Why librarians?

Why do we need professional librarians?

Becoming a professional librarian requires commitment, hard work, and passion.  To qualify, librarians must complete training which is accredited by a professional body.  For many librarians, this training takes the form of a BA or Masters degree; other qualify through extensive experience and a commitment to on-the-job training.

Librarians never stop learning! Most librarians commit to further professional development and accreditation after qualification, through schemes such as Chartership.  Many librarians also obtain qualifications in other areas, to support their work; for instance, it is becoming increasingly common for librarians to hold a teaching qualification, as well as their librarian qualification. Read Liz’s guest blog post for more information about what librarians do.

Why does this matter?

Part of being a professional is the commitment to continuing professional development (CPD), and the adherence to a set of ethics, or code of professional conduct.  This applies to librarians just as it applies to doctors, lawyers, and accountants.

Librarians stand for free and equal access to information for all.  This means a number of things:

  • Librarians will not discriminate in the provision of access to material
  • Librarians will not disclose what you ask, read, or borrow
  • Librarians will work to fight censorship, bias, and false reporting
  • Librarians will always work to provide you with the best possible information resources to suit your needs
  • Librarians will work to provide high-quality collections tailored to the needs of a community
  • Librarians work for the larger public good

Members of the UK’s professional body, CILIP (the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) adhere to these ethical principles and code of professional conduct.  In the US, the ALA code of ethics applies.  Want to know more about librarian ethics around the world?  See this page from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

More information on librarians and data protection can be found here (from Surrey Libraries).

While we believe that libraries need professional staff to run them, we do recognise the contribution of others in providing the service. Read Gareth’s story to find out more about the valuable work of library assistants.

18 thoughts on “Why librarians?

  1. Jim O'Donnell

    My experience of the main library in a middling sized town is so disconnected from these fine words that I wonder if we’re talking about the same thing. Specifically, the staff were unable and unwilling to help my enquiry beyond a quick look at the stock on the shelf. When I said I’d tried the catalogue but could find nothing the answer was to try Amazon. The service level I received could have been delivered by anyone, qualified or not. And BTW, Amazon was quite useful, but I didn’t need a librarian to tell me that.

  2. Lauren

    Hi Jim,

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a bad experience. Unfortunately, it does happen. There are lots of reasons for this. I’m not, of course, making excuses for the particular library service and staff you encountered in it, but I know from personal experience of working in public libraries and the campaigning work I’m doing at the moment, that staff are often under a lot of pressure. This can be the result of inadequate training, poor management, a shortage of staff, pressure from other council departments to deliver services in which library staff are not expert, the placement of non-library staff behind library counters, a lack of requirement for qualified staff doing work that needs doing by qualified and skilled staff, low pay, low morale…the list goes on.

    Although the service you received may have been delivered by anyone, the issue is that it shouldn’t be delivered by just anyone. It should be delivered by someone who has good customer service skills, is able to conduct a proper reference interview to adequately ascertain the information need of the person making the enquiry, and is able to answer the enquiry with information that is appropriate, unbiased and selected from a broad knowledge-base. This does require training, and at a certain level, qualification. Not all enquiries require high levels of specific knowledge and skill, but many do.

    Public librarianship should be grounded in the values we feature in this section. Whether it is or not, nationwide, is an important thing to discover, so that library services, campaigns like this, and professional bodies, can try to rectify the problems. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  3. Debbie

    I work in a library and absolutely love the work – I’ve been there for 8 years and have a library qualification. Last week I helped somebody to use the public use computers to apply for a job online. The person I helped couldn’t even write an email to apply for the job, so I showed the person how to write the email and how to attach a CV to it. The job this person applied for was a CLEANING job and pays more per hour than I earn in the library! Go figure.

    I posted the above comment on my FaceBook profile on the day that it happened and it has sparked a number of comments from people who couldn’t believe that this was so, eg: “what?! but but… thats just wrong. T_T here you have to finish college and major in library science to be able to work in a library!”

    My response:
    “Well, you need to have some qualifications to work in a library here. I’ve also taken a library and information qualification while I’ve been doing the job, along with numerous other training courses. I helped somebody use a library PC the other day to apply for this cleaning job. I had to show the person how to download a CV from an email and then attach it to another email to apply for the job. I also had to tell the person that it was not enough to just press send, but that a message to accompany the CV would need to be included. I also had to show the person how to copy and paste the email address into the address bar and suggest the wording for the accompanying message. I was gobsmacked when I saw that it was an application for a cleaning job that paid more than I was being paid to provide all this help!”

  4. B

    One of the common misconceptions held by members of the public, and echoed by Jim above, is that everyone who works in a public library is a “librarian”. I work in a reasonably busy London library (1000 daily visits), and we have two librarians, neither chartered, and both gained their qualifications over 20 years ago, pre-internet, pre-people’s network etc. Unfortunately it appears that most of our staff are unable to use Google properly or even search our own catalogue in an efficient manner. I have at times cringed when I’ve witnessed some of the terrible service that we have provided to people. Although I am in an unqualified Library Assistant job, I have a recent LIS qualification, which makes me hugely overqualified for my job description. Although it is admittedly frustrating to not be able to find a professional job, I enjoy my work and wouldn’t want to leave the public library behind as I believe passionately in all the benefits and rallying cries listed on this site. As the more senior staff here are often tied up with office work/gameplans/staff management, I am the one left on the enquiry desk for the most part, and with my qualifications and information retrieval experience I am confident that I am able to execute this role to a high level of skill and service (and even if i cannot directly answer an enquiry, I try not to gloss over this fact or recklessly give a ‘definite’ answer that might end up being misleading, for example, as i have only recently moved to the area I’m still not great with specific local information, though I know where to look and which colleagues to consult). Additionally, I am fully aware that our job is not simply to answer questions but also the give people the tools and confidence to conduct their own information enquiries (very quickly lost count of the amount of times someone from the local college has dumped a copy of their course reading list on me and expected me to ‘find’ every item for them, while the queue starts to build up behind them).

