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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. 

Well, I missed out on ALA yet again…anyone who went feel free to contribute some commentary.  For the most part,  personally I find more localized or focused conferences such as MPLA, VRA, or ARLIS to be more useful.  Or maybe I’m just bitter about ALA’s virulent recruitment efforts.

After spending so much time last week setting up the ledgers and funds for the Georgia O’Keeffe serials collection, today I did indeed have to reinvent the wheel.  Because we were booted out of the system abruptly last week, all the changes were lost.  I had to recreate the whole thing, which was pretty frustrating.  The good news is that I have a really good grasp on how the system works now and how to work with the subscription maintenance.  After today, many of the titles are ready to be checked in.

Eumie also mentioned trying to get grant funding or some other source of money to add a position at the library…and that she would like to hire me, even if it was just for a temporary project.   That would be an incredible opportunity.  It feels good to know that I am making a real contribution there and that she admires my work.  A job would feel even better, but I’ll take the admiration for now.  And it’s good to have daydreams to sustain me while I’m waiting for the job offers to come.

Keeping up my zen outlook to this whole adventure, something will come along…

I’m attempting here no small feat – to distill my observations and philosophies of the last few weeks into one cohesive code.  During the course of my perusal of the various library codes of ethics, it dawned on me that this would be an ideal way to create a succinct structure for the more meandering and disjointed observations and declarations of my previous posts.  In particular I was inspired by the short and sweet statements laid out by Rich Gause of the University of Central Florida in his “Philosophy of Librarianship” and wanted to attempt something similar. 

My distillation is even shorter, if not sweeter.  I took some time looking at the various resources we have explored in this course, including the ALA Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights, Fay Zipkowitz’s Case Studies, Mark Alfino & Linda Pierce’s Information Ethics for Librarians, Michael Gorman’s values, Ranganathan’s 5 Laws, and the code of ethics of the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.  I came up with 5 statements based upon what I saw to be the most striking, essential, and personally applicable facets of these various resources within the context of the thinking I have done about my own professional development and philosophies of librarianship.

My Professional Ethics of Librarianship:

1. We have a responsibility to care for the cultural resources entrusted to us by our communities.

 2. We have a responsibility to provide equal access to unbiased information for all patrons to promote literacy and the opportunity for lifelong learning.

3. We have a responsibility to continue learning new skills, thinking critically about current issues in libraries, and reaching out to the community and colleagues.

4. We are organizers of information in order to make information more accessible through effective subject analysis, cataloging, and classification principles.

5. We must be responsive to our patrons and our communities.

I feel that these points get to the heart of why this profession continues to be relevant and essential to an information-driven society.  These are the philosophies I try to keep in mind when I consider the course of my career and prioritize my goals at work and in continuing education.

WWALD? (what would a librarian do?)

Part of the whirlwind excitement of a 3 week class is cramming in a semester’s worth of intellectual growth and edification into a mere 21 days.  It is an appropriate indicator of the importance of critical thinking, if nothing else just to organize my disjointed and random thoughts.  My mission in this 3-part blogging exercise is to try to develop a microcosm of a learning process.  I have taken in lots of information, so let’s see if I can reguritate it into the form of knowledge.  We’ll assume the wisdom will come at some point later in the future.

 On the issue of professional responsibility to community involvement, I have considered many different perspectives.  Our exercise this week to look at the ALA’s website and links to resources on ethical issues got me thinking about this as well.  I poked around quite a bit in the section on advocacy and noticed just how strenuously the ALA promotes this as a core value for the profession. 

I have never been very politically active in the past.  I tend to take a somewhat Jainist position of doing no harm and adhering to personal responsibility.  If I take a longer view on the issue, I do admit that pursuing a professional route requires greater responsibility for issues relating to the profession.  By saying I am a professional and a graduate of an ALA-accredited school, I am therefore guided by certain shared principles of behavior.  If our professional principles include advocacy and outreach, they must therefore be part of my ethical grounding.  Does this mean I must be involved in the issues, a representative library voice in the community? Alfino and Pierce think so in Information Ethics for Librarians.  Perhaps it differs depending on the institution.   Public librarians often seem to take much of the onus of responsibility for advocacy efforts.  Is this because they are more central to the community, while the rest of us are off in our ivory towers (or archives, or schools, or museums)? Should we all really share in the efforts equally? Should we all be marching outside the capitol when library funding issues come up? Should we all be writing to our senators and editors? Probably yes.  The Professional Librarian’s Guild suggests that we should be radical (non-neutral) proponents of intellectual freedom and “strongly oppose the commodification of information which turns the ‘information commons’ into privatized, commercialized zones.” That sounds a bit ambiguous to me, but I do absolutely wish to be voice for intellectual freedom and equity of access.

As we become professionals, we become guardians of the profession.  While that’s a frightening thought, it’s nonetheless part of the deal.  Kathleen Pena McCook also promotes our community involvement on the Librarian at Every Table discussion list:

“Librarians have an important role to play in building community in neighborhoods, towns, cities, counties, states and the nation. People have great faith in libraries as fair and trusted institutions and in librarians as the honest and diligent keepers and disseminators of the human record.”

