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University Librarian Gives Advice to High School Students

Studying is the most important job of any student, and they do much of this studying in a library. But not many students know what actually goes into the running of a library, so I decided to interview a librarian to see just what it takes to do such a thing. The title of “librarian” brings images of a prim, elderly person who insists on complete silence in their bookish domain. But the librarians of this stereotype are almost extinct. No longer do librarians have the simple job of checking out books. The way information now is handled is with technology. Mari Tsuchiya, a Librarian at the Reference Department of the Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester (quite a title!), explained the changing tides of being a librarian and the pleasure it brings to help students.
DL: What are modern librarians really in charge of?
MT: At the university each class has a specialized librarian to assist with that class, so we usually give library instructions to classes when they need assistance by the librarian. The library instruction classes we give are a big aspect of the job, but we also have a reference desk where we answer questions. But my job is that I assist classes and help with any technology needs of librarians and students. Mostly I create course pages on the library website. Librarians now are going through a transition period. It used to be just that librarians purchased books and were more involved in printed books. But now the profession is completely different and more involved in technology. There are lots of E-readers and so on. So when I was getting this job they required someone who was tech savvy. So there’s a completely different stereotype, you know, that librarians are booky, but now you have to be more tech-oriented.
DL: What made you decide to go into this profession? How did you hear about it?
MT: I was a language teacher before but when I was about 35 years old I had second thoughts about becoming a teacher, because it’s such a difficult job. I was teaching in a high school and had to teach five classes everyday with 40 kids in each class. I had 200 students to take care of every week. Plus I had to prep and I was getting tired of teaching language, which doesn’t really include any abstract thinking and is mostly just technique. But I really like working with young kids and students so I decided to do something that isn’t involved in classroom teaching but still includes face time with students. I was thinking of two options, one was a guidance counselor and the second was a librarian. But librarian was actually better than being a guidance counselor because it’s involved in more intellectual discussions with students. I went back to school and got a Master of Library and Information Science degree in a 2 year program.
DL: What was helpful to you in getting your job?
MT: Well, as I said, being tech savvy is now something necessary for any librarian. But I also found that knowing foreign languages because, especially in an academic library, we deal with a lot of monographs is different languages. So that was a big factor in me getting the job. Also having worked in a professional library before was helpful, for example, if you worked in the library or circulation desk when you were a college student, which would be very helpful in getting a job.
DL: What was your major/minor in college?
MT: I went to college in Japan and my major was European Art History, which has nothing to do with being a Librarian. I knew that this major didn’t give me any great job options so I also took education courses so that I would have a teaching certificate when I graduated. My first job was at a private school, who didn’t require an American teaching certificate. And when I moved to Chicago I got a job at a public school, so I took the test and got an American certificate. So my major wasn’t helpful there either, really.
DL: What do you like about your job?
MT: I love books. So whenever I hear about any books on the New York Times review and say “I want to read that!” I can just search on the database catalogue and realize “Oh my gosh, we have this book!” so it’s like I’m living in my own library. The other thing is that it’s nice to have face-time with students but that isn’t involved in classroom teaching. I get to know them over a period of time and I can help them whenever they need help. Librarians now have to be very good at finding things and I like to do that kind of detective work, I like being my own Sherlock Holmes. Students can come up to us and describe a book that they once read and then we can find it. Meeting students and being helpful is my favorite aspect. It’s also exciting that we’re going through a transition time, though sadly that we have to get rid of lots of books. But at the U of R we’re trying to make the library a more exciting place because it used to be that the library is a place where you go to study and have to be quiet. But now we’re trying to make the library “the place to be”. We’ve done a lot of renovations and have a new library where there are no books but it’s just a big study-space. You wouldn’t be able to imagine this place even 20 years ago. It’s very loud where kids hang out and even sleep there, it’s open 24/7. We are very famous since we ask students what kind of study spaces they like and then we try to make it.
DL: Is there anything you don’t like about your job?
MT: I don’t like that the computer is almost taking over our job. Students simply go to Google and find really easy answers, but they might not always be right. It’s frustrating that they won’t come to us so that we can teach them to find better answers, we have everything right there for them. It shouldn’t be that easy to get answers so that’s sometimes frustrating. I’m also sad that books are disappearing. It’s impossible to know if our profession will still exist in 20 years or if everybody will become an IT (Information-Technology) person.
DL: What do you suggest people focus on to get this kind of job?
MT: You can really focus on anything in college. You can be an art history major, or focus on biology or anything you want. But be cautious about how you get your resources now. When you’re doing research, if you’re a good detective you have the basic skills that librarians have to have.
DL: What kind of things do you learn?
MT: The nice thing is that I learn everything. Because kids can come and ask be about brain and cognitive science or something else I have no idea about, and then I have to go study it myself to find out for the student, which is always fun.
Tsuchiya’s advice to students is to know foreign languages and look into going abroad. It’s hard to get any jobs in the states now but libraries all over the world would love to hire people with degrees from America, which, she says, is the best in the world. She suggests having an open mind and having great computer skills, which can be helpful and important in any job but especially when working with finding information and developing library skills.



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