So You Want to be a Systems Librarian

September 25, 2011

This guide is designed to provide the means to answer the question what is a systems librarian? as well as provide resources on system librarianship for those who are interested in a more non-traditional, technology-filled branch of librarianship.

Systems Librarians on the Web – An Introduction

  • On being a systems librarian by Eric Lease Morgan. This article gives the most concise definition of systems librarianship that I’ve seen: “Systems librarianship is the art and science of combining the principles of librarianship with the abilities of computing technology.”
  • What does a Systems Librarian do? by Melissa Belvadi. This is a listing of responsibilities the author actively engaged in, to show the variety of duties that may fall under the title “Systems Librarian”.
  • What you can expect from the Systems Librarian by Marshall Breeding. This article also explores the variety of tasks that come with technology-oriented positions, as well as addressing some key issues that are central to systems librarianship.
  • The Systems Librarian: Approaches and Attitude by Thomas Wilson. This is an excerpt from Wilson’s book The Systems Librarian that outlines the way one should approach a systems position.
  • What exactly makes a systems librarian? This post was written by a Systems Librarian struggling to figure out further educational pursuits that would enhance this career path. He does an excellent job of showing just how different this work is from traditional librarianship.
  • The Deliberate Systems Librarian by Stephen Patton. This article details a very specific education and career path undertaken by someone who knew that Systems Librarianship was the direction he wanted to go.
  • The nature of Systems Librarianship: Part I is a brief history of technology in libraries, along with a nice introduction to the field (be sure to check out Part II as well)
  • Laundry list systems librarians by Dan Scott. This blog post offers insight into the daily life of this systems librarian.
  • Marshall Breeding’s Systems Librarian column in Computers in Libraries magazine offers insight into the field, as well as addressing issues faced by the influx of technology in libraries.

Systems Librarians in Print*

Breeding, Marshall. (2011). Using technology to enhance the library as place. Computers in Libraries, 31(4), 21-25.

Summary: Technology can play an important role in the ways that libraries make use of their physical spaces. I have seen some great examples of the ways technology can add to the vitality of a library’s facilities, both in conspicuous and dazzling ways and with more subtle approaches. When I visit a library, I’m always interested to learn about how the librarians there use technology, both behind the scenes in the ways that they manage their operations or build collections and in their public spaces to enhance their patrons’ experiences. Libraries today have to seek out strategies that promote stronger engagement with their users. In these times where so many public libraries face threats of budget reductions, it’s important that they demonstrate vigorous use of their facilities and services and satisfy patrons who will help defend them and lend support when needed. Smart use of technology can help libraries strengthen their programs and facilities in ways that foster better services, higher patron satisfaction, and more positive perceptions.

Gordon, Rachel S. (2003). The accidental systems librarian. LOCATION: PUBLISHER

Summary: The Accidental Systems Librarian takes the approach that anyone with a solid foundation in the practices and principles of librarianship and a willingness to confront changing technology can serve effectively in a library technology position—with or without formal computer training. Author Rachel Singer Gordon’s practical advice on using research, organizational, and bibliographic skills to solve various systems problems is geared to helping “accidental” systems librarians develop the skills they need to succeed and the confidence they need to excel. An essential book for any librarian who wants to deal more effectively with technology in her or his institution.

Lomax, Kate. (2011). Why all librarians should hack…at least a little…. Multnomah Information & Technology, 37(3), 10.

Summary: The article focuses on the use of virtual technology in libraries, particularly on the need to take control of storage and distribution infrastructure. It advises libraries on the need to hack library software to better improve library services and meet ever changing user needs. It highlights data manipulation and visualisation as key areas in simplifying library functions. Moreover, it suggests the availability of free and open source software (FOSS) which allows modification to library codes.

Sun, H. , Chen, K. , Tseng, C. , & Tsai, W. (2011). Role changing for librarians in the new information technology era. New Library World,112(7/8), 321.

Summary: Purpose – This paper aims to show how implementing new information technology has expanded the role of librarians as educators and how this role has matched the evolution of new technology. Design/methodology/approach – The paper looks at librarians’ approaches to their role as educators and explores ways of most effectively implementing changes. By reviewing the literature and taking the old discourse around library education and information literacy, the paper reflects on the changing role of librarians in an era of greater access to technology, including Web 2.0.

Technologies Used by Systems Librarians (print + web)*

Ellero, N. , Horne, A. , Son, I. , Ragon, B. , & Moody, D. (2011). Maintaining and enhancing a customized online journal web service. Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries8(3), 225.

Summary: This article illustrates the development and enhancement of a web service to provide access to online journals at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library (CMHSL), University of Virginia Health System. The custom-designed system is intended to provide efficient access to electronic journals and is the library’s most visited web page. A project team of librarians and web developers decided to enhance the page by adding: 1) a link to Journal Citation Reports® (Thomson Reuters) Impact Factors, 2) a simple web form for setting up e-mail subscriptions to tables of contents, and 3) a one-click action to subscribe to RSS feed table of contents services. The process for choosing and implementing these enhancements is described, as well as the rationale behind devoting time and expertise to efforts surrounding the electronic journal page.

Hofmann, M. , & Yang, S. (2011). How next-gen r u? a review of academic opacs in the united states and canada. Computers in Libraries,31(6), 26.

Summary: With vendors seeming to abandon their ILS-integrated OPACs in order to develop and promote their discovery tools, we were curious as to just what was the current state of affairs for academic libraries in the quest for the touted next-generation catalog.

VERBIT, D. , & KLINE, V. (2011). Libguides: A cms for busy librarians.Computers in Libraries31(6), 21.

Summary: One of the toughest challenges in an academic library systems office is how to manage and present the extensive selection of electronic resources from a variety of vendors. At York College of Pennsylvania, we participated in an admissions-driven web revision cycle and used a campus-provided CMS for 8 years. During this time, we tried very hard not to be the proverbial square peg in the round hole, but eventually we convinced our administration that the complexity of our web vision required a CMS designed specifically for libraries. This article will share our experience on how we selected, bought, and implemented Springshare’s LibGuides.

Employment Resources

  • Hiring a systems librarian by Dorothea Salo. This article is directed at libraries looking to hire a systems librarian, but provides excellent insight into what a library may be looking for in the position.
  • LinkedIn Profiles of Systems Librarians – a listing of all professionals on LinkedIn with Systems Librarian in their job title. This is an excellent way to get a feel for the experience and career path taken by others in the field.

Systems Librarians are largely responsible for the technology used in a library (or whatever setting they are in). It can be as simple as hardware (computers, printers, copiers, and scanners) or as complex as website maintenance, social media, cataloging software, or any other electronic service/device used in your library/office. The Systems Librarian not only has to understand how all of these things work, the Systems Librarian also must have a working knowledge of each area of the library in order to best understand how each service is used by staff and patrons. You’ve heard the phrase “Jack of all Trades, but Master of none”? Well the Systems Librarian is definitely a Jack of all Trades, but is a Master of technology.

*Summaries were either taken directly from the publisher or from the article abstracts.

  1. This is a really helpful article, thanks. I am applying for a systems librarian job so it is good to know who the authorities are on this subject and where one can keep updated in this area.

  2. A person’s success does not depend on his wisdom, but perseverance

  1. Pingback: I’m a Librarian. Of tech, not books. – LITA Blog

  2. Pingback: I’m a Librarian. Of tech, not books. | Whitni Watkins

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