My professional involvement to this point has included association and committee memberships, reading and thinking about the issues, and activity on discussion lists.  Along with my blog feeds, I subscribe to nexgenlib, newlib, ARLIS-L, and VRA-L.  I find blogs and discussion lists to be useful tools for different reasons.  From blogs, I gain a great deal of information about trends and an in-depth view of how people are thinking about the issues.  I get inspired to pursue different paths of research.  From the discussion lists, I mostly get a sense of how different constituencies (new librarians, library students, art librarians, etc.) are thinking and conversing about the issues.  As a distance ed student, it’s one of the ways in which I can get more of a sense of community.  Lest I begin to drown in information, I have avoided joining more specific groups such as autocat, even though the discussion interests me.

All of these components of involvement indicate that I do consider involvement beyond the boundaries of the job to be an important aspect of professionalism.  I’ve started thinking about the various ways in which I will fulfill my professional responsibilities in the years to come.  Beyond the things I have already mentioned, I would like to find more opportunities for continuing education.  I’m excited by the fact that there are now so many (mostly) freely available podcasts on a variety of topics.  Some of these resources include the SirsiDynix institute, College of DuPage, AMIGOS, and other random useful stuff librarians have put online.  I also really enjoy conferences.  There is something about the immediately close-knit, like-minded community that is created for 2 or 3 days that I find really inspiring and invigorating.  I would like to become more active in my association memberships, such as the state library association’s New Member’s Round Table.

I assume that at some point in the not too distant future I will take a role in the management and administration of a library.  I have thought quite a bit about how I would like to develop my management style to integrate within an organization.  I would definitely like to avoid micromanagement, and, as Michael Gorman puts it, try to have an organization that is as flat as possible.  Coming from the perspective of a paraprofessional, I can definitely relate to the issues affecting staff.  I think I would be very receptive to input and concerns from all levels. 

Another important responsibility inherent in professionalism is mentoring.  I would like to continue to learn from people who are established in the field.  My present job involves working very closely with professionals in all areas of the library, and this has been immensely helpful to me.  In particular the chance to share ideas through committee work is invaluable.  I hope that when I start my first professional job I will have someone to show me the ropes and introduce me to the organization.  Likewise, I would like to be a mentor for others after I have a few years of experience.  However, most of the time mentoring opportunities are informal.  I think we all have something, some unique expertise or perspective, to teach each other, and mentoring is an ongoing process.  That’s one reason why social networking has the potential to be a powerful tool, not just for our patrons, but for us as professionals.  We can learn from each other through blogs, wikis, and websites.  We can find out what projects others are working on and what discoveries they have made.  We can collaborate and combine our efforts in new and innovative ways. 

There’s been some commentary lately on the discussion lists about the ethics of being a library volunteer after receiving the MLS degree.  There seems to be quite a split consensus between those who think it completely denegrates the profession and should be avoided in all situations and those who think it is a valuable tool to get experience.

Personally, I fall more towards the latter end of the spectrum, though I can understand the philosophical/market forces argument put forth by the former.  Internships, work study, volunteering, and other relatively no pay/low pay positions are theoretically in the realm of library school education.  They are meant to supplement course work in order to give us that all important hands-on experience.  By “giving it away for free” as certified professionals, we lower the market value of an MLS degree, which is already undervalued enough. 

However, it’s another one of those infuriating library field Catch-22s.  Many students have no chance to do an internship or get other real world library experience as part of their course work.  There are still many ALA-accredited programs that don’t have such a requirement.  Technically, you could become a librarian without ever setting foot in a library.  While that scenario isn’t likely, it is much more likely that we continue to mill out these cohorts of students who just don’t have the experience necessary to hit the job market running.  That’s where our field is professionally lacking – doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. all complete intensive training in their respective fields.  We do not, unless personally motivated.  It goes unstated that you’d better seek out paraprofessional experience or internships on your own during library school if you expect to even have a chance to break into the field.  Why is this such a secret for library school administrators, and such a gnawed over bone of contention for those of us entering the field?

Even those who choose to complete a – let’s say – 150 hour internship have experience that barely begins to scratch the surface.  You just can’t get the necessary experience in that timeframe.  Some libraries have the patience and resources to mentor and support inexperienced newbies.  Many do not, and as the library market is right now glutted with graduates who have both years of experience and a degree, those without are just not going to be able to compete.  So how can you tell these starry-eyed, newly minted MLS professionals that they aren’t allowed to volunteer to equal out the playing field?  I’ve also heard the argument that having the degree means never accepting a paraprofessional position.  This strikes a personal economic chord.  There are more job-seekers right now in this field than there are jobs.  What are the rest of them (soon to be us) to do as we wait for that first professional job? Polish our resumes like a worry-stone in the hope it will gleam more brightly for the hiring committees? That can only do so much.

 I am of the opinion that ALA accreditation standards need to change to reflect the need for experience, along with library schools limiting the number of students admitted into programs and increasing the rigor of library education.  I know this is not a new argument, but it’s one that needs to be voiced in a variety of venues until it gets heard by library schools and the ALA.  Our crisis is NOT one of recruitment, but of quality and competitiveness.

August 2020