If you ever need a list of incredibly British-sounding city names, simply refer to the sentence, “To obtain a more precise location, a study of the postal services suggested that it should be located in Lancashire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire or Cumberland” (p. 36).

In the depths of the library basement, among the dusty, hand-crank bookcases, I finally found the section on Library and Information Science. Skimming the shelves, The Principles of Librarianship by Donald Urquhart seemed short and digestible. While I hoped the book would explain how literature was organized, I was excited at how wrong I was.

In the elementary school library, massive posters signified different parts of the Dewey Decimal System. After years of seeing these posters, organizing books stuck with me as the library’s purpose, and I forgot about the librarian that helped me find origami books for the first time.

In middle school and high school, my English classes only ever visited the library when we were doing research projects. Sitting in rooms full of students searching online databases, I brushed off the librarian asking students about their projects as a teacher doing their job.

One afternoon, a librarian asked me about Bertrand Russell. It became painfully obvious I knew nothing about him or his work, so I grabbed one of his books, checked it out, and took a few notes. His comments on historical set theory stuck with me as I began studying mathematics at university.

My perception of libraries, librarians, and their purpose was skewed, but my memories of them were always positive. While I enjoyed working in the library, I never truly appreciated why they functioned they way they did, and I wish I had.

To my younger self,

Libraries are not just rooms full of books. They are the place of practice for librarians.

Librarians study the needs of their users and adjust their libraries accordingly.

Librarians familiarize themselves with countless fields of study to better guide scholars.

Librarians recommend materials they think would benefit you, not necessarily ones they enjoy.

Librarians connect with others in their field to leverage resources from countless libraries, all to get you access to the information you need.

Librarians optimize their services to help the most people as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Librarians convince funding organizations that the service they provide is worth funding, even though you can’t put a price on information.

Every conversation you have with a librarian will be fruitful. They will have insights in whatever work you’re doing, and you’ll almost always walk away with a new direction you want to explore. If you get a book or article or author recommendation, even better. Talk to as many librarians as you can, even if you’re not stuck in your research.

Seriously, go talk to some librarians,


Recently, I visited my high school library, and I caught up with the librarian that showed me Russell so many years ago. I brought up my current research, and without skipping a beat, he mentioned an author I should look into. The name had been on my list for a while, but I didn’t feel compelled to read any of their works. Given the success of the Russell recommendation, I think I know what I’ll be reading next.

In case you were wondering, here are the 18 principles of librarianship.

  1. Libraries are for users.
  2. The failures of an information supply system to satisfy its users are, as a rule, not obvious.
  3. Supply creates demand.
  4. Users must be provided with guides so that they can select the records which may interest them.
  5. Libraries must be able to provide adequate access to the records users may wish to consult.
  6. Libraries have to be paid for.
  7. Libraries, both individually and collectively, must have regard to cost-effectiveness.
  8. Information cannot be valued as a rule in monetary terms.
  9. Libraries must have regard to the law of diminishing returns.
  10. The best is the enemy of the good.
  11. Unit costs for a particular activity should decrease as the magnitude of the activity increases.
  12. No library is an island.
  13. Objective data about users’ requirements should be used in planning developments of libraries.
  14. In considering the use of new techniques and systems, it is necessary to look at the future, not the past.
  15. The staff of a library should work as a team.
  16. A librarian’s post is not a sinecure for a scholar — a librarian’s task is often to facilitate the work of many scholars.
  17. Libraries can be valuable to society.
  18. Librarianship is an experimental science.