UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 7 | Jul.
Amber Lannon, Modern Librarian
Books play small role in information expert’s work
By Michelle Cook
How hard is it for a modern-day librarian to overcome that
pesky stereotype of the stern, bespectacled bookworm with
a hair bun? Just ask Amber Lannon, a reference librarian at
the David Lam Management Research Centre.
Despite the fact that she’s never told anyone to “shush”
and doesn’t spend her days stamping books, Lannon says
even a passing mention of her profession is a party conversation
“People say, ‘that must be really boring’
or they just don’t believe me,” says Lannon, 29,
with a shake of her head. “They say, ‘oh you’re
too young’ or ‘you don’t look like a librarian,’
and I just don’t know what to say to that.”
Dressed in a stylish black skirt and high heels, Lannon’s
look is more Sex and the City than ‘old-maid behind
the help desk’ and, in the increasingly electronic world
of reference where library work is less about books and more
about knowledge management, Lannon and her fellow librarians
may just be the ones who have the last laugh about all those
“Running a library is a lot like running a business,”
Lannon says. And that’s one reason why, in addition
to being a full-time librarian, she’s enrolled in UBC’s
“An MBA is a more natural fit than some might think,”
she explains. “In the rapidly changing environment of
the modern library with the emphasis on digital and electronic
holdings, librarians can’t be complacent. We’ve
got to stay on the edge of these things.”
On a typical day in her small but busy branch of UBC Library,
Lannon can usually be found applying her friendly, open approach
to many diverse tasks. These include evaluating large electronic
databases, addressing access to information issues, managing
the library’s website, or helping students to access
the data they need to prepare business plans for everything
from tattoo parlours to Home Depot franchises.
With much of the library’s holdings online, most days
she doesn’t even pick up a book.
“There is this idea that, in order to be a librarian,
you have to really like books but that’s not what makes
a good librarian, and neither does being really good with
computers. This is a service profession and that really should
be part of the image,” she says.
Lannon’s career in the library biz began at an early
age in her hometown of Halifax. At 14, she got a summer job
as a clerk at her neighbourhood library. The experience introduced
her to the people who use libraries and the people who run
them - and she liked what she saw enough to seriously consider
She went on to earn an undergraduate degree in English at
St. Mary’s University and master of library science
from Dalhousie University. Five years ago, she followed her
fiancé out to Vancouver (they are now married). She
worked in libraries at Langara College and a private law firm
before UBC Library hired her to help get the Robson Square
branch up and running.
Six months ago, she left the downtown campus to come to the
David Lam Library. These days, a big part of her job is training
people how to use the facility effectively, especially e-resources.
It is an important aspect of library work and Lannon’s
boss, UBC Librarian Catherine Quinlan, says she is particularly
good at it.
“Amber is innovative, always looking for opportunities
to involve the library in the work of the faculty and students
at UBC,” Quinlan says. “She is particularly astute
in her dealings with students - teaching them how to develop
a strategy that will help them find the information they need,
rather than just giving them the information. The library
works hard to ensure that we prepare people to be critical
consumers of information, not just passive recipients. Amber
does a remarkable job in this respect.”
Lannon says helping people to help themselves in the electronic
age has its challenges.
“You never have a clue who’s going to come up
to the desk and what they’re going to ask for help with.
It’s fun if you at all enjoy the hunt or being a private
detective, but as people become better users of resources
like Google, they don’t need help with easy questions
anymore,” she says.
“They come to me with the really tough, complex questions
- things like the latest consumer spending statistics for
India or available commercial real estate in Fort McMurray
- the kind of questions that can’t easily be answered
with an Internet search or by pulling just one book off a
Another challenge has been juggling her MBA studies and her
job, but working in the David Lam Management Research Centre
(part of the Sauder School of Business) has given Lannon an
unusual edge. With her library science background, she has
been able to make up for what she lacks in previous business
experience with her ability to quickly put her finger on resources
and reference materials.
It’s a skill that has made her popular with her classmates.
“They often want to do projects with me because they
think I’ll take care of the research,” she says.
When she’s not at work or studying, Lannon spends time
outdoors running, cycling and hiking. She also likes to cook
but you won’t necessarily find her burying her nose
in a book.
“I enjoy reading but I don’t have a lot of time
to do it. Lots of my friends are more voracious readers than
I am,” says Lannon with a laugh.
As for the future, Lannon’s not quite sure what kind
of library work she’ll be doing 10 years from now. In
the rapidly evolving world of knowledge management, it may
be a job that doesn’t even exist yet. Whatever she ends
up doing, she hopes she’ll be able to apply her MBA
skills to the library system.
By then, she also hopes to have found the perfect cocktail
party comeback line for all those detractors who still think
librarians are boring.