Tuesday, June 03, 2008

What is a Librarian, anyway?

I have to say a few posts grabbed my attention recently. They began with comments by a fellow library staff member and member of ALA, who does not have an MLS, MLIS, or other library degree. Lori Reed wrote about Emerging Leaders in ALA. Lori is a Library Trainer at PLCMC and highly professional, however she lacks that critical MLIS or other library degree that the program requires.

I was pleased to see one of my favorite bloggers, LibrarianinBlack was supporting Lori and she pointed out other issues for people who are don't or can't travel. Neither however, mentioned the age factor. I realize ALA are assuming that to be an Emerging Leader you are just starting your career and recently out of Library school. But there are people who didn't go to library school until later in life. I once met a former State Librarian for Colorado who got his degree at 40, I think he was 60 or 70 when I met him. Despite his rapid rise through the ranks of Librarians he would not have qualified for ALA's Emerging Leaders Programs either since they also limit to under 35.

Lori has since added a second blog on the value to the organization of non-degreed staffers.
During our new employee orientation the following question is asked, “How many of you are librarians?” A handful of people will raise their hands. The rest will squirm in their seats waiting, wondering what’s coming next. “To our customers we are all librarians” is the next thing new staff hear.With that statement you see a smile emerge and tension melt away.

I definitely think she has a point. I've worked in libraries for 22 years and 20 of those years in one system in a variety of roles. In some cases I felt a definite segregation of "Professional" vs "Paraprofessional" staff. The thing is when you work in a small location with only one person with a library degree, there just isn't always a person on hand to be the librarian if you restrict the definition to only include people with the degree. Our customers don't in fact know the difference. 10 years of my work were at just such a location. I worked in every capacity, from periodicals clerk, storyteller, shelver, reference librarian, to Manager On Duty, and on occasion cleaning up vomit. I now work in a much larger facility with several degreed Librarians and am called on to serve as Manager On Duty about once a month. I am pleased to say I have seen much less of the attitude I saw when I began working in libraries. Now more are surprised to find I don't already have the degree.

I like what Liminal Librarian's has to say on this topic:
And yes, some will define "librarian" as simply someone who holds an MLS, but I think this is an oversimplification, given both the diversity of fields in which we work and the number of people who do the work and call themselves/have the title of librarian, without having earned the degree. Not to mention the fact that we lack standardization in library education and schools, so we come out with the same degree, having learned very different things.


My role in the Library has changed a lot over those years, due in part to the advancing role of technology in libraries. I am a bit of a geek and nerd at heart and embraced technology from an early age. I was playing with Fortran and Assembler languages in the early 70's, before the first desktop PC, so when our library system introduced public internet access stations in 1995, I soon found myself as the one who my coworkers came to for help with things computer. Later, when I felt it was time for a change, I moved entirely into technology and became a public technology trainer. I worked my way up from teaching Computer Basics and the occasional MS Office class until now teaching Animation, Image Editing (both Photoshop and GIMP), Dreamweaver, and was even called on as one of the first guest bloggers for Learning 2.1 by Helene Blowers. The point is at my age (currently 55 going on 30) I am in the unique position of being a technology resource to younger staff with Library degrees.

I probably won't bother getting a degree as I am nearing the end of my career but I'm proud of my 27 year old who will be starting at UNC-Ch this Fall working on a MSLS degree. I hope she has inherited my love of technology as she will be joining the ranks of Librarians in the digital age. I also hope she will value all staff she works with no matter what degrees they have or don't have.

1 comment:

Lori Reed said...

I'm too old :)
By just a few months.

What I'd like to see and what I will put in my letter to ALA is emerging leaders as a program for "new members of ALA who seek leadership opportunities within ALA." I think that is broad enough to include everyone. And at least let people apply. Even is only 20 somethings with MLSs are chosen at least we feel valued.

Great post Mary!