Sunday, March 9, 2014

I Am Not Omniscient

I am just a humble librarian. Even though library users think I know everything about everything, I am not omniscient.

Let me tell you a little about the expertise of librarians. We know about books, journals, non-print media, and all kinds of electronics resources. We know how to find, acquire, catalog, and help readers find every kind of information that people have created and made available to the public. We know how information flows and how to use information to create wisdom. We know more about how to use recorded knowledge than any other profession. We also know about the promotion of reading and other information seeking skills.
Much of our work is done in the back room and for the users seems like magic. Even top faculty members don’t understand the processes that encompass the building and maintaining of the library collection. Collection building requires a combination of budgeting, purchasing, selecting, and working with constituents. At some point collection building needs to be concerned with space, building, and preservation needs. One can not buy and buy without enough room on the shelves. The flip side of acquisitions is de-acquisitions (also called weeding.) Non-librarians don’t seem to understand collection building is a highly skilled task that takes a combination of skills and experience that no business or administrative trained person ever appreciates.

Cataloging is the systematic recording of all the library’s possessions. Catalogers take the messy world of the writers and publishers and systematically record metadata so that readers can find library materials. Librarians assign subject headings, classification numbers, call numbers, and maintain authority records.
Sometimes publishers make this job routine and easy and sometimes the cataloging process could take more than 2 hours per item. Catalogers need subject and language skills beyond what any faculty members is required because the library could own anything in every discipline know in the institution.

Ask a librarianI don’t know the settings used in your web site. I can tell you theory of operation, but not how someone is applying the theory. I don’t know what your teachers told you in class or what was in the mind of the person who published the web site that you just visited. In the past week students have asked questions about systems and programs that we have no knowledge or experience using.

Let me tell you what I and other librarians are expert in doing. We are experts in library systems. That includes cataloging and catalog use. We can help users interpret the catalog and find library materials. We know about books, periodicals, non-print media and anything else that a library could own and make available to readers. We know about the library’s electronic databases and how to use them. We know how to seek information published in print, online, and in archives. We have superior searching and seeking skills.
We can anticipate needs and work with faculty, students and other stakeholders; we are not omniscient. We can’t read minds and we don’t know what people are thinking until you tell us. We don’t know what settings are on your computer unless you tell us.

We can provide basic help with Microsoft Office products; we are not product specialists or available for private lessons. There are thousands of software products that not only have we never used, but also never even heard of their names. We do know a little about how the IT department has set up the computers and printers but we don’t know what they haven’t told us. We know how to ask for help from our vendors and colleagues, but answers are sometimes hard or slow to get to us.

In short we know everything and nothing at the same time.

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