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Why Do We Do What We Do? – A Philosophy of Librarianship

September 4, 2012

-by Christina Steffy, Tom Reinsfelder, Amy Deuink

The beginning of another school year is a good time to reflect upon why we do what we do and ask questions like, “Why are libraries important?” and “How do we help students succeed?”  These are complex questions that can be difficult to think about, especially when thinking about libraries on a large scale.

Of course there are quantitative measures and assessments where we can attempt to measure the value of libraries and our worth as librarians, but on a much smaller scale it can also be helpful to develop (or revise) a personal philosophy of librarianship.

Many librarians develop a personal philosophy or approach to their work. Some employers require librarians to create and communicate a formal philosophy of teaching or librarianship. At the same time, other librarians may have a strong personal philosophy that has never been written down. Still, others may simply be too busy to give it much thought. Either way, we suggest taking some time to reflect upon your work, what you really value, and what you have to offer.

Here are some questions to reflect upon as you develop or update your own philosophy of librarianship:
What made you want to enter librarianship?
Why do we come to work every day?
What gives you the most satisfaction?
Where can you have the greatest positive impact?
What do we as librarians do in our organization and for our patrons?

In the spirit of this reflection, here are some thoughts of one new librarian.

Christina Steffy

As a new librarian, I haven’t given much thought to these questions in relation to creating a philosophy of librarianship. I’ve heard that many education majors are asked to develop a philosophy of teaching prior to searching for jobs, but until recently I didn’t think to do this for myself. Of course I thought long and hard about going to library school and my career goals, but I never thought it these things as the beginnings of a philosophy. So here is my attempt at answering these questions to help begin building my philosophy.

“I entered librarianship because I love helping people uncover the answers to questions and I love learning from people. I also love helping to teach people how to uncover information. I come to work every day because I truly believe I’m teaching people how to think critically about the world around them in order to uncover and evaluate information. I get the most satisfaction from seeing the smile on someone’s face when he or she uses a search strategy I taught him or her to find what was needed for research, or when someone actually finds me later to tell me how much I helped him or her.  Knowing I helped someone is an amazing feeling, it’s why I do my job. I think I can have the greatest impact by being in the classroom teaching concepts to students and by being in administration and involved with school committees so that the library becomes visible to the organization and so people understand how the library supports education. In fact there are times I believe I have a greater impact by being in administration because then people understand the value of the library, and that’s necessary to keep it up and running. As far as what I do, I teach people, whether inside the classroom or outside the classroom, how to find and evaluate sources. I teach people how to think critically. I also evaluate the best resources to meet the needs of students and faculty, I compile information, I create a budget, I market the library through various outreach attempts, I organize information so people can find it easily, and I handle computer troubleshooting.”

I’m not yet sure how I would distill this into a philosophy, but I believe this is a good start.


Now that you have some questions to work with and you’ve seen some thoughts on developing a philosophy, what are your thoughts on developing a philosophy of librarianship? Do you have one already? Are you working to create one?

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