made time to keep up with the very real changes.

  13. CarynW:

    Shortly after I finished my MSLS in 1989, I was at a party with assorted professionals, telling one of them about my job woes. I had tried to move back to my home town, but had found no library jobs there, and had come back to the DC area where I got my degree (CUA, in case you wonder). I was telling him about how great my home town was to live in, but that as a librarian, I really had to have a library in order to function. Of course, he agreed that a librarian without a library really couldn’t work. Boy, have times changed! Now I’m thinking that it might soon be possible to move back home, and work almost anywhere. But wherever I am, with or without a library, I’m a librarian.

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