Define: librarian

Librarian Avenger by Librarian Avenger.

*I began the draft of this post in April, but wasn’t inspired until recently to complete it.

Earlier this year while going through my reader, I came across a blog post that questioned broadly applying the term “librarian” to those in our profession.  I found this intriguing after the brouhaha surrounding the Association of School Librarians (AASL) decision to again to refer to us as “school librarians” rather than “media specialists.”

How do others define librarian?

A quick search on Google turned up these:

“a professional person trained in library science and engaged in library services” (

“A librarian is an information professional trained in library and information science, which is the organization and management of information services or materials for those with information needs…” (

Not very enlightening definitions, are they?

A teacher teaches….

….so a school librarian _________?  Librarizes?  Why is there not an alternate form of the word that acts as a verb?  But even if there were, it would not be able to capture the essence of what we as school librarians do.

The following is an excerpt from the post “Librarianship and Burnout.”

“But it seems to me that the family resemblance of all librarians, to borrow Wittgenstein’s term, is not so much the nature of individual librarians’ work as a shared belief and faith: the belief that information and knowledge is to be treasured and someone must work to deliver and preserve this information and knowledge accumulated throughout human history to the public, the faith that access to information and knowledge is a basic human right and it should be equally provided to anyone who desires to learn. If someone asks what I do and asks again what that means when I reply that I am a librarian, this is the answer that I should give rather than enumerating all the mundane things like setting up e-resources for a trial, filling out the paperwork for my grant project, updating web pages, and going to lots of meetings.”  Bohyun Kim, author of  The Library Hat” blog

I A a School Librarian! And Darned Proud of It!

In these test-the-kids-til-their-brains-have-been-fried crazed days, school librarians must work harder than ever to assure our communities that we are essential to the educational system.  Pulling the plug on library programs may seem to be a quick and easy way to cut corners in this economy, but it would leave many of our students and teachers afloat in a sea of information awaiting the Perfect Storm.

And so, school librarians must enumerate “the mundane things” as Bohyun Kim refers to them, as well as the exciting and collaborative “things” we do.  If you have not read Joyce Valenza’s updated Manifesto for the 21st Century School Librarian, then you must.  Go ahead and read it.  I’ll wait for you to return.

Can I be honest?  I felt so overwhelmed when I read her post, that I wanted to cry.  I thought I was doing a pretty danged good job of working as a 21st century school librarian until I began to compare what I do to Joyce’s list of 81 bulleted points.

I feel certain that Joyce’s intent in writing that post was not to make me cry or to discourage all of us who work daily in the trenches.  Joyce’s passion for her job is palpable.  She demands the best from herself and expects no less from any other school librarian because our students and teachers deserve it.

So, instead of throwing myself a pity party after I read the manifesto, I printed it and am using it as a guide.

How many of “them 81 bulleted points” can you honestly say you demonstrate?  I haven’t counted yet, but I know I have quite a ways to go.

Photo attribution:

3 Responses to “Define: librarian”

  1. Jen Maley Says:

    Wow–I’m glad to see you felt overwhelmed, too, after reading Joyce’s new Manifesto! I love your idea of using it as a guide–we’ll all get there as we continue to collaborate.

  2. Heather Loy Says:

    I agree, the list is overwhelming, but for me most are unattainable – not from lack of willingness or effort, but to factors outside of my control: money & being an “only” in my school/time. I would LOVE to provide many of the resources and services outlined in the Manifesto; however, no funding and not having a clerk/aide or another LMS (or even an adult of any kind) makes it difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish most of the items on her list. This is not an excuse, since I do my darndest to work around these limitations – and this is where I think EFFORT counts more than achieving does. Don’t feel overwhelmed, feel challenged! What’s the old adage? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That’s what we have to do, a little at a time!

    • Fran Bullington Says:

      Jen and Heather,

      Relieved to see that I am not the only one who felt overwhelmed by the list! I do see it as a guide – not a checklist (which would be nearly impossible for many right now in our current economic situation).
      And, yes, there are things on the list that I cannot achieve at this point in time. I agree that EFFORT is what counts. It is through effort that we will accomplish those goals that we can now – if we sit back and moan that we can’t do all of it, then we are hurting our students, teachers, and ourselves.

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