4 Essential Roles Librarians Fill Today

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If you’re a bookworm, then you might have A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on your bookshelf. And if you do, then you know its stereotypical depiction of librarians: stodgy, bespectacled, and stern. The novel’s librarian sits behind her desk and hands out boring books to the neighborhood kids. But, as the digital world advances, that librarian belongs in one of her own dusty books. Today’s librarian needs to wear more hats than ever before. Here are four essential ones.

1. A Pirate Hat for Navigating Dangerous Waters

With information spilling out of every corner of the Internet, some think a librarian’s job is obsolete. Who needs help finding an encyclopedia when there’s Google?

Librarians, however, would beg to differ. In the raging sea of online information competing for our clicks, users need more help than ever distinguishing between reliable and unreliable sources, tracking down useful databases, and running sophisticated Internet searches. Search engines on their own can’t do all of that.

Tech-savvy and well-trained, librarians often hold the compass to effectual research, whether it’s for a recipe or a dissertation.

2. A Top Hat for Leading the Community to the Show

Not only is today’s librarian nimble on a mousepad, he or she is also able to draw people into the library. Despite increased digitalization, more people are visiting libraries than ever before, according to a recent NYT article.

People are flocking through the doors for more than just a quiet corner to read a book, libraries are community centers for people to learn and grow together. People come for book discussions over coffee, a stroll through the art gallery, free advice on a genealogical study, or a musical score. Kids come for story readings, beading classes, science experiments, or mazes. And who runs it all? You guessed it — the librarians.

3. A Gardening Hat for Unexpected Projects

Not only are librarians changing, but the space is changing as well.

Traditional libraries with their towering shelves and winged armchairs are sneaking out the back door as great, eco-friendly, window-covered structures take their place. New libraries tend to let the world in rather than shut it out.

Sometimes libraries also let the natural world in: a public library in New York lends plots of land to patrons for gardening. Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh provides a “library without walls” in the Pittsburgh Public Market on the weekends. Other libraries lend out items like musical instruments, toys, and even cake pans!

4. A Hard Hat for Bearing the Brunt of Increasing Critique

In the face of pressure and critique, the 21st century librarian needs to be a staunch and innovative defender of the library. Librarians seem to be at a critical crossroads: it’s now or never for reinventing the profession to prove that educational institutions are vital to the community.

As libraries across the country prove, librarians switch hats faster than a teenager whipping through the pages of Hunger Games. They’re a profession that this rapidly changing century needs.