The question above is, I’m afraid, often a very good one. Afraid because I, before moving on to journalism and teaching, worked as a librarian. Hell, I have a Bachelor’s in Library and Information Science from the Royal Danish School of Library and Information Science. Trust me, the title sounds way cooler than the actual degree 🙂
During my studies, I did, however, often talk with my fellow students about what we were actually doing there. At times it felt like educating yourself to become a librarian at the beginning of the new millennia was the educational equivalent of opening a high street music store that only sold CDs….
Our worries generally fell into two categories: worrying about our skill set and worrying about the future of our institutions.
As it turns out, much of our worrying about our skill set was unfounded. Today, more than ever before, people are suffering from information overload. This makes librarians, who are trained at sorting, organising and making information searchable and easy to find when needed, very relevant.
Our institutions, on the other hand, aren’t doing quite as well.
Being part Danish and part English, I’ve seen how libraries in both countries are being closed all around both countries. It’s a trend I think can be found across much of the Western world. Partly, the reason is the economic crunch, but partly, I also think it is happening because many libraries today have to try to redefine themselves to stay relevant in the 21st century.
In Denmark part of this redefinition of what a library is and what its function is has involved moving away from libraries, as we know them, and towards culture hubs. By this I mean that many libraries in Denmark have become the local cultural centres for things like exhibitions, talks, volunteer run cinemas, concerts, etc. for their local communities.
This movement is one answer to the question above. It’s one of my answers, but luckily people much smarter than me (some of which are not even librarians) have tried answering this question.
Below are more answers found via the excellent web service Quora:
“You need libraries to research. The internet is very useful but it functions much more as an index than as a primary source. Also, reference librarians usually are invaluable. If you need to research a new field, but aren’t sure where you could look to find an answer about the economic impact of local businesses in your town, the business or economics librarian at your local university will likely be able to point you in the right direction. They also manage and decide what scholarly journals the library will subscribe to, and thus are available to you.Personal subscriptions to scholarly journals (a critical resource need for almost every field) can be incredibly expensive. Many libraries pay for and provide these to their patrons as a free service,” Alando Ballantyne, Researcher and library lover.
“I am a librarian in a research university, and professors routinely tell me that student papers are worse now than before the internet. Students assume Google and Wikipedia are all they need. Both are indeed good tools for a lot of uses, but neither finds or gives access to scholarly material. It is also true that we are in an age of information glut, and a lot of information is worthless. I think of librarians as Knowledge Navigators – we help people find the best and most relevant information. Neil Gaiman said it something like Google will give you a million results – a librarian will give you the right one. Another slogan I like is Librarians – the original search engine!,” Mary A. Axford.
“he mission of Librarians is to improve the community by facilitating access to information, a mission that goes beyond providing the community with books. Librarians are trained in advanced research techniques, think you know how to use Google? Chances are you don’t know as much as we know. Need help with your entrepreneurial endeavors? We’ll help you find all of the resources you need and more. Hoping to do a genealogy of your family? We know how to help with that as well. Look more carefully at the libraries around you, they have some cool stuff going on that isn’t really about books,” Colin D. Welch.
“would add that the personal connection between patron and librarian is still necessary. Library patrons are either so lost and confused online that they need to consult with an information expert, or, in this era of phone trees and outsourced support, they want to talk to a live, local person, someone who will smile or at least acknowledge their existence.
Talk to a librarian at your local library, and ask them why they work long hours for very little money. As they share their story, watch their eyes light up with excitement!,” Caroline Bordinaro.
“There is a rather significant association called the Association of Research Libraries and Museums that exists to promote and maintain aspects of information of which you do not seem to be aware. Archival needs and research needs are quite distinct from merely downloading something from the internet. Future generations, perhaps those after a disaster that renders all digital information inaccessible, and proprietary information that is not available on the internet outside of subscription based services are the two biggest “reasons” for the continuance of libraries, which have existed since shortly after the invention of script,” Nancy Hill.