The stereotypical image of elderly, spectacled, stern librarians dominating over their realm, their dedication to the preservation of knowledge evident in their delicate treatment of books and the harsh treatment of those who disrupt the sacred space, is an image slowly receding since the introduction of technology. Once the model of culture, libraries are now grappling with imposed changes, competing with the availability of information on the internet as well as the lowered readership standards of children and young adults who spend less time reading than the generations that preceded them.
This is not the first time libraries have struggled. Before the mid-19th century, libraries were run by membership and barely sustained themselves financially by the fees they charged readers. Later, libraries opened that received public funding in hopes that the availability of educational materials would educate the lower classes and shrink class differences. Librarians were imbued with a sense of mission.
In 1876, the year the American Library Association was formed, librarianship became an acknowledged occupation for the first time. Librarians began to compose reading guides for other librarians, establishing which books a library should buy, which books are most important.
In 1887, the Melvil Dewey School of Librarianship at Columbia University opened. In educating librarians, the school emphasized the practical elements of librarianship over the theoretical. The school opened up to women and librarianship became a female-dominated career. As the years went by graduate degree choices broadened, offering degrees in information resource management, information studies and information management, aside from the traditional library science and information science degrees.
The position of librarian has long been devalued. Evidence to this is that the most esteemed libraries are not run by librarians. The Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the Harvard University Library, the Morgan Library and the Newberry Library are all run by individuals who are in no way trained as or considered to be librarians. Furthermore, in the academic public debates on preservation of documents, librarians were not given the opportunity to air their views, as most essays on the debate were written by professionals other than those well versed in librarianship. Thus librarians are not credited with the status that their work should invoke.
The reason behind this is merely the continuation of a 19th-century trend. As women flowed into librarianship a hierarchy was created: the minority of male librarians rose to the top and the women were left with the low-level busywork. Since their coursework focused on the practical elements, librarians -- primarily female librarians -- become more like clerks than anything else. The divide between the management and the librarians deepened over the course of the years and evidently remains as fractured now as it was 200 years ago.
Another factor in the under-appreciation of librarians is the shifts universities took, educating that the creation of knowledge is far more important than its dissemination. With that, librarians have not contributed to the dissemination of knowledge outside of the library since the position and training is not intellectually motivated.
With the dawn of technology, librarianship has changed drastically. Librarians have had to be retrained to use computers, to assemble all the data differently and the shifts are in constant flux as technological developments continue. Librarianship graduate programs have been forced to revamp their curricula, including courses on telecommunications and computer science.
Sociological changes are affecting the libraries as well. The younger generation views the world in a fluid manner, with less confinement to time and space than their elders. As the years progress and the exposure to the internet increases, it is supposed that their conception of libraries will become apathetic and later confused.
Librarians feel the threat of technology since it may make the role of librarian obsolete, or even shut down libraries completely, since resources are readily available on the internet, in which case librarians will also be out of a job. Attempting to prevent this from happening, libraries around the world keep up tirelessly with the electronic data, e-books and membership to online databases that are free for library users but cost a fee for those accessing it from home. Librarians continue to work to keep their work relevant and useful.