What does a technical librarian do

Job profile librarian
Technical brilliance and social responsibility

Data librarian, media manager and integration instance: the tasks of a librarian are more diverse than ever. With so different demands, can there still be a common library occupation?

A Syrian girl rummages through picture books before the German course for her mother begins in the Ahrensburg city library: Germany's public libraries have become an important integration instance for refugees and those seeking protection. A Chinese German scholar calls up literature databases from the Goethe-Institut Beijing, to which German academic libraries grant access even without university membership: “Free access” is part of the technical and ethical professional canon of the librarian. In Qatar, a Berlin library director is building the Qatar National Library: in order to preserve the cultural assets and intellectual heritage of a nation even under difficult conditions and to lead it into the future with the digital transformation, librarians are developing special methods for data structures and information access. A group of friends is fighting for the "open library", which enables the 6,000 inhabitants of the small town of Glücksburg on the Baltic Sea to have access to intermedia via the opening times reduced to ten hours per week.

The libraries are redefining themselves

The examples show: The area of ​​responsibility of a librarian is based on the foreseeable political, technical, demographic and social developments and at the same time wants to influence them positively. Because after the outdated apocalyptic images of the end of books, of the struggle between analogue and digital memories, of the disappearance of open meeting points for encounters with knowledge and culture, the libraries take a deep breath and redefine themselves.

Working in the SLUB Dresden | Photo (detail): © SLUB Dresden / Henrik Ahlers, CC BY-SA 4.0 Can there still be a common librarian job description with such different demands? Professional associations, training centers and job descriptions rely on the constant updating of core competencies such as IT technology, media management and user-oriented information transfer as well as additional specialization in scientific, cultural and social areas. This new composition of library knowledge, skills and methods, depending on the local task situation or on the Internet, is also intended to bring the library worlds of academic and public libraries, which have been separate in Germany for a long time, into a new, targeted relationship to one another.

In the service of an open society

When the new Data Librarians primarily find or process, organize, and structure data and documents digitally, they also develop quality standards for their colleagues “on site”. According to the new job description, specializations such as the support of research and teaching or children's, youth and school libraries serve a common library objective: the unrestricted, non-commercial provision of analog and digital media for clearly defined areas of responsibility in an open society.

Gallery of the Stuttgart City Library | Photo (detail): © Stuttgart City Library (yi architects) / Martin Lorenz The library principle can be abused. Research libraries from universities of excellence, as well as children's libraries in a socially disadvantaged area, only develop their democracy-promoting effect in conjunction with a liberal framework.

Political changes do not allow stagnation

What may impress as technical perfection and can be understood as a publication practice for everyone, demands consequences for uncensored access to information, fair copyright rules and a redefinition of libraries as responsible data producers, moderators and coaches. The political changes of the last few years do not allow stagnation either. The international library program has so far been dominated by Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian models. But the rapid development of the newly industrialized countries and the wars in the Middle East alone confront western democracies with people and ideologies whose ideas of information, knowledge and culture follow different maxims. Current training must respond to this.

Range of variation in training

Contents are also put to the test, as is the breadth of variation in training owed to Germany's cultural federalism. There are three levels of professional library activity nationwide:

  • The training of the higher service with a university degree and library training period, regulated according to civil servant status,
  • The courses of study in universities and technical colleges regulated according to the bachelor's and master's degree regulations with access to specialist librarian work fields and to the higher service in civil servant employment relationships,
  • the dual training of specialist employees or civil servants in the middle service.

Sustainable librarianship training | Photo (detail): © yossarian6 - FotoliaLibrarian professionalism continues to consist of the factors educational qualification, job characteristics and tariff or tariff-like tiered pay. The diverse facets of digitally or socially oriented library and information work have redefined and combined these factors and even ignored them in the case of special requirements or short-term needs. The state-run courses in Berlin, Hamburg, Hanover, Cologne, Leipzig and Stuttgart, which specialize in library and information, stand for further development, innovation and sustainability in library training. They have the necessary practical relevance, can implement projects with third-party funding and offer potential students a transparent teaching, research and further education profile. As departments and faculties of universities, they also offer interdisciplinary cooperation.

Old rights and new opportunities

In addition, more and more courses in the fields of IT, media studies, social sciences and cultural management are discovering the field of libraries. Many libraries already employ their graduates. Are IT specialists not at least as suitable for the preparation of research data as graduates of a technical degree with library-oriented IT competence? Doesn't the social worker find a role alongside the librarian who knows the media content? Those who insist on old rights are missing out on new opportunities!

It is no coincidence that IFLA, the world organization of libraries and their employees, is placing the ethics of the profession and continuing education at the center of its programs and standards of performance. Databases, book holdings, experts and stunning library architecture mean little if they are not in harmony with the will and ability for general welfare in freedom.

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