    At some point during childhood you realise that your parents aren’t the fount of all knowledge and are in fact fallible human beings. It’s a similar feeling when you realise your workplace colleagues and superiors make mistakes, get stressed-out, give poor customer service. I can only apologise to people like Jim who have been on the receiving end of this, and I feel angry to think that previous generations of library and information professionals have stood back so passively as they see their profession become marginalised and devalued to the point to which people are seriously debating the idea of volunteer-run libraries. It’s up to young LIS professionals to clamber onto the roof of their public libraries and start shouting, to anybody that will listen. Let us do our jobs, let us share what we’ve learned. Our lives and the world around us are being documented, analysed, archived, and published at an astonishing rate and to a level of detail that wouldn’t even have been conceived of just a few years ago. You need us more than ever.

  5. Cherie Gladstone

    I too have witness wide disparities between what libraries all claim to be able to deliver and what actually happens “on the ground”. I took my library degree over 20 years ago but since then have worked hard to use information technology effectively and to deliver a good information service. I can see in some library authorities that a professionally delivered service is not valued or seen as worth paying for and that now even in our authority (which until recently was highly valued and relatively well resourced) the cuts mean that staff expertise is being erroded as people leave, and are made redundant and are not replaced. Local councillors seem to think that if they just keep a library open that they are providing an “efficient comprehensive library service” but this is far from being true. We do need to speak out but we have all been told that if we do we risk losing our jobs as it is not acceptable for council staff to criticise political and economic decisions made by our council. This must be done by the public – who are mostly not fully aware of what we could deliver for them if given the resources, and of course think that all people who work in a library are “librarians”.

  6. Kaz Gill

    I think that the 2 previous posts really illustrate why our libraries are failing.Yes,librarianship is devalued as a profession but I have to say that this has in part been caused by the profession itself.Other professions have long provideed work based career advancement for able staff starting off on the lowest run but it is only in recent years that librarianship has been accessible through ACLIP for library assistants.Previous to this, it was not unusual to find people who had spent their whole working life in libraries and never progressed in their career because there was no career ladder to climb. Some professional staff have been very reluctant to share their professional expertise and this has resulted in their skilss going with them when they retire.Librarians,and I include myself in his,need to get a grip and realise that if they want to shake off their dusty,dowdy image and engage with todays generation,they need to pass on their skills .If we dont, libraries will always be the poor relations and our libraries will be downgraded to community centres with books!

  7. InfoSharingHub

    Libraries play a great role in sharing information to the people. But it is not possible without librarians.
    Librarians have knowledge of all the books and contents of the books. They help public by suggesting them good content books.

  8. Corbin

    I read on Reddit that Librarians are some of the lowest paid educated workers in the force. I can’t believe that. Librarians are the keepers of information, I hope something is done to change this from a consistently low paying job to something more on par with the standard cost of living.

    Great post!

  9. Victoria

    As someone who works full-time for the public library service in the North West, I think it’s great that we have such a website as this to keep people engaged and informed about this growing issue. Libraries are hugely vital – they are a safe space for people to learn, interact, teach, create; it is really naive to think that communities can do without them. The things they offer are invaluable, and it is true that library staff are not paid anywhere near the level they should be, for all of the services they help provide – especially now that most councils (like my own) also expect us to do council related work, such as processing benefit claims. However, that would be my one point about raising the public perception of libraries and the staff that work there: not all of the staff are “librarians” in the qualified sense of the word, but they perform almost all of the same functions (sometimes more on the frontline), and are equally valuable within the service! Please don’t neglect or forget to mention them too, as they pour in as much dedication and hard work as anyone else – it would be a shame to lose them, as much as anyone else!

    1. Gary

      Thank you for your comment Victoria. As you’ll see from other posts on the site, we agree that all library staff have an important role to play in the delivery of public library services.

  10. Stuart

    As a member of staff in a public library, I feel the distinction between qualified Librarians and other members of library staff is becoming increasingly irrelevant. This article seems to ignore all other levels of library staff despite the vital contribution they make to a successful library service.

    1. Gary

      Thanks for your comment Stuart. We do recognise in other posts on this site that all levels of library staff have vital contributions to make, but the purpose of this page is to specifically highlight why it’s important to retain librarians as part of the public library service.

  11. Chris Gower

    It appears now that the chartership criteria have now changed. CILIP do not require chartered members to have a library qualification. This is great for making professional excellence more obtainable given that many people ‘fall in to’ libraries. But unfortunately for those of us with library qualifications, it rather devalues it.

    1. Gary

      Library staff wouldn’t have access to details about a housing benefit client. The only information they may have access to is library membership details.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *