This is a statement I’ve come across for the last…oh, lets say over 20 years (crikey that makes me sound old!).
When I was a Librarianship & Information Studies student, way back when, working my way towards a four-year honours degree, I regularly got the “Oh? Why do you need a degree to stamp books?” thing thrown at me once people found out what I was studying. This then morphed into post-degree conversations involving not only “Don’t you just stamp books” but the chestnuts “Do you say Shhhh a lot” and “You don’t LOOK like a librarian.”
Erm, well…no actually, I didn’t just stamp books. There was business management, information management, bibliographic information studies, media studies, psychology, sociology, thesaurus construction, indexing, statistics and… learning to make sure that everyone coming to you asking for information got what they actually needed, not what they asked for:
“Have you got a book on murders in the C19th”
can often mean
“Have you got the fabulous book I read by Dr. Professorface on forensic pathology in 1880s London around the time of the Ripper cases.”
After four years I pretty much knew a LOT about information, what it is, how to treat it and how to find it.
And anyway, what exactly DO librarians look like? Tattoos, brightly dyed hair and a liking for Doc Marten shoes or the clichéd twin-set and pearls with horn-rimmed glasses? It’s actually the first one… and believe me, librarians like to have fun! (yes, this subject still gets my back up all these years on, and …erm, don’t forget Casanova was a librarian).
But I digress, “what’s all this coming to” I hear you cry (or are you crying because you’re a librarian and know where I’m coming from?).
Well, this little snippet from my past points to one thing.
Don’t judge a book by its cover (subtitled: don’t presume that what you think looks easy is actually easy).
There’s a propensity for people to under-value and under-estimate what they see as easy, but once you rip off the cover of a “wordy” occupation, it is actually a lot more involved than you probably think.
When I had to move away from Librarianship I retrained as a genealogist and an indexer. I won’t go into my history career here, but indexing was more of a sideways slide from my chosen profession.
“So doesn’t a computer do that?”
Here we go again…
I’d moved from “just stamping books” to “is that a real thing?”. Cue another ten years of explaining to people that, no, a computer doesn’t adequately produce a useable index for that book you have in your hands. And it really doesn’t, behind each index you see in a book there is someone like me reading the book, dissecting the information in the book, creating access points for the information in the book, creating parallel access points, collating them all and putting them into an order that works for the readership. Usually within a very tight space that’s been provided.
But these days I don’t explain how I work, I just smile and say “no, a computer doesn’t do that, a person does.”
Over the last few years I have added “Editor” to my skill-set. And I love it.
For the first time in my adult life I don’t have to explain that I don’t “just” stamp books or pretend to be a computer….but hang on… there’s one question I do get asked…
“But I have a spell check, why do I need an editor?”
*bangs head on table*
So come on, tell me… in your profession what daft prejudices and questions do you come across?