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By now I’m sure everyone has heard about the controversy over the librarian demotions in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Is this indeed a sign that public libraries are approaching the end of days – another nail in the coffin of the public perception of librarianship? The comments to the original news story certainly highlight the big old “kick me” sign taped to our backs.
The most thought-provoking perspective I’ve seen on this issue on the many blogs and discussion lists that have tackled it confronts that old sticking point that we as a profession are INEPT at marketing ourselves. Unlike the CIA, which has many legitimate reasons for professional secrecy, it should not be our goal to be undercover agents. This false modesty is going to be (maybe already is) our demise. If we can’t sell value-added service to the public as our raison d’etre as librarians, then we really ARE just wasting time and money. And if the library director in Wausau, Wisconsin can’t even find reasons for keeping a library staffed with professionals paid a living wage, this very certainly is the beginning of the end.
Surely our value does not come from being the warm bodies behind the reference desk, as this story distortingly implies. But what is it that makes public librarians essential to the library? And how do we sell that to the public? There are services we provide as information professionals that are completely unknown to most of the public (and, apparently, to many library boards). These are the useful things we spend our valuable time learning in grad school, skills which make us more valuable than generic customer service representatives (or whatever they’re calling the new librarian positions in Wausau).
1. Complex research/subject expertise/knowledge of databases
2. Instruction and programming – 1 on 1 and for classes and groups
3. Collection development – tools, collection, users
4. Tech skills (NOT just how to unjam the copier)
These are important, valuable skills. We all know that. We’re proud of our accomplishments and tend to come through in a pinch. But all too often we can’t even offer these skills, because the point of need goes unannounced by a public still ignorant of our services.
So how do we sell ourselves? Some random thoughts: THINK LIKE A BUSINESS. Stop being martyrs. Advertise on tv and radio. Do presentations for schools and other local groups. Hey, why not put up a billboard? It’s only by selling ourselves as unique and intrinsic components of 21st century society that libraries – and librarians - will maintain any sort of relevance.
I was excited to find a new writing opportunity this week. I will be writing book reviews for the new online arts magazine Moonshine - another one of those unpaid gigs that seem to be so ubiquitous. If only money and librarianship were more compatible. While not necessarily library-related, it’s a good chance to spread my literary wings a bit, polish the old resume, and read more art books. Win win.
This is a thought I’ve had quite often lately as I consider my next career moves. If you haven’t heard, it’s expensive to live in Santa Fe. Another news flash: librarians don’t make much money. Neither do registrars. I’ve been considering options such as relocating to Albuquerque to save money on rent, which would mean an hour commute. But they have comfy park-and-ride buses (and a thusfar elusive “Railrunner” train) between the two cities, so it wouldn’t be all bad.
I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be in the running for the University of New Mexico Libraries’ Resident Program. It’s a 1 to 2 year residency that gives new librarians a taste of just about every aspect of librarianship – from reference to cataloging to archives. If nothing else, I would be extremely well-rounded. I kind of want my next position to be more longterm (in the 5 year range) so I can finally feel settled and maybe do the whole house/dog commitment thing, but this would be a great opportunity.
I am finally able to take a breath after a crazy few weeks of getting over the learning curve of a new job, finishing school and moving. I have moved now 3 different times this summer. I am ready to be settled – at least for more than a few weeks at a time.
It hasn’t quite sunk in that I am now officially a LIBRARIAN. I am tempted to make business cards just to have an excuse to stick the MLIS after my name. I haven’t had much chance to celebrate, but it is a relief to realize that all my efforts have finally come to fruition. I’m excited to be part of the club. I even broke down and joined ALA.
As my path to this point has been a meandering one, this blog will probably continue to branch out in unexpected directions. Hopefully I will have a bit of a chance in the next few months to catch up on some reading and professional development. I particularly want to explore some issues relating to the convergence between libraries, museums, and my new area of expertise – galleries. I have been pleasantly surprised by the ArtSystems GalleryPro database that we use at the gallery – it’s a relational database that rivals some of the ILS systems I have worked with. It’s really quite robust and displays images as well (similar to FileMaker Pro). I’m looking forward to working with it some more and pondering the applications of some of its functionality for future ILS incarnations.
This week I attended a workshop put on by the Special Library Association called “Building a Resilient Career – Agile, Opportunistic, and Sustainable.” The presentor was Kim Dority, who is both an LIS educator and an information consultant/freelancer. She is the author of Rethinking Information Work. It seemed like a good idea to check my expectations and experiences against this perspective. I took away a lot of important messages from the presentation and particularly an increased sense of energy and confidence towards my future in information work. Most importantly, it reinforced my knowledge of the MLIS degree as creative, flexible, and broadly applicable. My current job trajectory is a perfect example of that.
Here are some of the presentation highlights:
We need to take charge of the events of our own lives. Libraries tend to be in reactive rather than proactive positions, and need to harness some of the power for ourselves. This means creating agendas, knowing what will be gained in decisions, and how to move forward. Importantly, though we share the missions of our employers and the LIS profession, we are also competing as individuals against some of their interests.
2. Willingness to let go of perfectionism
I can relate to this one. I know it’s what limits many of the challenges I take on, and I know that’s a trait I share with many other librarians. That’s probably why as a profession we’re so slow to make changes.
3. Willingness to embrace change
Don’t fight against the power of change, but harness it.
4. Willingness to take risks
Again, I and many others have a great discomfort with incompetence, even though that is the impetus for learning.
5. Willingness to make decisions
Sometimes our professional neutrality limits our ability to make decisions, a quality that attracts the most respect in our society. If we want respect, we need to be decisive.
6. Willingness to accept (and respond to) reality
We talk way too much about the way things should be, how libraries deserve greater respect and support in society.
7. Commitment to focus on solutions
8. Willingness to reinvent ourselves on an as-needed basis
OK, that’s a tough one. But again, the best part about LIS is flexibility, if you’re proactive.
One of the most interesting ideas in the presentation was the “Impostor Syndrome” – that sinking feeling that you’ve been handed responsibility way beyond your capabilities and that you are going to fail horribly and publicly, that every day is just an effort to hide that incompetence. This is particularly common in a “female” profession such as librarianship. We’re not known for our confidence, and it’s a major effort to stretch beyond our comfort zone.