Why Librarians Still Matter


It’s been more than 30 years since I stepped foot in the library from my childhood, but the memories are still vivid. Creaky floor. Kid-sized plastic chairs. The smell of musty books.

And Mrs. Mersing, the imposing head librarian.

She ran a tight ship, quick to reprimand any little boy (or girl) who violated her strict “whisper-always” policy.

I remember my inaugural visit to that red brick building in the center of town. I was about 8 at the time and, at the coaxing of my mom, asked Mrs. M. if the library had any books by my then-favorite author: Carolyn Haywood.

She proudly escorted me to a shelf with several books prominently displayed. Clearly, this woman knew her stuff.

Beyond her book wisdom, I recall watching her operate a metal beast of a machine that stamped the due dates onto the cards inserted at the back of books. One by one, she would insert the worn cards into the hungry machine and be rewarded with a loud staccato sound that reverberated across the aging building.

Boy did I yearn for that job – and the authority that it bestowed.

Over the years, I’m sure Mrs. Mersing was replaced by a younger, hipper librarian; surrounded by younger, hipper devices; in a younger, hipper building.

But the core function of libraries and librarians has endured: connecting individuals to the information they seek and providing an environment for them to explore and share knowledge.

The Value of Librarians Today

At the invitation of my librarian friend Susan, I recently had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at the Special Libraries Association meeting in St. Louis.

I was the only non-librarian of the bunch, but was surrounded by a community receptive to my thoughts on marketing (who better than a room full of librarians to understand the value of storytelling)?

Like most service professionals, librarians are struggling to prove their relevance and value to new generations who don’t immediately recognize it. Whether they are employed by public institutions or private organizations, librarians are constantly challenged to justify their purpose both to the “communities” they serve as well as to their bosses/boards/ investors/critics.

And it can be a tall order. Thanks to the Internet and mobile technology, we all have immediate access to virtual volumes of (mostly) free information. And we rarely have to leave our chairs or consult anyone to get it.

Which seems to suggest that everyone has the resources to be his/her own librarian. That is, until you realize that the true value of librarians extends well beyond just helping to locate information. Ultimately, they help us address three of the most vexing struggles in our lives:

Lack of Time. As personal and professional demands keep increasing, our need to manage our time is more critical than ever.

Lack of Clarity. We’re drowning in information, but craving focus and organization.

Lack of Community. Our virtual connections may be voluminous, but most of us lack the human interaction we need to thrive and do our best work.

Librarians are uniquely positioned to deliver on all three counts. Which should place them among the most valuable professionals on the planet.