I recently came back from a week’s vacation in which I attended a wedding, stayed with some old friends, and spent some quality time with a mentor from early in my library career. It was a lovely trip, very grounding, in the way that checking in with people who have known you a long time can be, and it wasn’t until I had been home for a while that I realized I’d visited three librarians, each at a different point in their careers, each with a distinctly different area of focus. It made me reflect on the wide variety of libraries and librarians in the world, and how fortunate I am to know so many.
The first librarian I visited was one of the people getting married. She’s a GIS and Map Librarian at a university, assisting students and faculty in earth sciences and related fields. The second librarian is working on their Masters’ of Library Science with a goal of working in medical libraries. They have a special interest in public health and ensuring public access to accurate information. The third librarian I visited is a retired children’s librarian who taught me (when I was brand-new to the field) how to keep a group of new parents and their babies and toddlers engaged while teaching them rhymes and games to support the growth of early literacy skills.
So that’s a map librarian, a health librarian, and a children’s librarian, all in one week. How many kinds of librarians could there be, you might ask? So many! There’s a librarian for almost any type of information and media. Generally, the field is separated into Academic, Public, School, and Special Librarians, with subdivisions within those groups—figures that librarians would have an organizational system for themselves.
Quick note: Of course, librarians are only a small part of the staff of a library. No library could function without the teams of people who check materials in and out, shelve them so they can be found, answer all sorts of questions, and are often the first to welcome people into the library.
Colleges and universities have Academic Librarians, serving students, staff, and faculty. Larger institutions will have multiple libraries and specialized librarians who focus on an area of study, such as Science, Music, or Law. Many academic librarians hold at least two advanced degrees, a Masters’ of Library Science and a degree in their area of specialty.
Public Librarians include those you see when you visit your local JCLS branch, busy serving different age groups, answering questions, recommending books, and leading programs and events, as well as those who work behind the scenes to select the materials we add to our collection and catalog them so they can be found. They also can include librarians who serve specialized populations like teachers and small business owners through appointments and outreach. Public libraries are available to everyone in a community.
As well as expertly matching the right book to the right kid at the right time, School Librarians support teachers’ curricular needs and work with reading specialists to help elementary school students build their reading skills. In middle and high schools, they are instrumental in teaching research and critical thinking skills, which are particularly important in a world full of easily accessible information and misinformation.
Special Librarians are a bit like Academic Librarians, in that they focus on a specific topic or type of collection, but they are found in many places other than universities as well. Courts and some law firms have law librarians to help those practicing law find and understand the precedents for their cases. Corporations can have business librarians to do market research and help look for opportunities. In the interest of supporting local businesses and workers, JCLS has a Business Librarian. Anyone can contact her for advice on business-related topics. There are government document librarians, film librarians, art, music, and theater librarians. There are medical librarians, religious librarians, prison librarians, and, as I mentioned at the beginning, map librarians. There are archivists of many specialties, from local history and genealogy, to zines, to digital resources. And don’t forget the National Archives, repository of our country’s most important official records.
For every type of information, there is a librarian to organize it and make it usable. Libraries vary, depending on their content, their purpose, and their users, but they are all dedicated to making sense out of chaos and connecting people with the books and information they need. Like so many things, the more you learn about libraries, the more you realize there is to know. Librarians and library staff of all stripes are ready to help you in your explorations.