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The Real Poop

Face it. You really want to be a librarian. Not a doctor or lawyer or high-tech guru-geek.

A librarian.

Why?

Because you're the go-to person for finding out stuff. Any kind of stuff.

Your sources are always gold-plated correct. You sneer at your classmates whose info starts and stops with Wikipedia. Or, worse: "Hey, it was on the Internet, so, yeah…."

Yeah? Is that lame or what?

Face it.

You're an information junkie. Dredging the facts is your own, personal, (mostly) legal addiction.

Information.

You. Have. To. Have. It.

And you have to share it.

Face it.

Facebook "like" it.

You have the soul of a librarian.org.

In this data-fat world, the librarian remains the uber-overseer of information. In some parts of the world, likely where Nerds reign as King, they call it "media." Not to be confused with Medea.

"Media" includes books, tapes, movies, websites, mashups—in short, anything that can be classified, tracked and cataloged. With courage like Indie Jones, librarians navigate through forests of unreliable information—like when your GPS system relies on Mapquest data to get you there.

The key to success? Getting the information…by any means necessary.

It goes something like this:

Quest: to search through 6-inch-thick reference volumes on dinosaur anatomy to discern whether the Brontosaurus had wisdom teeth. (Were they smart? Did dentists in The Day use anesthesia?)

We believe that's a Flossosaurus in the background.

No luck. Next: an online and offline romp through stuff like "Historical Biology" and "Dinosaurs: A Concise Natural History," dissecting the life and limbs of our long-dead, fossilized friend the Apatosaurus (its new name since 1999). The answer is Revealed.

Nope, no wisdom teeth. Just a snout with clusters of itty-bitty pointy teeth.

Victory.

Quest: Clicking through screen after screen of an online newspaper database to learn when the chinchilla fur-shearers walked off the job to protest stingy wages and itchy working conditions in 1898 Ecuador. No easy Google query for this esoteric historical tidbit. Some information exists—only behind a paywall, where microfiches of the newspapers of yesteryear live online.

As for that 1898 strike?

Answer: Never happened

Victory.

fBut librarians do not live by data alone. There’s that niggling issue for all you lovers of research.

People.

You gotta deal with John (or Jane, or both) Q. Public, plus your co-workers and your bosses. Most of your long days involve face time with humans.

Yes, even if you have a master's degree in library science—that's in addition to that undergraduate degree in art history—it really, really helps to have a PhD in People Skills.

If you live in an area where libraries are still frequented, people will be coming at you…in your face every minute of the day. If it's not your colleagues getting on your case about refining that database on edible insects, it'll be that library patron asking you deep questions like: "Oh, I'm thinking about writing about vampire cats. Do they exist? Or, uh, maybe I was thinking about bats. Oh, no, gnats. Vampire something, but I do know that the second word rhymes with 'cats.' Can you help me out, please?"

In the perfect librarian world, Ms. Perfect Librarian will take a deep breath, count to 3, and in that perfect Zen moment remind herself: "There’s no such thing as a dumb question."

"Just dumb questioners!" her subconscious could yell back at her. But in this perfect world, there is no such thing as a subconscious. Or an id, for that matter.

True introverts may find themselves archiving dusty remnants of ancient tomes in the sub-sub-basements of the few remaining libraries that have dusty sub-basements. Or reshelving books. But there’s hope for the introverts. Miles and miles of shelves of books and rows of card catalogs have given way to that ton of information and media living in the innards of computers.

So you introverts, zero in on your computer skills. The online archives. The databases. The websites. Introverts can take a deep dive into creating databases, developing and indexing databases of what the library's got. As they build those databases on things like botany and taxonomy, these librarian introverts can commune with HTML, PHP, CSS, Dreamweaver, RSS. It’s acronym heaven. And not a heck of a lot of people around to mess it up.

