Uber-generalist

Source: justinplambert on Flickr

Librarians are the quintessential “uber-generalists”. Our training and the nature of our profession require us to have an understanding of information and knowledge, research acumen, and familiarity with information creation, storage, retrieval, and usage, but does not require us to have extensive training, education, or expertise in any one “academic field” (with a few notable exceptions). Although some librarians possess additional “specialist” degrees, especially true in law, medical, music, and academic librarianship, a law librarian may be asked to help a student research more than law, and a social work librarian will have something to add to a discussion on interlibrary loan.

The day-to-day work of librarians is extremely varied and this is what drew me to the profession. As someone who has the propensity to bore easily, librarianship has allowed me to guard against this quite nicely. I enjoy my work as a librarian and enjoy the varied number of venues and subjects in which I have labored. I have worked in software development and implementation, in academic law librarianship, and now at a small regional campus of a large top-tier university where I am asked to do everything from facilities management to budgeting to research help to library instruction. We “generalist librarians” may not know as much sociology as a sociologist, biology as a biologist, law as a lawyer, or music as a concert pianist, but we have a “wide angle” view of all fields (and most everything else), and make good use of this generalist approach to our career and vocation.

For a long time this “generalist” approach to librarianship bothered me, mostly because I was not an “expert” in anything. Being a generalist left me feeling like a “jack of all trades, but a master of none”. As I have gained professional wisdom in the field, I realize that the generalist nature of librarianship is a blessing, rather than a curse. Most librarians, whether academic, public, school, special, or other, are free to set their own agenda, be creative in what interests them, and serve the public in many different ways, from specialized story hours, to a focus on a certain underrepresented group in the community, to tackling a large issue facing the library or the profession today. In being a generalist, we are free to “think outside the box” and be creative, pulling in resources and ideas from a number of different professions. And this is what truly makes me glad to be a librarian. The uber-generalist.

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