In the current digital age, it’s easy to overlook the importance of librarians, but they are some of the most passionate, dedicated, and hardworking people in our communities. They play a vital role in ensuring that everyone has access to information and often serve as teachers, research assistants and social workers.
What role does today's librarian play?
The integration of modern technology into public libraries has not eliminated the need for librarians; rather, it has forced them to adapt, taking on new and unexpected roles, such as building personal protective equipment for healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abrupt changes in external circumstances like the pandemic and increased expectations of technological know-how highlight a librarian’s resilience and adaptability at both the neighborhood and government levels.
Librarians are responsible for acquiring, organizing, preserving, and providing access to modern, often high-tech, information resources, as well as promoting media literacy. But they are also leaders within the community, recognizing its needs and striving to find resources such as library grants and other funding to implement solutions. Many do this with no formal leadership training or professional business experience.
Community-building at the public library
Librarians also serve as social workers. Many times, a librarian is the first point of contact for community members experiencing homelessness or struggling with addiction. They seek ways to demonstrate compassion and connect these individuals with traditional and online services to help them get back on their feet.
From story times for young children to summer reading programs for elementary-school students and computer-skills classes for seniors, a public library offers a variety of educational programs for patrons of all ages, many of which are designed to improve literacy rates.
A librarian is often responsible for developing the curricula for these programs, selecting materials, and even teaching the classes. They also serve as research assistants, helping library patrons find reliable information for school papers or work projects.
Libraries serve as a support system
Public libraries aren’t just places to check out books; they’re also community centers. Libraries provide access to information, perhaps to outside resources that incorporate content from thousands of publications from around the world, and they also serve as a support system in many communities.
Many libraries offer materials for job seekers or those wanting to start their own business, helping new immigrants become citizens, and guiding people seeking healthcare to available assistance, including digital platforms and local clinics. Some librarians facilitate recovery efforts by offering assistance after a natural disaster or local crisis.
Librarians as community leaders
Librarians must work with government officials at all levels to ensure that their libraries are adequately funded and that resources are available to provide quality services to their communities. They promote public health by providing resources on a number of topics — nutrition, physical activity, and mental health issues, for example.
By identifying unique needs and developing complementary programming, librarians help create stronger communities.
Yuliana Aceves, for example, led virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep her Arlington, Texas, neighborhood engaged and helped implement the “Stories to Our Children” program, which allows parents to share their heritage and culture in a unique way.
Jenn Bacall introduced low-income children in Houston to the library through recreational activities like skateboarding, while Tammi Moe works to broaden her library’s reach within the Indigenous American community in Gallup, New Mexico.
Acknowledgment goes a long way
Being a librarian is a full-time job, yet much that these individuals do in their communities often goes unnoticed. Finding and nominating a librarian for a local, national, or international award is one way of showing thanks for their many efforts.
The following organizations offer awards to recognize librarians and the important role they play in their communities. For local alternatives, search organizations within your state or county that honor librarians or those committed to community work.
The American Library Association offers a comprehensive list of professional recognition awards for library staff. Some examples include the ALA Medal of Excellence for creative leadership, the IS Innovation Award for creative or unique approaches to information-literacy education, and the Academic/Research Librarian of the Year Award. In addition, its Library Instruction Roundtable (LIRT) Librarian Recognition Award acknowledges librarians’ contributions to information literacy and instruction at the local, regional, national, and/or international levels.
The I Love Libraries initiative recognizes librarians who demonstrate a commitment to diversity, literacy, and digital access.
The Global Librarians’ Award recognizes librarians who adopt innovative services to help their communities in unique ways.
For Canadian libraries, the CARL Award for Distinguished Service to Research Librarianship awards individuals who have made significant contributions to research librarianship through their continued leadership and engagement.
The Michael E. DeBakey Medical Library Services Outreach Award recognizes health science librarians who establish partnerships within rural or underserved populations.
Library Journal details multiple awards available for librarians making a difference in their communities.
Organizations like Communitas Awards reward service of all types, but there is a nomination fee.
Building community, one step at a time
Librarians wear many hats, from educators to social workers to technology experts. For many libraries, the funding required to meet their users' needs is difficult to secure. This forces library staff to be innovative as well as receptive to creative approaches, even when it means more work on their part. From story time to community events, librarians put their mark on all they touch.
Librarians are an essential part of our communities. The next time you visit your library, be sure to thank the librarians for all they do. Along with offering personal thanks, consider nominating them for an award. Their commitment to their communities and their continued efforts to serve others deserve to be recognized.
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