Thursday, July 19, 2007

An interesting thing happened today...

This morning, I visited my local 7-11 to buy a coffee. I was wearing my supercool LIS tshirt, and the middle-aged clerk behind the counter asked me, "How is library science going?"

I replied that it was going well.

He then proceeded to tell me how he was going to go into library science but decided not to because he thought there was no future in it. It was a dead-end.

Well, it took me a few seconds to realize that I was a litte bit offended that this stranger was talking down about my profession.

He then told me that everything is on the internet now. I really didn't want to argue the finer points of what is and what is not on the internet; I just wanted my coffee. Later I thought of all the different answers I could have given him from rude buzz-offs to sacchrine pleadings to learn what the library really has to offer. Instead I took the safe route and hurriedly answered, "Not everything."

His next comment was that he uses the library, the library at his home, which he apparently spends $50 a month (or was it $50 a week?) at the bookstore on. I told him that I haven't bought a book in years.

"Well, they don't have everything," he replied.

"Some library, somewhere has what you need" I said, as I walked out the door.


This same evening, a seemingly simple virtual reference questioned was posed to "my" library, "What did Douglas McGregor die of in 1964?"

Hmm. Well, the internet certainly helped me narrow down which Douglas McGregor I should be researching, but his cause of death was nowhere to be found amongst all those html files. I tried all kinds of keyword combinations, free and fee resources, different search engines, but the answer eluded me. (Perhaps, if I was at the library, I could break policy and search through indices and microform for a newspaper obituary - spending an inordinate amount of time finding the answer to one person's question at the expense of other patrons.)

My colleague, I discovered, was also searching in vain for the answer, and she had reference books at her disposal. Still nothing.

Although we never did find the definitive answer (we did find a couple of promising referrals), I answered a much more personal question that I had been asking myself all day: "Is what I do 'dead-end'? Do I have a future?"

All I needed to help me answer this existential investigation that I'd been tossing about for a few hours was one question that I could not answer, one patron that posed one seemingly innocuous query that the internet, encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, and biographies could not answer. I don't always have the fast answer, the simplest answer, the right answer, or even the answer at all. But I'm always there to pose the question to, and I'll do my best to help you find the answer using all of the tricks up my sleeve.

Is what I do "dead-end", "no future"? Not until people stop asking questions, using computers, reading books, coming to classes, writing papers, and needing resources that they don't even know exist.

And when that happens, I can always be a clerk at 7-11.


  • Boy, did I get a good chuckle out of a 7-11 employee telling you your job was dead end! The irony is so delicious!

    No, what we're doing isn't dead-end. And don't let any chump tell you otherwise.

    Still laughing about 7-11 guy. I think it's time I went to get me a slurpee and have some words. I'll be wearing my super cool SAA shirt ;)

    By Blogger Eva G., At Thursday, July 19, 2007  

  • It's the same thing I say to my family when they ask me why the heck I've chosen this field... "There will always be dumb people looking to get smarter." (It's the simplest way to explain it to a bunch of people who just don't get it.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At Friday, July 20, 2007  

  • Hey! That was me!

    Maybe to enjoy a true existential moment about what life as a librarian means you need to look at your coincidences...please tell me that you have seen I heart Huckabees, or this makes no sense. If you have never seen it, do.

    I know what you mean about trying to think about what our field is about.

    By Blogger Manda, At Friday, August 03, 2007  

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