Information professionals know that the role of the librarian has shifted over time. Studying the 1946 Vocational Guidance Film “The Librarian,” part of the Your Life Work series, shows the changing role of the librarian at work and in larger society, and can help illuminate the long-standing features of this profession.
Film still, (0:14)
The film begins by stating that the two signs you would make a good librarian are a love of books and a love of people (and their love in return). The appreciation for knowledge and customer service skills indeed seem to be continuing themes in the field of librarianship. These “personal qualifications” (9:50), or what we might call soft skills, are still at the forefront of job postings and instruction of librarianship. However, with new spaces like BiblioTech opening up, the idea that books = knowledge = library is contested.
Gender has played a significant role in librarianship, and continues to do so. In this post-war film, nearly all the librarians featured are women. The exceptions are one male reference librarian, and the library administrator (of course). While there is a large majority of women in the field even today, there is still a danger in not representing the male librarian population. Indeed, the film rather innocently portrayed a female librarian being adorably confused by the big words of her male Doctor patron (8:30) which reinforces gender stereotypes in an uncomfortable way.
As this film was most likely circulated to high school students considering their college choices, education is emphasized. The narrator notes that most positions require a college degree and training at a library school. The exception are circulation librarians and those working in small libraries. These imposed rules are particularly striking. Why do small libraries not need educated librarians? Is their limited population somehow not worthy of a college-educated and library school trained professional?
There are also some interesting ways the film tries to make librarianship hip and modern for their young viewers. The narrator emphasizes the variety of materials librarians deal with (like microfilm, music, and movies). There is also the idea that librarians are “vital and essential” in creating “the kind of world in which you want to live.” These two points are perhaps the most changed in the near-70 years since this film was produced. With many politicians and budget makers claiming that librarianship is outdated and replaced with businesses like Google, these thoughts are apparently lost.
Modern times have also complicated the way librarianship works. I noticed the apparent ease a librarian had finding a blue book about television in her card catalogue system, without information about the author or title. Would this type of information retrieval be as convenient or even possible now? Was this ever possible in anywhere besides small libraries (which may only have one or two books on television)?
In conclusion, this film has brought out many further questions about librarianship that need to be answered in the rest of my MLIS courses. As I further dive into the intricacies of this profession, I will be able to look back on this film and have more answers (and possibly more questions).