'Neurons' by MikeBlogs via Flickr

What’s the best balance between insider status and outsider status for librarians in academia?

The In the Library with the Lead Pipe article I mentioned in my last post points out how librarians in academia can benefit from their position on the periphery of a discipline, and I agree that one of librarianship’s strengths is the ability to serve as a connector between and among disciplines. On an interpersonal level, librarians can take on the mantle of tutor when working with students who need a coach or a guide, not another teacher to report to.

This week’s class discussion on embedded librarianship dovetailed with another conversation I had this week regarding online reference and librarians’ duty to “go where the user is.”

So, I’m struck by these twin poles: Do we (always) go where the user is, right down to an office in the user’s home department? Or do we maintain enough distance to provide perspective?

Is this one of those false dichotomies that graduate students like to set up and knock down?

OK, probably. But it’s nearly the end of the term and my rhetorical flourishes ain’t what they were 10 weeks ago.

Still, I want to take a closer look at this insider/outsider conundrum.

No doubt my perception of this idea is clouded by my own preference for the periphery. I’m an observer by nature, a strange idea connector, a behind-the-scenes magician on my best days. As a newspaper editor, my colleagues and I often joked that no one knew what we did unless we screwed up, which is no small truth.

Librarianship may suffer from the same sort of competent invisibility, but it’s also in part what makes the job so darn fun. I greatly value the times when I can facilitate a fresh perspective on a research problem or an assignment for a student. Hey, have you tried this, looked here?

And if the patron leaves feeling like nothing more has occurred than stumbling upon a fresh clarity in their own mind, no biggie, then great, that makes me happy. I’m all for unconscious positive associations forming between users and their libraries — that’s the first step toward habit, anyway, right?

But, you say, marketing and mission statements and making the library a prominent partner in knowledge production, well, yes, that’s needed, too.

Maybe what I’m circling around is the difference between the librarian and the library. I want strong, respected, versatile institutions. And I also want the flexibility to play multiple roles for different patrons, depending on the need and the context. I think we can have both.