The work librarians have done throughout the last two decades has involved a particular and yet changing skill set. Read any current job description and tagged onto the end of it one can find the remnants of required tasks such as filing, organizing and having the ability to lift heavy boxes. This alone may make folks wonder why one might be drawn to this seemingly sedentary, conflict-free profession. But beyond the stereotypes of librarians another picture emerges; i.e., librarians embracing change. In the academy, what were once bibliographers are now subject specialists, navigating the library and information resources and new ways of educating. What also emerges are the wizards deep within the psyche of librarians who love this work; who love the methodological tracings that scatter information and re-order it so that what appears to be missing can be found.
“How did you do that?” Asks a patron who comes to the reference desk looking for a title he couldn’t find in the online catalog. “I tried everything I could think of and couldn’t find it.”
“Well, I ran a search on a couple of different variations on the title you gave me – and then I tried another possible spelling of the authors’ name. Since we didn’t appear to have it in our online catalog, I went to World Cat to see if there was a record for the title. Barring that, I did a random keyword search and found it that way.” Some folks are patient enough to listen to the possibility that there may be a strategy involved in finding resources while others imagine that what we’ve done is to just press the magic button.
The Beloit College Mindset List has been published every year since 1998. This list names “the cultural touchstones” that shape the mindset of incoming freshman. It’s quite startling for those of us from a different generation to imagine that for the class of 2014, few “know how to write in cursive.” How is this possible? I remember being graded for penmanship. But the incoming class appears to be full of folks who tap their fingers on a keyboard rather than push the pen by right or left-handed force.
This makes me wonder about the hand skills that the industrial revolution modernized so that, for example, coal could be extracted in perfect measure by the push of a button (see photo). Are they lost skills, have the skills changed or are there other questions we haven’t thought to ask? Have humanities librarians lost their edge with the onset of modern technology? I doubt it. What is more the case, I think, is that these large cultural gaps between generations require humanities librarians to understand a wider range of interdisciplinary subjects and resources and to always be at the ready; a wizard hat behind the desk to dazzle shell shocked patrons who, for example, believe that “Michelangelo was a computer virus.”
“We believe that even in the age of Google and globalization, the Humanities continue to shape the way people study, research and publish and that libraries are at the center of this enterprise."
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