Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails...what's 21st century librarian made of?
Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails....What’s a 21st century Librarian made of? Jennifer Wilson Fairfield City Library Service May 2012
At a staff meeting in 2008 we gave FairfieldLibrary staff a challenge – let loose with theoutline of a human body and the children’scraft kits they were to design the librarian ofthe future, describing who they were, whatthey would need to know, be able to do andthe tools they’d be using.
We’ve heard a lot today about change andnew opportunities and tools, apps andchanging customer demands. It doesn’tchange the fact that the reason many of usare reference librarians is the thrill of thechase – the ability to track down that perfectresource to answer the customer’s question.
Being the National Year of Reading it’s fittingof course to end with a story. In ChinaMieville’s YA novel Un Lun Dun our heroDeeba has re-entered the alternative versionof her home city of London by climbing upthrough the shelves of her school library.Emerging above the Wordhoard Abyss andhaving avoided the warrior booktribes, shelf-monkeys and wordcrows, she meets, funnilyenough, a librarian.
Let me introduce you to Margarita Staples –Extreme Librarian.Bookaneer.
‘My job was never boring,’ Staples said.‘There’s nut-and-bolts stuff like getting the tarpaulin over the shaft when it rains and so on.Cataloguing and reshelving. The shelves are in a shocking state, And when you’ve goteverything ever written or lost to keep track of, it’s quite a job. And there’s fetching books.‘I used to really look forward to requests for books way down in the abyss. We’d all rope up,follow our lines down for miles. The order falls apart a way down but you learn to sniff outclass-marks. Sometimes we’d be gone for weeks, fetching volumes.’ She spoke with a farawayvoice.‘There are risks. Hunters, animals and accidents. Ropes that snap. Sometimes someone getsseparated. Twenty years ago I was in a group looking for a book someone had requested. Iremember it was called ‘Oh, All Right Then’: Bartleby Returns. We were led by Ptolemy Yes. Hewas the man who taught me. Best librarian there’s ever been, some say.‘Anyway, after weeks of searching, we ran out of food and had to turn back. No one likes itwhen we fail, so none of us was feeling great.‘We felt that much worse when we realized that we’d lost Ptolemy.‘Some people say he went off deliberately. That he couldn’t bear not to find the book. Thathe’s out there still in the Wordhoard Abyss, living off shelf-monkeys, looking. And that he’ll beback one day, book in hand.’Mieville, China. Un Lun Dun (2007)
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