Worth Reading: The Heart of Librarianship

Career Blog

Published: December 9, 2016 by Kate M. Spaulding

Winter break is a great time to read Dr. Michael Stephens’ most recent book, The Heart of Librarianship.

Dr. Michael Stephens’ most recent book, The Heart of Librarianship, is best read like a book of short stories – slowly and piece by piece. It’s a collection of the “Office Hours” columns he writes for Library Journal. And although Stephens has done a good job of weaving them together, you really should give yourself some breathing room between sections. A good approach might be to read a bit with your morning cuppa, for example.

Obviously, I am a student, and I think this book has value for me and my peers, but I also think it will have value for LIS professionals who have been a part of the profession for years or decades. Professor Stephens’ underlying theme might be best summed up in his own words:

“I’d argue for two vital traits that will serve librarians well throughout their careers. Longtime librarians, mid-career folks, new hires, and students, I’m talking to you! The traits are simple yet pack a powerful punch: curiosity and creativity.” (p. 34).

This push to be a lifelong learner shows up time and time again throughout the essays. Whether he’s encouraging us to embrace new technologies, or craft an elevator pitch that promotes libraries and librarians in the Age of Google, or figure out how to use MOOCs in our library, Stephens asks us again, and again, to keep questioning, keep innovating, and keep exploring.

Of special interest to many students, perhaps, are his “considerations for prospective librarians” (p. 51). Stephens tells us it is critical to both our own personal success and the success of the profession that we move beyond “I like books” when asked why we want to be a librarian. We should do a better and more thorough self-assessment and figure out, specifically, what we want to accomplish. His big hints: your goal should include both interpersonal communication and technology; gone are the days of a librarian hiding in the stacks.

So, in that spirit, here are a few potential answers. Maybe one of them fits you and your future career better than “I like books.”

  • You want to teach kids or teens how to identify reliable sources of information online. 
  • You want to teach tech literacy in your community.
  • You want to use technology to record your community’s oral history.
  • You want to teach the next generation of librarians.
  • You want to find ways to serve the populations your library isn’t already serving.

I urge you to read The Heart of Librarianship (winter break is a great time!) and think about Michael Stephens’ lessons and how they apply to you and your career. Perhaps self-reflection will lead to inspiration. Practical me says to take that inspiration, conduct some informational interviews, and plot out your next career steps. The romantic in me, however, hopes that inspiration will turn out to be the heart of your own librarianship.


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