“This is Sarah, my favorite librarian!” is how my friend Tim introduced me to his friends at a party a couple years ago. I mumbled something about not being a librarian even though I work in a library, but they were probably more interested in getting to the bar than my job, so I let it go. It wasn’t the first time I’d been mistaken for a librarian, and it wouldn’t be the last. Librarians are awesome, so I’m not offended by it, but what I do is entirely different, despite also being awesome. I also wear glasses, read a lot, and can frequently be seen in a cardigan, so I guess I fit the stereotype. Additionally, I am technically a Goodreads “Librarian,” which possibly adds to the confusion.
A librarian is a professional who is trained in information science, but their roles and responsibilities can vary widely, even in public libraries. A librarian often (usually?) has a Master’s Degree in Library Science, and all my library Facebook groups have lively, weekly debates over whether that is always necessary. I have no dog in that fight because I am very firmly Not a Librarian.
I am an Event Planner for a large metropolitan library system. My sole job is to plan, facilitate, and promote events for adults at our over a dozen branches. I sometimes create digital content related to our events. It is all I do and all I want to do within the library. I focus on author events and writing workshops, but we also plan all kinds of events, such as cooking classes, fitness classes, lectures on any topic under the sun, crafts, movie showings, parenting classes, community conversations, and more.
At many smaller library systems, my responsibilities may fall upon a librarian or other library staff member in addition to their other job duties. Even at my library system, my department doesn’t have exclusivity over running library events. There are four event planners in my department, and none of us are librarians, but the general public and our community partners constantly call us “librarians.”
My department sits in a locked, windowless room when we’re not setting up for or running an event, so you’re not likely to run into us, but most of the staff you’ll interact with at our library are also not librarians. If you’re checking books out, asking someone where to find a book or the bathroom, or reserving a computer, you’re more than likely talking to a clerk or a shelver. Even if you are at the reference desk or children’s department, we have more clerks who work there than librarians. They can, of course, call a librarian over if one is required.
If you call the library, the phone is answered by someone whose entire job it is to answer the phone. They are extremely knowledgeable, but are still not librarians. A quarter of our non-manager librarians at our largest location actually don’t interact with the public at all, because they work on developing the library’s large collection.
We’re also blessed at my library to have entire departments who handle IT, book processing, custodial, facility maintenance, marketing, the website, tech training, human resources, and more. At many smaller and rural libraries, the librarians may also be all of those things. Some operate with two to three employees, so they have to do a bit of everything.
Sometimes my friend will ask me about something “a librarian” told them and it will take me a while to track the answer down, because I forget the public often isn’t aware of the library world idiosyncrasies like who is a librarian and who is not. Their name tags don’t differentiate between their roles. Despite the stereotypes, you can’t tell the difference based on their appearance or demeanor.
Maybe it doesn’t matter that much what we’re called. If the public wants to equate “librarian” with “someone who works in a library,” it probably doesn’t matter most of the time. However, my librarian friends are often upset by this confusion, especially when it comes to policy decisions, budgeting, and pay rates. Librarians, masters degree or not, have a specialized skill set, and their work is undervalued by our society — as is the work of many library staff members, let’s be honest — but I don’t want to contribute to that. So I’ll continue correcting people who call me a librarian: I work in a library, but I’m not a librarian.