UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page UBC Home Page -
News Events Directories Search UBC myUBC Login
- -
UBC Public Affairs
UBC Reports
UBC Reports Extras
Goal / Circulation / Deadlines
Letters to the Editor & Opinion Pieces / Feedback
UBC Reports Archives
Media Releases
Services for Media
Services for the Community
Services for UBC Faculty & Staff
Find UBC Experts
Search Site

UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 7 | Jul. 8, 2004

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 stopper.

“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 tired clichés.

“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 MBA program.

“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 library studies.

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 shelf.”

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.

- - -  

Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

to top | UBC.ca » UBC Public Affairs

UBC Public Affairs
310 - 6251 Cecil Green Park Road, Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1
tel 604.822.3131 | fax 604.822.2684 | e-mail public.affairs@ubc.ca

© Copyright The University of British Columbia, all rights reserved.