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What Is A Librarian? (by Sheila Cannell)
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What Is A Librarian? (by Sheila Cannell)


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This talk was a contributing session to ELISA Open Forum, held May 2007. The theme of the Forum was "Skills to Change". The session was designed to address head on how a librarian might be defined in …

This talk was a contributing session to ELISA Open Forum, held May 2007. The theme of the Forum was "Skills to Change". The session was designed to address head on how a librarian might be defined in terms of the skills set. Sheila Cannell, Head of Edinburgh University Library Information Services fronted the session with her personal answer to the question, followed by small group talks with librarians in seven very different roles.

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  • 1. What is a librarian? Sheila Cannell University of Edinburgh
  • 2. What is a librarian?
    • 1. A scribe, copyist. Obs. 1670 GALE Crt. Gentiles II. IV. i. 370 The Booksellers got these books unmeet Librarians. 1725 W. BROOME Notes on Pope's Odyss. XII. 131 This is the error of the Librarians, who put for .
    •      2. The keeper or custodian of a library. (This word has supplanted the older library-keeper .)
    • 1713 STEELE Englishman No. 1. 8 Why mayn't I be witty, as a Man that keeps a Librarian is Learned? 1791 BOSWELL Johnson an. 1754, Mr. Wise, Radclivian librarian, with whom Johnson was much pleased. 1829 University Instr. in Willis & Clark Cambridge (1886) III. 104 A projecting Room..for the use of the Librarian.
    •      3. A dealer in books. Obs. rare 1.
    • a 1734 NORTH Lives (1826) III. 290 This Mr. Scot was in his time the greatest librarian in Europe: for, besides his Stock in England he had warehouses at Frankfort [etc.].
    • Hence librarianess , a female librarian; librarianship , the office or work of a librarian.
    • 1818 TODD , Librarianship . 1862 TROLLOPE N. Amer. I. 360 The librarianesses looked very pretty and learned..; the head librarian was enthusiastic. 1871 Daily News 12 Apr. 5 In depriving the learned book-fancier of his librarianship. 1886 Academy 19 June 432/3 An essay on some subject in librarianship or bibliography.
  • 3. What is a librarian?
    • A librarian is an information professional trained in library science and information science: the organization and management of information and service to people with information needs. The word is also used for those in charge of collections in general. Librarians work typically in one of the many types of library, and increasingly in other information-provision settings; the term is also used sometimes in a popular sense to refer to anyone who works in a library. Although librarians have been traditionally associated with collections of books, as seen by the etymology of the word "librarian," modern librarians deal with information in many formats, including books, magazines, newspapers, audio recordings in various formats (both music recordings and audiobooks), video recordings in various formats, maps, photographs and other graphic material, bibliographic databases, and Internet resources in general. They often provide other information services, including computer provision and training, coordination of public programs, basic literacy education, and help with finding and using community resources .
  • 4. What is a librarian?
    • Roles of the librarian
      • Curator
      • Procurer and organiser of information
      • Information expert
      • Promoter of information use
      • Guardian of the knowledge of an organisation
      • A trusted public servant
      • Change agent
  • 5. What is changing?
    • Ease of access to information
    • Information seeking behaviours
    • Everyone can be a “librarian”
    • The knowledge economy
  • 6. What do others think of librarians?
    • Increasing divergence from traditional roles and responsibilities
    • Divergence with user community on roles and responsibilities
    • This example is taken from higher education:
  • 7. What researchers think about our roles and responsibilities
    • Custodian (72%)
    • Manager of Institutional Repositories of digital information (61%)
    • Administrator of information resources (59%)
    • Subject based information expert (46%)
    • Teacher of information skills (42%)
    • Manager of datasets generated by e-research etc (33%)
    • Technology specialist (34%)
    • Source: report on researchers use of libraries, RIN, 2007
  • 8.  
  • 9. What makes a successful librarian?
    • Continuous reinterpretation of our core competences
    • Being prepared to change
    • Scanning the environment
    • Seeking opportunities to contribute in our organisations
  • 10. What I do
    • Interpretation of library issues within University – “making the case”
    • Interpretation of University and external issues within Library
    • What I did last week:
      • building matters for major new project;
      • staff meetings (interpretation of environment);
      • presentations within university
      • budgetary allocations;
      • new services development;
      • collaboration;
      • troubleshooting
  • 11. Why am I a librarian?
    • I want to create an environment in which others can imagine, create and generate ideas
    • I want people to get the information they need
    • I want to encourage intellectual questioning
    • … and I like books
  • 12.