Profession: Librarian Technical brilliance and social responsibility

Librarians ensure an user-oriented information transfer.
Librarians ensure an user-oriented information transfer. | Photo (detail): © SLUB Dresden/Henrik Ahlers CC BY-SA 4.0

Data librarian, media manager and agent of integration: the remit of a librarian is more multifarious than ever. With such different demands, can the librarian still have a unified professional profile at all?

A Syrian girl riffles through picture books before her mother’s German course begins in the town library of Ahrensburg: public libraries in Germany have become important agents of integration for refugees and asylum seekers. At the Goethe-Institut Beijing, a Chinese Germanist calls up literature databases to which German academic libraries grant access even without university affiliation: “free access” is one of the technical and ethical values in the librarian’s professional canon. In Qatar, a Berlin-based library director is setting up the Qatar National Library: in order to preserve the cultural and intellectual heritage of a nation even under difficult conditions, and to guide it through the digital transformation into the future, librarians have developed special methods for data structures and information access. A circle of friends is fighting for the “open library”, which gives the 6,000 inhabitants of the town of Glücksburg on the Baltic Sea intermedial access even outside opening hours, which have been reduced to ten hours per week: to ensure library services that are close to the public outside the big cities is likewise an important part of the librarian’s professional profile.

Libraries are re-defining themselves

The examples show that the librarian’s range of duties is oriented to foreseeable political, technical, demographic and social developments, and that he or she would like at the same time to influence them positively. Because now, after the outdated apocalyptic visions of the end of books, of the battle between analogue and digital storage, of the disappearance of open meeting places for encountering knowledge and culture, libraries are catching their breath and re-defining themselves.

Students are working at the SLUB Dresden Students are working at the SLUB Dresden | Photo (detail): © SLUB Dresden/Henrik Ahlers, CC BY-SA 4.0 With such different demands, can the librarian still have a unified professional profile at all? Professional associations, educational centres and workplace descriptions focus on the constant updating of core competences such as IT technology, media management and user-oriented information transfer, and on additional specialization in scientific, cultural and social areas. This new composition of library knowledge, skills and methods, depending on the tasks on the ground and on the Net, is also intended to bring the worlds of academic and public libraries, long separated in Germany, into relation to one another.

Serving an open society

If new data librarians find, process, order and structure data and documents mainly in digital form, they also develop standards of quality for their colleagues “on the spot”. Thus, in accordance with the new professional profile, specializations such as the support of research and teaching or of children’s, young people’s and school libraries serve a common librarial purpose: the unrestricted, non-commercial provision of digital as well as analogue media for clearly defined tasks in an open society.

Stuttgart Municipal Library Stuttgart Municipal Library | Photo (detail): © Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart (yi architects)/Martin Lorenz The principle of the library can be misused. Its democratic effect can unfold, whether at research libraries of outstanding universities or children’s libraries at social flashpoints, only in interplay with a framework of freedom.

Political changes allow for no stagnation

What may impress as technical perfection and can be understood as publication practice for everyone, demands consequences for uncensored information access, fair copyright rules and a redefinition of libraries as responsible data producers, moderators and coaches. The political changes of the past few years also allow for no stagnation. The international programme of libraries has hitherto been dominated by Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian models. Alone the rapid developments of emerging states and the wars in the Near East, however, have confronted the Western democracies with people and ideologies whose ideas of information, knowledge and culture follow different maxims. To this change the present training must respond.

Range of variation in training

Content as well as the range of variation in training owing to German cultural federalism are under close scrutiny. Nationwide, there are three levels of professional library work:
  • training for the higher civil service, regulated according to official status and requiring a university degree and a period of training as a librarian;
  • courses of study at universities and polytechnic colleges, regulated according to bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes, with access to specialized fields of work for librarians and in the context of upper-grade civil service employment; and
  • dual training of specialized employees and middle-grade civil service staff.
Sustainability of education as a librarian Sustainability of education as a librarian | Photo (detail): © yossarian6 - Fotolia The profession of librarian also consists in the factors of educational qualification, activity characteristics and tariff or tariff-like scale-related payment. The various facets of digital and socially oriented library and information work have re-defined, combined and, in the case of special or short-term requirements, ignored these factors. The state-run courses specialized in libraries and information in Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, Cologne, Leipzig and Stuttgart stand for further development and innovation, but also for the sustainability of education as a librarian. They possess the necessary relation to practice, can realize projects with third-party funding and offer potential students a transparent profile in teaching, research and further education. As departments and faculties of universities, they also offer interdisciplinary cooperation.

Old rights and new opportunities

In addition, more and more courses of study in IT, media science, social sciences and cultural management are discovering the work field of libraries. Many libraries already employ their graduates. Aren’t IT specialists at least as qualified to process research data as are graduates of specialist courses with a library-oriented IT competence? Doesn’t the social worker find a function alongside the experienced media contents expert in libraries? Those who insist on old rights will miss new opportunities.

It is no accident that IFLA, the world organization for libraries and their employees, has moved professional ethics and further education into the focus of its programme and performance standards. Databases, book holdings, experts and breath-taking library architecture mean little if they are not consistent with the will and the ability to contribute to general prosperity in freedom.