Although archives are similar to libraries, there are distinct differences between the two.
Libraries typically house materials that are published and were created with the express purpose of broad dissemination. But the traditional concept of a library is being redefined from a place to access paper records or books to one that also houses the most advanced media, including CD-ROM, the Internet, virtual libraries, and remote access to a wide range of resources. Consequently, librarians, who are also called information professionals, increasingly are combining traditional duties with tasks involving quickly changing technology.
In order to assist people in finding information and using it effectively for personal and professional purposes, librarians must have knowledge of a wide variety of scholarly and public information sources. They must also follow trends related to publishing, computers, and the media in order to oversee the selection and organization of library materials. Librarians manage staff and develop and direct information programs and systems for the public to ensure that information is organized in a manner that meets users’ needs.
Most librarian positions incorporate three aspects of library work:
- user services
- technical services
- administrative services
Librarians in user services, such as reference and children’s librarians, work directly with users to help them find the information they need. This may involve analyzing users’ needs to determine what information is appropriate and searching for, acquiring, and providing the information to users.
Those in technical services, such as acquisitions librarians and catalogers, acquire and prepare materials for use and may not deal directly with the public.
Administrative services librarians oversee the management of the library, supervising employees, preparing budgets, and directing activities to see that all parts of the library function properly. Their work also includes negotiating contracts for services, materials, and equipment; and performing public-relations and fundraising duties.
Depending on the work setting, librarians may perform a combination of user, technical, and administrative services. Still, even librarians specializing in one of these areas have other responsibilities. Librarians in user services often have an instructional role, such as showing users how to access information. For example, librarians commonly help users navigate the Internet so they can search for relevant information efficiently.
In small libraries or information centers, librarians usually handle all aspects of the work. They read book reviews, publishers’ announcements, and catalogues to keep up with current literature and other available resources, and they select and purchase materials from publishers, wholesalers, and distributors. They prepare new materials by classifying them by subject matter and describing books and other library materials to make them easy to find. Librarians supervise assistants, who prepare cards, computer records, or other access tools that direct users to resources. Many working in large libraries specialize in a single area, such as acquisitions, cataloguing, bibliography, reference, special collections,
or administration. Teamwork is increasingly important to ensure quality service to the public.
Librarians also compile lists of books, periodicals, articles, and audiovisual materials on particular subjects; analyze collections; and recommend materials. They collect and organize books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and other materials in a specific field, such as rare books, genealogy, or music. In addition, they coordinate programs such as storytelling for children and literacy skills and book talks for adults, conduct classes, publicize services, provide reference help, write grants, and oversee other administrative matters.
Librarians are also classified according to the type of library in which they work:
- public libraries
- school library media centers
- academic libraries
- specialty libraries
Some librarians work with specific groups, such as children, young adults, adults, or the disadvantaged. Those who work in school library media centers are often called school media specialists. They help teachers develop curricula, acquire materials for classroom instruction, and sometimes team teach.
Librarians also work in information centers or libraries maintained by government agencies, corporations, law firms, advertising agencies,museums, professional associations, unions, medical centers, hospitals, religious organizations, and research laboratories. They acquire and arrange an organization’s information resources, which usually are limited to subjects of special interest to the organization. These special librarians can provide vital information services by preparing abstracts and indexes of current periodicals, organizing bibliographies, or analyzing background information and preparing reports on areas of particular interest.
For example, a special librarian working for a corporation could provide the sales department with information on competitors or new developments affecting the field. A medical librarian may provide information about new medical treatments, clinical trials, and standard procedures to health professionals, patients, consumers, and corporations. Government document librarians, who work for government agencies and depository libraries in each of the states and provinces, preserve government publications, records, and other documents that make up a historical record of government actions.
Many libraries have access to remote databases and maintain their own computerized databases. The widespread use of
automation in libraries makes database-searching skills important to librarians, who develop and index databases and help users learn the skills required to search for the information they need. Some libraries are forming consortia to allow patrons to access a wider range of databases and to submit information requests to several libraries simultaneously. The Internet also has greatly expanded the amount of available reference information, and librarians must be aware of how to use these resources in order to locate information.
More and more, librarians are applying their information management and research skills to arenas outside of libraries, such as database development, reference tool development, information systems, publishing, Internet coordination, marketing, Web content management and design, and training of database users.
Librarians with computer and information systems skills can work as automated-systems librarians, planning and operating computer systems, and as information architects, designing information storage and retrieval systems and developing procedures for collecting, organizing, interpreting, and classifying information. These librarians analyze and plan for future needs. The increasing use of automated systems is enabling librarians to focus on administrative and budgeting responsibilities, grant writing, and specialized research requests while delegating more technical and user services responsibilities to technicians.
About two out of ten librarians work part-time. Public and college librarians often work weekends and evenings, as well as some holidays. School librarians usually have the same workday and vacation schedules as classroom teachers. Special librarians usually work normal business hours, but in fast-paced industries, such as advertising or legal services, they can work longer hours when needed. Entrepreneurial librarians sometimes start their own consulting practices, acting as freelance librarians or information brokers and providing services to libraries, businesses, or government agencies.
Archives typically hold materials that were created in the course of carrying out some sort of business or activity but that were never originally intended for public dissemination. For example, an archive might hold correspondence from a Civil War soldier to his family. He wrote about his experiences and feelings and to let his loved ones know that he was still alive. Although he never would have imagined that his letters would one day appear in an archives, their inclusion provides credibility and integrity as a historical source.
Archivists collect, organize, and maintain control over a wide range of information deemed important enough for permanent safekeeping. This information takes many forms: photographs, films, video and sound recordings, computer disks or tapes, and video and optical disks, as well as more traditional paper records, letters, and documents. Archivists work for a variety of organizations, including government agencies, museums, historical societies, corporations, and educational institutions—any organization that uses or generates records of great potential value to researchers, exhibitors, genealogists, and others who would benefit from having access to original source material.
These scholars maintain records in accordance with accepted standards and practices that ensure the long-term preservation and easy retrieval of the documents. Records may be saved on any medium, including paper, film, videotape, audiotape, electronic disk, or computer. They also may be copied onto some other format to protect the original and to make the records more accessible to researchers who use them. As various storage media evolve,
archivists must keep abreast of technological advances in electronic information storage.
Archivists often specialize in an area of history or technology so they can more accurately determine which records in that area qualify for retention and should become part of the archives. They also may work with specialized forms of records, such as manuscripts, electronic records, photographs, cartographic records, motion pictures, and sound recordings.
As computers are increasingly being used to generate and maintain archival records, professional standards for the use of computers in handling archival records are still evolving. Expanding computer capabilities that allow more records to be stored and exhibited electronically have transformed, and are expected to continue to transform, many aspects of archival collections.
Some archivists spend most of their time working with the public, providing reference assistance and educational services. Others perform research or process records, which often means working alone or in offices with only a few people.