Written by on August 15, 2018

Working as a Librarian in the 21st Century

From the rise of smartphones to the use of online databases, life as it was thirty years ago, life without Facebook and the iPhone, is merely a memory in the minds of an older generation. With new technology, librarians are a particularly interesting group of professionals whose jobs have changed alongside our developing world.

“I often have students that say ‘I’ve never checked out a book,’ like there’s something wrong with that,” Katherine O’Clair said, the librarian for the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences at Cal Poly. “We provide resources and we provide them in a multitude of ways. So maybe that student has never checked out a book, but I wonder if they have ever downloaded an eBook.”

Some fields have been less impacted than others, but O’Clair has seen the changes first-hand. O’Clair has been the college librarian at Cal Poly for 9 years. Before that, she was a librarian at Arizona State University for five and has worked for 16 years in higher education.

“No day is typical,” O’Clair said when asked about what she does at work. “Today I did a workshop for the new first year and transfer students on the football team. Yesterday I did a lot of recruitment work for the administration office.”

O’Clair’s role as a librarian has changed over time, and she loves that about her job.“It used to be that 30 years ago people came into the library to get their books, their journals, something to read, and then they left,” she said. “But now I do a lot of teaching within my college, and I do a lot of research consultations with students.”

“I went into this job because I like people.” O’Clair continued. “My best days are when I get to interact with students. A lot of the work I do here is providing students with research guides.”

Information science and communication technology have digitized library resources, and totally rewrote the old definition of a librarian from “document preserver” to “knowledge manager,” or “knowledge mediator.”

“I learned how to use a card catalog a long time ago,” O’Clair said.  I am kind of amazed we were able to find anything in elementary school.” Librarians like O’Clair are facing unique challenges because information has become so readily available online.
“During this past summer I have done a lot of work examining the resources in the library and seeing which ones we no longer need,” O’Clair said. Instead of a librarian pointing us to the in-house copy of a newspaper, we can find that magazine online. We expect a librarian to help us navigate a database to find it. And they do at Kennedy Library.

“This year I was especially looking at new eBook packages and electronic journals to buy,” she said. “People assume I’m partial to books because I am a librarian. But I’m not.” In this way, librarians have changed alongside the technological advancements reinventing how we receive information.

It will be interesting to see what input the librarians have about the organization of resources and books in the coming years. “You see the architecture of this building still lends itself to books. These pillars here, every 22.5 ft., they were put up to support the weight of books we no longer house,” O’Clair said.

O’Clair stressed how dedicated her and her fellow library faculty are to student success. Faculty work to keep databases up to date, and with a little insider knowledge, or an appointment with a college librarian, that knowledge is spread to students and beyond.

Contact one of Kennedy Library’s college librarians and specialists for your research questions!

One comment on “Working as a Librarian in the 21st Century
  1. Kyle says:

    Informative article! The influence of the books on the library’s architecture was a great closing.

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