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Rich Gause - Personal Page: Philosophy of Librarianship

Rich Gause's Philosophy of Librarianship


The joys of librarianship
come from the endless opportunities
to learn new things and to teach others.
Be passionate about whatever you do.

Interview with LexisNexis

Podcast December 28, 2009 (iTunes version) (Released 05 January 2010) alternate access -- Jennifer Matheny interviews Rich Gause, the Government Information Librarian from the University of Central Florida. They talk about Rich's study guides, his opinions on the way the library is or isn't changing, and the myth of the "21st century librarian."

Know Your Collection

Do more than just focus on your assigned subject area; learn something about the whole library.  Know its strengths.  Know its weaknesses.  Know its hidden treasures.  The practice of librarianship is neither abstract concepts nor Boolean operators.  Some fresh librarians never seem to go near the print resources and some experienced librarians still shy away from newfangled electronic resources.  Don’t fall into either trap.  Blow the dust off the old tomes, power up the microform reader, or pull the really skinny books off the shelf to see how much can be hidden inside 20-60 pages.  Explore circulating books, journals, audiovisual items, maps, special collections, file cabinets, and other nooks and crannies.  Look at new resources that are acquired with an eye towards what they add to the current mix.  Browse through the reshelving bins to get a sense of what your patrons are actually using.  Spend at least a little time exploring each of your electronic databases.  Actually look at the help and FAQ files, try some sample searches, and analyze the descriptors in the results.  Examine Internet resources to determine what gaps they fill or how they provide clues that lead back to your collection's resources.

It is not possible for anyone to know every detail about every resource in any medium-sized or larger library.  But one of the major values of having librarians in the library is the guidance brought to the research process.  Any experienced librarian should have some facility for navigating the local resources in his first few months at a new job, but the real treasure is having librarians who have developed an awareness of the local collection through years of hands-on effort.  The experience that hones your skills comes not from the general materials found in almost every library but from the unique odds and ends you discover.  If you move to a new job, take with you the hunting skills that help you find the special bits sooner in the new location.  As you look around at the familiar sources, make a point of noticing the adjacent resources that you've never used before.

Know Your Colleagues

Again, no single person can know everything, but a team of librarians can almost always resolve the most baffling of questions.  Get to know the backgrounds and interests of your colleagues.  What are their specialties?  What flavors do they add to the soup?  If you have to turn a question over to a specialist colleague, follow up later to learn what they used.  Each colleague brings experiences gained both before and after library school.  The librarian with the brand new degree has probably had greater opportunity to read about the latest trends in the field.  New colleagues can provide a fresh eye to critically analyze the way things have always been done.

My personal concentrations are reference and instruction, but I also recognize the contributions made to the profession by librarians who focus on other areas, such as acquisitions, cataloging, circulation, interlibrary loan, preservation, systems support, or administration.  Be conversant with the processes of other specialties.  Talk with these colleagues so that you understand the broader ramifications of seemingly small decisions. Acknowledge the vital roles played by the other individuals working in the library:  computer technicians, programmers, clerks, shelvers, administrators, custodians, student assistants, library technical assistants, etc.

Stay in touch through the years with colleagues as you and they move to new positions at other institutions.  Reminisce, commiserate, network, and continue to learn from each other.  Take advantage of the breadth of experience multiplied.

Know Your Profession

Explore the history of language, writing, books, libraries, computers, and everything else that relates to storing and transferring information.  Think about how Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science apply in the modern library setting.

Internalize the ideals of intellectual freedom and confidentiality.  Spend time pondering issues such as literacy, censorship, copyright, equity of access and privacy.  Recognize how the social and political climates of your institution or community may influence decisions.  Examine your principles and develop skills to educate others.

Avoid isolating yourself within your specialty.  Make a point of learning about other types and sizes of libraries: public, academic, school, prison, corporate, law, medical, etc. Network with a wide variety of individuals from all walks of life.  Attend a conference session out of curiosity rather than because it relates directly to your job.  Study the concerns and practices of related professions such as archivists, historians, records managers, and systems analysts.

Find whatever methods work best for you to keep current and do them regularly.  Talk with colleagues.  Read listservs or journals or webzines.  Take continuing education classes.  Attend conferences and workshops.

Share Your Knowledge

The point of learning everything is to share it with others.  Don't bottle it up inside and don't be miserly when sharing it.  There is no danger of making yourself dispensable.  There will always be new learners and new things for you yourself to learn.  Teach others who express an interest in learning how to find information on their own, and avoid overwhelming the person who just wants a few facts.

Create finding aids, conduct training sessions, or write articles and books.  Engage in discussions face-to-face and through electronic means.  Do more than just attend conferences and workshops -- be an active participant and take on responsibilities within your professional associations.  Get involved in your local community outside the library.  Contribute to the profession in whatever ways suit you.

The aggregate value of thousands of librarians all over the world comes when they each know their local collections well and then share that knowledge.