Thursday, June 9, 2011

What is up with libraries these days? Part two

When I was working on part one of this thread, I realized that I had more to say than I could cram into one post. The passion I felt over this has faded some. I am a bit more removed at this point from the problems that stirred up so much ire in my spirit (the project isn't over, though, so I'm sure it will come up again). But even as I sit here to try to verbalize (or write) the jumbled mess of thoughts I have on this issue, the problem seems overwhelming. Or maybe it's just so simple and staring me in my face that I am just ignoring it.

I'll say this now. This post will probably be filled with sweeping, but not hasty, generalizations about the people with whom I share my field. I will also admit that I am not the most well-read librarian on library things. The number of blogs out there is overwhelming, and quite a few librarians are addressing the same issues as myself (most of them with a much broader audience than my own little blog world here). If you've read similar words somewhere else, share.

Here's how I ended part 1:
"We are Librarians, a part of a long history of subversion, controversy, rebellion, and knowledge. If knowledge is power, we have the power of entire civilizations at our finger tips. Let's use it!

Part Two will more than likely be on why most librarians won't actually step up to the plate and why I hope that I will be proven wrong."

I feel like I should clarify a little. Plenty of librarians are stepping up to the plate and fighting to show the value of our profession. Take for example the advocates in the Florida Library Association who successfully lobbied to maintain library funding for this extremely tight budget year (check out their thank you video here. Your mother was right: always say thank you). But here's the problem with some of our advocacy efforts: we often only talk to each other. We vent on listservs hidden away from the public eye. We post blogs that only other librarians are reading. We are tongue tied with our professional jargon. We only step up when there is trouble. Ok, so that's more than one problem, but I think they have a similar root: the kind of people attracted to the librarian field.

WARNING: generalization ahead

If you haven't noticed, many librarians are of a certain type. Public services librarians (front lines people, the public face of libraries) like to help people and diffuse situations, and technical services librarians (the people hiding behind closed doors or on the fifth floors of towers closed to the public) generally prefer technology to people and really don't like trouble. The appeal of the library is the illusion that each day will be filled with helping connect library users with the perfect resources. It's a blissful illusion since anyone who has worked in a library for more than an hour knows just how volatile the atmosphere in a library can be. So, we vent to each other about that. We deal with the day to day issues that invariably arise in our work place. We become so wrapped up with just getting through today that we avoid the big picture. Some one else can deal with that. I'm just too busy. We all stay in our own little words talking to the people we know agree with us and just treading water. I know I'm guilty.

According to the most recent (2008) O*NET numbers, there are 160,000 librarians in the US (the number is probably more since this is specifically people who identify themselves as "librarians" and the profession is much broader than that). Can you imagine if we all actually spoke with the same voice about our value to the rest of the country? But we divide ourselves. Are you aware of how many professional organizations exist for librarians? American Library Association, Special Libraries Association, Music librarians Association, Association of American Law Librarians, Medical Library Association. Check out this rather lengthy list. You would think we would all be working together, but no. We divide ourselves, claiming that no other "type" can possibly understand the problems I have in MY library or information center or whatever you call it.

I feel like this post is getting away from me. And maybe that's another problem with librarians.

If we, those of us who spent all that money getting our professional degrees, are not going to step forward and explain to the rest of the world that our value goes far beyond helping people find the next big bestseller (a valuable skill, but not our only skill), who in the world to we expect to do this for us? Are all those computer programmers out there expecting all of their users to tell the world how valuable they are? No. Do the lawyers rely on others to defend their value to the world? No. How about the doctors, plumbers, electricians, police officers... Get the picture? We are each responsible for making sure that others understand our value.

We should be adapting to the future. The world is changing and all that. But we shouldn't be allowing other people to tell us how we are supposed to change. It's like a doctor telling a plumber how to clear a drain because the doctor unclogged an artery or vice versa. They are both experts in their own field and perhaps they can learn from each other, but one can't tell the other what to do. Yes, evaluate what you're doing and why. Recognize that you may need to change. But don't just change for change's sake. And don't just stay the same because that's how we've always done it. Become active in other information professions, using the knowledge that you have already learned to help teach others. We cannot be passive any more. We cannot allow other to say that we have no value because computers are just so smart these days (computers aren't creating themselves... yet). Shock and amaze people by your mad searching, organizing, teaching, archiving, programming, writing, helping, creating, collaborating, managing, budgeting (anything else?) skills. And when they look at you weird or actually say, "Gee, how'd you know that?" just reply, "Because I am a (dudududaaaa) LIBRARIAN!" (insert image of cape bedecked person with a book on chest, wind blowing, music playing).

Don't sell yourself (and your profession) short: You are a librarian, and we all rock this world.

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