The Many Hats of Librarians

Sherlock Holmes statue with deerstalker cap

Photo cc by gregwake of Flickr

One of my favorite aspects of being a librarian is the variety of the work. I am never doing the same thing day in and day out, and I’m constantly challenged in new ways. This may be because I work at a small institution with a fairly small number of librarians, so we all have to do a bit of everything. But I think in general, as librarians, we often have to wear so many different hats.

We are teachers. We experiment with new pedagogical methods and attempt to design effective, engaging curriculum. We are scholars. We publish research and present at conferences about the interesting things we’re doing. We are technologists. We experiment with and implement new tools in order to improve the delivery of services to users. We are detectives. We are able to solve mysteries and pull together a case from a mishmash of clues. We are oracles. We are able to give thorough and satisfying answers to questions that at first glance seem impossible and stultifying (it only seems like magic).

We are marketers. We to promote our resources and events and sell the idea of “the library” by being vocal advocates in our community. We are analysts. We attempt to improve our services by assessing learning and collecting data on things like reference interactions, classes taught, and usage of our resources. We are managers. We are either directors, department heads or simply leaders in meetings or committees, trying to help others reach their full potential. We are customer service representatives. We try to provide the best experience possible for our users and get them exactly what they need to ensure they come back and tell their friends. We are event planners. We plan great programs that pack the library and bring the community together.

There are plenty of other hats and they’re not all positive (copy machine repairman, janitor), but the wide variety of the work that we do is one of the things that really makes me love this job.

What hats do you wear?


Technology and Public Services Librarian

champlain college under snow

view from the library balcony

We have a new position opening at our library! We have a great team already, but we need someone else to help with our teaching and technology related projects. If that sounds like you or someone you know, you can find out more and apply here.

Burlington is a really awesome city and Champlain is a great place to work. The two words I would use to describe Champlain are community and innovation. We are a fast moving institution and if you have an idea, you are able to run with it. And ideas can come from anyone, not just senior administrators or people who have been here for a while. There is a mutual respect and a lot of collegiality among both faculty and staff.

And to top it all off, our library has one of the best views in the city of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.


7 Ways to Cross-Pollinate Yourself and Your Staff

bee pollinating a flower

photo by Express Monorail on Flickr

The staff at our library recently had a meeting in which we were brainstorming new ideas. The question that the director asked to guide our brainstorming was “if time was not a factor, what would you really like to work on or do?” We could think as big or small as we wanted and we came up with some really interesting ideas. One theme I kept seeing in people’s answers was having the chance to look at things from another perspective and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Cross-pollination is a way to get fresh ideas and break free of a certain way of thinking. It’s important in libraries to not constantly be focused on ourselves and “the way things have always been done.” Sharing and exchanging ideas improves relationships and makes everyone stronger. There are few ways we can do this in libraries:


This is one of the most common ways to cross-pollinate in librarianship. At conferences you can talk to hundreds of other library professionals and hear what they are doing. You can watch and participate in presentations that expose you to new ideas. You can take ideas that you find at conferences, tweak them, and implement them at your own institution. Getting together with a lot of different librarians is almost always a recipe for fresh ideas.

Non-Library Reading

I read a lot of librarian blogs (and if you’re reading this, you likely do too), but I also try to read outside the field as well. I read marketing blogs, education blogs, business blogs, tech blogs. It is from these blogs that I get a lot of new ideas. I learn things about higher ed in general or try to find creative ways to use marketing ideas to promote the library.

Visit Other Libraries

Whenever I am in a new city I like to try to see a library or two. Whenever I attend a conference or event at a library I like to explore their building. Visiting other libraries helps you to envision your own library differently. Perhaps a library you visit has great signage or perhaps they set up their public areas in a very interesting way. You can get a plethora of ideas for how to arrange your library by examining what others are doing. Anyway, libraries are just fun places to hang out in general.

Business Field Trips

No, libraries are not businesses, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn anything from them. Some businesses have almost unbelievable models of service (like the Nordstrom employee who refunded a customer returning snow tires even though they did not sell that product). Some businesses have really cool ways of approaching problems. You don’t have to always go very far either. I’ve posted in the past about places locally that have provided a wonderful user experience. You could attend a place like this as a staff and then debrief about what you’d like to imitate.

Observe Professors or Teachers

Librarians are (or very much should be) educators. Why then do we not learn more from our educational peers. My good friend Gary Scudder just won the Vermont Professor of the year. I think it would be very enlightening to attend one of his classes or see how other folks approach teaching. Not only could we learn teaching and classroom management techniques, but we could also see what students are learning and understand the questions their struggling with. In addition, we could observe our fellow librarians in their classes. Seeing how other people approach teaching is immensely helpful to me.

Job Switching

One of the reference librarians here at Champlain College has mentioned this idea multiple times and I think it is a really cool one. Instead of constantly being in public services perhaps you could spend a semester cataloging or working on collection development. Or instead of doing only cataloging, maybe you want to volunteer for a couple of hours a week at the desk. This might not be feasible everywhere, but putting yourself in another librarians shoes for a little while can help you appreciate their perspective and what they do.

Librarian Exchange

I’m not sure if any libraries are doing this, but wouldn’t it be fun to spend a semester or a few months as a librarian at another institution (locally or internationally)? Both librarians would learn a lot and gain a lot more experience. They would also bring fresh perspectives to their host institution. They’re not bogged down by seeing the same things everyday which would allow them to try different approaches to problems.

These are just a few suggestions for how to cross-pollinate yourself and your staff. What are some other ways to spread new ideas hither and yon?