But hey, you extroverts, you can ramp up your people time by teaching classes for all those knowledge seekers. Classes can be anything from "Computer basics for the pencil and paper crowd" to “Online financial newsletters for folks who want to get rich.” Storytelling for kids, teaching adults to read—there are lots of feel-good activities that will keep a librarian busy.

People seeking information. It's just all part of the job. Helping patrons out of their research dead-ends. Sitting at desk checking books in and out, and out and in, and...collecting fines, often from protesting, pesky people who dredge up imaginative excuses on why the books are 10 weeks overdue and why they shouldn't be charged one red cent. Renewing library cards. Issuing library cards. Choosing what goes into the library collection. Admin stuff, like hiring and firing folks. The list is endless.

You'll never get bored.*

*Statement does not comprise a guarantee in any form or part from Shmoop, its affiliates, or any other parties related to Shmoop University.

Librarians have been doing this stuff for as long as there have been libraries, and that's been more than a couple of millennia, maybe before recorded history. Ancient Alexandria, in Egypt, had a grand library. It's where many a gentle kiss happened between the stacks. Too bad it burned down in 46 B.C., incinerating the works of many ancient scribes. Boy howdy, that papyrus can burn.

This pretty much speaks for itself. (Wait—what's it say?)

Benjamin Franklin came up with the lending library in the American colonies in the 18th century—it is, however, not known if he charged late fees for overdue books.

Then the numbers came calling. In 1876, a Mr. Melvil Dewey invented a way to classify all knowledge—and, by extension, books—by number. His system is called the Dewey Decimal System. Mr. Dewey was in love with "10s": 10 categories, each divided into 10 divisions, each, in turn, divided into 10 sections. As we said, lots of 10s here. Every subject is assigned a number. Every book has a number. Interested in folktales? Look under 398 or 398.2.

Libraries used to hum with conversations like:

Humble Library Patron: "Sir, I'm looking for a book on paintings with the theme of basket-weaving."

Officious Librarian: "The 700s are on the 10th floor, second stack to your right." (Hint: The arts books are classified from 700 to 799.)

Finding books was a numbers game, back in the day.

When computers moved in, the catalogs began to disappear, replaced by information accessible with the click of a mouse.

But the libraries survive and proliferate with librarians who often go by other names. A librarian could exist as an “information technician” in the windowless back room at a law firm hovering over computer screens of legal research databases. Or, librarians could be the phalanx of dressed-down custodians of knowledge at the local public library pushing carts back and forth through the stacks, reshelving dog-eared books in overcrowded rows.

The bean-counting bureaucrats at the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that about a third of librarians ply their trade in elementary schools and high schools, close to a third work in local government, about 20 percent toil in universities, and the rest work everywhere else.

The pay isn't going to buy you a McMansion, but it is a living wage, sort of, in the mid-50s, that is, $50k. But the work is rewarding, if you land a job. This being America, the competition for library jobs is bracing. Those Washington bean-counters predict sluggish job growth for librarians for the next few years, about a 7 percent increase.

What does it take to become a librarian, the keeper of the flame of human knowledge?

To paraphrase Mark Twain, author and known wit (for his day), the reports of the death of libraries have been greatly exaggerated. Libraries are morphing, that's all. Instead of physical books as the main event at libraries, it's information—in whatever form—that's the big deal. Reference material online. Catalogs online. And information in the form of videos, PowerPoint presentations. Classes. Books now have to share the spotlight. Librarians are all about linking us, the public, to information and not necessarily to information found only in books.

School, and more school. You have to slog through college, get that bachelor's degree. But then, there's more. To get a crack at a good job, or, these days, any job at all, you should get a master’s in library science, or for the really hard-core, a PhD. That’s a lot of schooling, and you can look forward to the joy of taking courses like archiving. Or how about a foreign language? Credentialing doesn't end there; some states want their librarians certified (in the good way). If you want to be a school librarian, you might need a teaching certificate. The paperwork can go on and on and on.

But when you get out, you've got your choices.

Kind of, Sort of, Semi-Related Careers:

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