For years and years, the job of an academic librarian centered around connecting students to books, historical documents and sometimes shushing the louder patrons using the facilities. Today, they still serve as connectors to research and information, but their job has evolved from focusing on the physical (books, journals, etc) to include helping students navigate the growing world of digital resources.
Librarians of the past
When you think of a traditional librarian, what comes to mind? A bespectacled middle-aged woman sitting behind the circulation desk among stacks of unsorted books, perhaps? In the not-so-distant past, this is probably how most patrons viewed the leaders and managers of their academic libraries. But their responsibilities, even then, extended far beyond making sure those books you returned (likely a few days late) were put back on the correct shelf.
Even before the era of digital research, academic librarians wore many hats. First and foremost, they were the gatekeepers to books, manuscripts, journals and other written information. Their organizational skills had to be spot-on, as they needed to keep track of the paper-based card catalogue that helped them keep a watchful eye on what resources were on reserve, checked out or missing in action. This system helped them guide students through shelf after shelf while trying to locate that one elusive resource that would surely make the difference between a B plus and an A minus on their philosophy research paper.
Librarians in the past were also decision-makers. Students and faculty who found a gap in the library’s resource offerings, whether it was a set of books or research journals, could alert the librarians to their needs. When it came time to evaluate resources each year, it was up to the librarian to allocate funds where they saw fit.
Librarians of today
Today the job of a librarian hasn’t necessarily changed, but it has expanded. An academic librarian today is a professional with strong credentials and a background in research and library sciences. In fact, the term “librarian” may just be out of date: today, we see titles ranging from library service directors to research librarians to circulation managers and technical services managers. While all of these new positions still require the skills of the past, they’re giving students a plethora of background knowledge and research expertise to make sure that paper isn’t just an A minus — it’s an A plus.
With the transition to using more digital tools and resources, today’s library professionals aren’t just teaching students how to locate physical resources. They’re facilitating learning as a whole by helping students think critically about finding, developing and finessing research-driven arguments.
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