Librarians – Ensuring data can be found so that it is used.

Having searched many times for books at home and not always finding them, I appreciate the work of librarians on a practical level. In a library I have always been able to find the book I was looking for, even a few weeks ago when I was at the MacOdrum library late on a Sunday night and a staff member found the book I needed in a basement office.

Libraries are places that collect, store and preserve information. Just as important, libraries catalog information so that it can be found and used. As a young teenager when I went to the library I knew to look under catalog number 737 for books about coin collecting, my major hobby back then. Science fiction and fantasy books were stored together so that I could easily look at books by different authors within the same genre. If I liked an author, it was easy to find other books they wrote. These simple tasks in the library were possible because librarians had a systematic means to organize content that could be easily used by a person like me, a non-librarian.

Without considering the operational effort to purchase, shelve and house items in a library, there is also tremendous skill that is required in how a library is organized in order to make it seem easy to use to a thirteen year old. As mentioned above, libraries have long had classification systems for non-fiction books, such as the well known Dewey-decimal system, and conventions for organizing fiction books. Yet as long standing as these organization systems have been, they continue to change in the library. Carleton University’s MacOdrum Library uses the Library of Congress Classification System, consider the recent changes to how information would be classified under these categories:

TK7800-8360 Electronics
TK7885-7895 Computer engineering. Computer hardware
TK8300-8360 Photoelectronic devices (General)

Librarians continue to deal with new information even as they maintain a consistent way to access it.

Another skill librarians have is knowing how to provide information through a library while also protecting the rights of authors and publishers who have sold material to the library under specific conditions of use.  Although not directly related to libraries, Cory Doctorow’s article, The Coming Civil War over General Purpose Computing, touches on the concepts of Digital Rights Management that librarians must deal with as the amount of electronic media in libraries grows from electronic books, to journals, music, videos, software and even 3d printers.

Librarians have become users and developers of databases as well as search tools to find items in them.  HIST3814o class members @angelachiesa and @bethanypehora discussed whether something has historical value if it could not be found. Extending this idea to search tools bears thinking about by librarians.  A search tool can confer value to a piece of information by putting it at the top of the list of results.  A flawed search tool can destroy value by not displaying information items in a library that are relevant to what a researcher is looking for, as the MacOdrum Library’s electronic search tool Summon is purported to do.

Where I work we have a library that is accessible by the public.  Co-workers of mine and I have discussed if we should have a library anymore. In this electronic age, we should be able to just Google information.  The space occupied by the physical book collection we have should be used for something else more innovative.  That is how one argument goes. However, as the amount and types of information available to us continues to grow, the need for skilled people to collect, organize, curate and make visible information is greater than ever. Many of those skilled people are librarians and they work in libraries.



Leave a Reply