Changing Roles

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By: Ellen Fisher

November 11, 2014

When faced with an economic downturn different librarians are affected in different ways. Public and academic librarians find themselves faced with increased use and decreased funding. Public librarians have to get creative with programming and provide more job-finding services to meet the demands of patrons. School librarians are fighting for their jobs and have to make it known just how valuable they are. These circumstances allow librarians of all types to move the library in new directions using new technologies to meet user needs.
Public libraries play an important role in the community during times of recession. Users come to the library for free entertainment and job training skills. Additionally, libraries provide a safe place for teenagers to hang out when home internet is no longer an option for their family. Many users are just looking for a way to get out of the house and libraries provide an abundance of free entertainment. With the loss of funding, librarians are faced with decisions about how to best allocate resources. Reducing hours of operations, cutting staff, and decreased funding for books are just a few of the areas that can be affected. And all these solutions are difficult to put into place because in the end, they hurt the users in a time when the library is most needed.

 School librarians are fighting for their jobs. Many schools see the librarian as dispensable. Teachers can take over in classroom instruction and this saves school districts money. Many school librarians are required to oversee various libraries across their district, which involves instructing various age groups with not enough time and resources. Being able to prove their worth to the school district and the children is key for school librarians to keep their job. In a 2012 article, Michelle Luhtalg offers steps for school librarians to promote their achievements to anyone who will listen. She suggests to start by creating a baseline for measuring success. This can be done by documenting the library program and what students are learning. The next step is to set realistic goals for the library. A good way to do this is by setting incremental goals for growth. Keeping track of the classes visited, circulation statistics, professional development programs, and collection analysis statistics and database usage are areas where small goals can be set to work on increases. It is also important for school librarians to work with teachers on meeting set goals. Learning which skills are most important for students to learn will give school librarians a good map of ways to increase learner participation. Lastly, using web 2.0 tools gives school librarians a way to show achievements in student learning. Luthalg says online communication expands instructional reach and opportunities to assess learning. She also stresses the importance of publishing findings about impact, saying this is what “saves jobs.”
In the case of academic librarians, proving their value to the institution is important like it is for school librarians. In a 2013 article, Geoffrey Little writes about the impact lost funding takes on academic libraries. Librarians have to take the initiative to reach out to other departments to make skills and usefulness of the library known. Partnering with faculty on research projects, grant applications, and data management can be beneficial to both the librarian and faculty. Another way librarians can reach out is by surveying students about adapting the library into a more useful space. He says increasing electronic resources and collaboration are ways librarians can best deal with a loss of funding.
Technology is the way this can all be achieved. Public librarians offer computer training classes to users of all ages. They can reach out to communities using free social media websites. Technology offers the greatest advantages to school librarians. Part of their job is to teach these tools to school-aged children. School librarians can prove their worth to the community and school districts by creating a strong web presence that involves the students in the creation process. Proof of improved computer skills, learned technologies, and community outreach are all ways that school librarians can secure their jobs for the future.

Little, Geoffrey. “Necessity as the Mother of Invention: Library Technology in the New Economy”. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, v40, 2014, p43-44.

Luhtalg, Michelle. “Rocking Your Library World: Strategies for Success in a Tough Economy. Knowledge Quest, v40 n3, Jan 2010 p14-19.


4 thoughts on “Changing Roles

  1. I definitely agree with this blog entry as I can relate to the issues that are highlighted in my work. The only problem I have with this is not because I think that when resources such as technology is available, customers and patrons can achieve their goals, wants and needs. However, the problem lies in how the fact that patrons and customers come into the library not knowing how to use technology, and sometimes cannot read or write. The lack of skills to even get to using a computer is a problem, therefore, libraries are now facing the problem of needing to provide programs, classes, activities to help the community learn how the necessary skills to further their professional and lifelong development. Lack of skills isn’t solely based on one particular group as many would think, i.e. people 50 and older can’t even turn on a computer. I find that there are a handful of children and teenagers that are coming from situations where they don’t have a cell phone, tablet, or a computer at home.


    • Rachel Esguerra says:

      I completely agree, Joyce! It’s great that these computers and resources are there but many of them don’t know how to use it and they expect us to be able to walk them through how to write an e-mail or print a document. Fortunately, in our new building we partnered up with a community college that does basic computer literacy classes for free and those bad boys fill up!


  2. Faren Watson says:


    Your post brought to mind the Rodger article we read earlier this semester “What’s a Library’s Worth?” Though library services are very important, especially to those communities that do not have access to certain resources in their own home, it is still seen as a place that can be easily replaced or cut. I remember Rodger’s article mentioning how libraries are a part of a larger entity and the library are highly dependent on that entity. I think that a lot of people view libraries this way, and if the library can use the methods you stated above (e.g. “creating a baseline for measuring success”) then it would definitely give communities a better visual of the libraries worth and the importance for it to remain in communities.


  3. Linda says:

    Ellen, I enjoyed your article. When I started library school 10 years ago I chose to go into the public arena knowing the pay would be less than, let’s say, the corporate world and as you mentioned the challenge of increased demand for services vs decreases in funding would be ongoing. I wasn’t wrong. The good news is I’ve seen more hiring of librarians in the last 2 years than in the previous 5 since I earned my MLIS 7 years ago. The not so good news is that the vast majority of the positions are part-time, non-benefited and hourly. Many of us work in multiple library systems and often multiple locations within the system. Needless to say, it’s a complex field but I sleep good at night knowing that each day I helped someone in need connect to a service or benefit which could significantly help their situation.


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