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Most people hear the word "librarian" and picture a career doing nothing but shelving books and pushing a cart down stacks for the rest of their life, but there has to be more to the job than that, right? 

We sat down with Katherine van der Linden, a coordinator with the Ottawa Public Library, and asked her just that. After nearly a decade of working in libraries in the Ottawa area, it’s safe to say that Katherine knows the field pretty well, and she told us all about what librarians do behind the scenes. From community engagement to technical assistance, there might be a few elements of their job descriptions that will surprise you. 

HC: What does a librarian do in a day?

A lot of a librarian’s job comes down to books, yes, but it’s also community involvement. When they’re not checking out your newest reads or reshelving yesterday's returns, they’re getting involved in the community and city events. Displays and tables are often centred around local happenings, whether they're holidays or more small-scale affairs. Librarians even sometimes organize events of their own!

They do a lot more hands-on work, too. A librarian's job isn’t as “old school” as some might be led to believe—they actually play a key role in keeping the public up to date and informed on technology. “It can be a lot of technical help,” says Katherine. “Actually, we had to help a lot of people with downloading their Ontario QR codes at the beginning [of the pandemic].”

HC: So, how do I know if I’d like it? 

While liking books and reading might not be a requirement, it's probably a good place to start. Katherine herself was a book-lover long before she started her career. “Reading can be beneficial in terms of providing recommendations to the community and to readers looking for their new favourite series. While libraries get a lot of traffic for technology and community outreach, they do still get a lot of readers, and it can always be helpful in terms of relating to the audience,” says Katherine. 

Even so, there's a lot more to the job than liking books — after all, unfortunately, librarians don’t get paid to read (but how cool would that be?). Newly recruited librarians will likely find themselves spending a lot of time at the check-out desks and working with the general public. But just like with any other career, their tasks will change and become more focused as they move up the ranks.

It's probably safe to say that if you’re someone who doesn’t mind a little administrative work, and who’s interested in spending time working with their community and outreach, then chances are you’d be a pretty good fit. 

HC: How can I get into the field? 

You might be surprised to hear that you actually don’t need a university degree to work in a library. While you do need one to be a librarian, it’s far from the only job available. Katherine says, “there are other ways, some that only require a high school degree, others that you only need an undergraduate—any undergraduate—degree for. To be a librarian, you do need a master's, but that isn’t the only way to work at a public library.”

While the Ottawa Public Library does offer student programs for anyone who might be interested in pursuing a library career, they, like most things these days, have been affected by the pandemic. Katherine expects that they’ll return sometime in the next few months for the 2022 year. 

Education-wise, most librarian jobs require you to have a master’s degree in Library and Information studies, which takes an average of two years to complete. After that, it’s all up to you and what you bring to the table. 

But just like any other commitment, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into before you dive in headfirst. “I’d recommend anyone who thinks they might be interested in [a career as a Librarian] to look into it, find someone at their library, and do an interview of sorts, just to make sure it’s what they want,” says Katherine.

Hailey Otten

U Ottawa '23

Hailey is a fourth-year English and classics student at the University of Ottawa. Hoping to one day weasel her way into a career in publishing, she can often be found either searching local bookstores for new reads or writing her future bestseller (🤞🏻).
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