Characteristics of Librarians

Image from Wikipedia:

Image illustrating librarians’ characteristics from Wikipedia:

What are the key characteristics of librarians? According to the basic personal traits and skills which librarians typically share include:

  • A love of knowledge and learning
  • A desire to work around people
  • Love of books
  • Broad overall knowledge of life and the world
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Good with numbers
  • Friendly
  • Ethical
  • Personable
  • Basic affinity for working with large volumes of information
  • Computer skills

How might these skills and traits relate to Wikipedia?

Wikipedia’s Purpose and Key Principles

Wikipedia’s purpose is “to benefit readers by acting as an encyclopedia, a comprehensive written compendium that contains information on all branches of knowledge“. As described by Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder: “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.

Wikipedia seeks to achieve its goal by its five pillars:

  1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia: Wikipedia is not, for example, a soapbox, an advertising platform, a vanity press, an indiscriminate collection of information, or a web directory.
  2. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view: Wikipedia strives for articles that document and explain the major points of view, giving due weight with respect to their prominence in an impartial tone. It avoids advocacy and we characterize information and issues rather than debate them.
  3. Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute: Since all editors freely licence their work to the public, no editor owns an article and any contributions can and will be freely edited and redistributed.
  4. Editors should treat each other with respect and civility: Contributors are expected to respect fellow Wikipedians, even when you disagree. Apply Wikipedia etiquette, and don’t engage in personal attacks.
  5. Wikipedia has no firm rules: Wikipedia has policies and guidelines, but they are not carved in stone; their content and interpretation can evolve over time. Their principles and spirit matter more than their literal wording, and sometimes improving Wikipedia requires making an exception.

How well do the characteristics of librarians relate to Wikipedia’s goals and principles?

How Well Are The Two Communities Aligned?

The following table suggests how these characteristics of librarians relate to Wikipedia’s goals and principles and other information about Wikipedia.

Librarian Traits / Characteristics Relevance to Wikipedia
1 A love of knowledge and learning Aligned with Wikipedia’s goal of “a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge“.
2 A desire to work around people There is a strong Wikipedia community: in October 2013 there were 31,000 active editors with about half of the active editors spending at least one hour a day editing, and a fifth spend more than three hours
3 Love of books  –
4 Broad overall knowledge of life and the world Wikipedia provides access to broad knowledge of life and the world. In addition Wikipedia provides an environment in which librarians can share their knowledge and support their users who may also wish to share their knowledge.
5 Strong organizational skills There are currently 4,616,531 articles in the English-language version of Wikipedia. In order to help manage such a large number of articles there will be a need to have good organisation skills (e.g. in making use of metadata such as Wikipedia categories) to help manage the service.
6 Good with numbers As described in a post on , the 1:AM conference Wikipedia provides a wide range of metrics, which may be of relevance  to those with interests in altmetrics.
7 Friendly Aligned with Wikipedia principle that Editors should treat each other with respect and civility
8 Ethical Aligned with Wikipedia principle that Editors should treat each other with respect and civility
9 Personable Aligned with Wikipedia principle that Editors should treat each other with respect and civility
10 Basic affinity for working with large volumes of information This is of direct relevance to Wikipedia.
11 Computer skills  This is of direct relevance to Wikipedia.

Perhaps the librarian trait which does not initially appear to be aligned with interests in Wikipedia is a love of books. However the Wikibooks service which, along with Wikipedia, is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation does provide access to an open-content collection of text books buy zithromax with mastercard that anyone can edit which currently hosts 2,722 books with 49,758 pages. In addition librarians with a love of books may well find that the Wikipedia summary of  lists of books that have articles on Wikipedia, organised by various criteria may provide a useful starting point for sharing their expertise!

Of course the library traits of friendliness and being personable will traditionally have been relevant to the real world environment and visitors to the physical library. Nowadays if would be appropriate to relate these traits to the online environment, just as they would also apply to engagement with patrons on the telephone.

Librarians and Wikipedia: an Ideal Match!

I would argue that there are a number of other important key characteristics shared by dedicated professional librarians who are comfortable working in today’s online environment which are relevant to an environment in which Wikipedia provide a resource which is widely used.

In a talk on “Wikipedia in the library – the elephant in the (reading) room?” given at the LILAC 2014 conference Nancy Graham and Andrew Gray pointed out the flaws in the view that: “We have a problem. The kids these days are reading too many encyclopedias“. As can be seen from their slides they argued that considerations of the relevance of Wikipedia in education provides an ideal teaching moment for thinking critically about online material,  differentiating the good from the bad and even engaging with the means of production.

Beyond digital literacy, librarians are also perceived as belonging to a trusted profession. Although expertise in use of online tools is now essential for librarians, not all online tools will necessarily respect users’ privacy concerns – indeed as Phil Bradley recently pointed out Google is tracking your every move.  Other popular online services, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. will also track your online activities and display ads based on the resources you visit.

Although such tools will be used by librarians, they will find that Wikipedia provides a more ethical online environment, with visitors to the Web site not having to worry out intrusive adverts or their browsing patterns and online profile being sold to advertisers.

Librarians and Wikipedia: surely an ideal match! Wouldn’t you agree? If you do agree I’d be interested to hear how you are using Wikipedia in your library. If, however, you don’t agree feel free to give your reasons why you feel librarians should not actively engage with Wikipedia.

About the author

Brian Kelly is the Innovation Advocate at Cetis, University of Bolton. He has responsibilities for promoting use of innovative technologies and practices in higher and further education. Brian has given talks on the importance of Wikipedia for librarians including “Editing Wikipedia: Why You Should and How You Can Support Your Users” at the CILIP Wales 2014 conference and “Why and How Librarians Should Engage With Wikipedia” at the CILIPS Autumn Gathering 2014. Brian has also written a number of blog posts about Wikipedia including Top Wikipedia Tips for Librarians: Why You Should Contribute and How You Can Support Your Users and Wikipedia, Librarians and CILIP.

About this post

This post was submitted to the CILIP Blogger Challenge, a competition which provides bloggers the opportunity to talk about important library, knowledge and information issues. Posts must be between 500-1,500 words words long and must be submitted by Friday 7 November. Submissions will be judged on the following criteria: 1) be short and focussed on one issue; 2) have a short, meaningful and descriptive title; 3) be relevant; 4) be bold and encourage debates; 5) be original and 6) make complex concepts and ideas accessible to non-experts.

However since criteria 5 requires that submissions be original (i.e. “should provide a new and original perspective and should not have been published anywhere else previously, including on your own blog”) this post is being published after the CILIP Blogger Competition judges have selected the winning blog posts.

The post did not win the challenge. The winning post of the CILIP Blogger Challenge was entitled “Is digitisation the answer or is digital preservation the question?” and was written by Jenny O’Neill. The 4 “highly commended” blog posts  are:

  1. Managing agricultural indigenous knowledge in my rural library by Eric Nelson Haumba
  2. Architecture, memory and metaphor in the digital domain by Nadia Holmes
  3. Libraries and archives could teach gamers a thing or two by Ros Malone
  4. Sharing stories: how libraries can help new parents live happily ever after by Katy Loudon


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