18 May 2013

A quick note

The essay you are about to read was never published. I wrote it in 2013 as a follow-up to "Sablay", but I never got to post it for some unknown reason; it ended up buried in my archives until I found it in mid-2020.

As those who know me personally know very well, I ended up leaving librarianship in 2014 to pursue a career in technology. Nevertheless, this essay offers a glimpse into my hopes, dreams, and frustrations as a librarian.

Two years ago I wrote an essay about graduating college and starting a career. This would be the long-overdue follow-up. This is quite a long read; please excuse me in advance if you find it boring.

I graduated library school in 2011 still undecided on a definitive career path to take or even something to do for the rest of my life. I did not want to become "just" a librarian, confined to a library and doing things librarians are supposed to do; I wanted to be a different kind of librarian - I wasn't sure how different I'd make it but it definitely had to do with technology. When faced with the need to take the board examination I was greatly hesitant; despite my initial plan to pursue computer science and work for the IT industry, I decided to take the test anyway - but primarily for the sake of not putting four years of library school to waste. We know what happened [link to LLE results], but there were times when I felt I spent too much effort on something I thought wouldn't mean much.

My venture into library science was almost purely accidental, honestly; it was recommended to me as a second option when I applied for the UPCAT. I was aiming to become an electronics engineer; my father and grandfather are both engineers, and I spent much of late childhood and early adolescence dreaming of designing and building electronic stuff for a living. An appreciation of technology and innovative thought ran in my blood; as a kid I often asked my parents to buy me electronic toys, which I eventually took apart to learn how they worked. For a few months I turned an empty drawer in my closet into a little electronics "lab" where I taught myself science concepts that had yet to be discussed in class. I always marveled at humanity's capacity to invent and looked up to people whose efforts led to the things we now take for granted, and I wanted to become one of them given the opportunity.

I loved technology simply because it was cool.

But I ended up not becoming an engineer; instead I became part of a profession that has been hard at work reinventing itself for decades, if not centuries, and with greater effort since the introduction of the World Wide Web at least. Librarianship had to deal with two things: the threat posed by the Internet and innovations in information and communications, and the popular image associated with librarians in general. It impresses me how libraries manage not only to remain relevant but to introduce new ways of serving information to their patrons; for me it is enough proof that librarianship isn't as archaic as I used to think, and at the same time an assurance that my heavy inclination towards technology won't be wasted. I got to work for an academic library as a different breed of librarian; the server rack was my bookshelf, computers were my books, and the various information systems I worked on were perhaps analogues of circulation processes as far as exchanging information is concerned. I was proven wrong in thinking that systems development was a behind-the-scenes job; I spent considerable amounts of time helping users find the information they need and encouraged them to try out front-facing systems before I deployed them.

I must say, my experience as a librarian added a human dimension to my appreciation of technology.

As I went along, my idea of technology became less about awesomeness or "wow" factors, and more about it being a tool for empowerment, development, and fulfillment. People invent things to, first and foremost, address a particular problem, necessity, or desire. The mobile phone was invented to enable people to hold conversations wherever in the world they may be. The Internet was invented to facilitate information exchanges among interconnected computers and devices. Social networking services were invented to serve as bridges between people around the world, allowing for rich communication and better collaboration. Technology drives progress; it moves humanity forward. As a Web (and eventually systems) developer I looked at my work as simply harnessing the power of technology to serve a purpose; but as it turns out that the true value of my work is in its ability to enrich the lives of the people my solutions were built for. I found fulfillment for MakiTV not in the fact that I've managed to build it, or that it ran fine in the course of my research; I found it in the faces of library users at EnggLib who would spend at least a minute watching whatever was on our installations there and how delighted student organizations were when they learned they could have their events announced for free.

This "next chapter" of my life has turned to be a soul-searching journey.

I find the "managing information resources" definition of librarianship too limiting, and I hated to think of the profession that way. Sure, it's about getting, organizing, offering, and eventually getting rid of information resources, but I think it's not about the materials themselves. My vision of a librarian is a professional whose primary objective is to make information work for people. His or her job is not merely to look up nuggets of information and serve it as it is written; he or she makes use of the technologies at his or her disposal to add value to it, to pass it onto the patron in such a way that it entails great value. With this orientation, I believe that the librarian can be driver of individual progress, and libraries can in turn become engines of human progress.

I strive to be this kind of librarian—an innovator, a technologist, an agent of empowerment.

I have decided to direct my efforts towards two things; first, to become recognized as an innovator not just for myself but for the whole of librarianship; and second, to inspire younger generations of librarians to be innovators in their own right through mentoring and guidance. I would like to find new ways to help librarians deliver information more effectively to patrons, and solutions to further enrich learning experiences libraries are meant to provide. I would like to lend a hand in placing the library at the center of the information society through my ability to leverage the power of technology to create bridges between people and information. I would also like to infuse an innovative discipline among future librarians and information professionals, to inspire them to become catalysts of learning and individual development by embracing what's new and creatively crafting solutions for better information and learning.

I dream of a world where libraries would be seen as engines of human progress, and librarians as agents of empowerment. There will definitely be challenges up ahead, and while this dream may not come into fruition in my lifetime, I would be honored to have contributed to this cause in whatever way I could. I would like to represent a new kind of librarian, one who would take information stewardship to a whole new level and ultimately redefine the profession.

This is my mandate.

Cover: Janko Ferlič / Unsplash