Before you comment, yes, this is an unbalanced look at professionalism. Yes, I am trolling a little bit – but with a heart that wants to lead discussion on the topic of library professionalism. Please do write a post about why these ten reason are bullocks.
On the other hand, I often see librarians and library school students that take professionalism as a given. I see this as unrealistic, especially in an era of rapid change. I believe we are taught about the struggle for the professionalization of librarianship, how this is tied to sexual discrimination, and seem to rely on Ranganathan’s 5 laws every time something puts our professionalization into jeopardy.
In reality, it is the exceptions that prove the rule. If librarians cannot personally address the following anti-professional assumptions as individuals, they cannot call themselves professional. What I am saying is that the MLIS or whatever equivalent a librarian has on their wall cannot count towards any status in society. Each librarian needs to respond personally to the following 10 things to claim their status as professional.
1. Librarians Have No Monopoly on the Activities They Claim
You need to pass the bar exam to practice law. You cannot perform surgery unless you are a surgeon. You cannot build a bridge without an engineering degree. Information is free. Your 12-year-old kid can help their grandma do a Google search.
2. There are No Consequences For Failing to Adhere to Ethical Practices
Besides the risk of being considered unemployable, a librarian has no real professional obligation to adhere to any of the values claimed by the ALA or any other so-called professional body. There is no agreed-upon process for dealing with ethical breaches, nor an entity to report those ethical breaches.
3. Librarianship is Too Generalized to Claim Any Expertise
The number of books in the field written ‘for librarians’ is analogous to books written ‘for dummies.’ The issue is that librarians, rather than having a specific area of expertise, actually need surface knowledge of variety of things – management, technology, community development and so on. While one could say being a generalist is the expertise, there are larger and more in-depth areas of study like Management, Engineering and Education that could claim the same thing.
4. ’Librarian’ Assumes a Place of Work, Rather than the Work Itself
Despite claims otherwise, ‘librarian’ comes from ‘library’ which is a place where there are books. It’s not an activity, but a product or service. Thus, librarians rightfully should be treated as if they were providing any product or service.
5. Peer Review in Librarianship Does Not Work Because There is No Competitive Process to Go With It
The reason why library literature is often horrible is that librarians are collaborative beings by nature. Articles get accepted because they satisfy a minimum standard, not because they represent the best and brightest research in the field. True professionals are much more harsh with their peer review because they have an individual interest in refusing competitors the privilege of being published.
6. Values Are Not Enough
Common values occur in a wide variety of communities, many of which are leisure activities. There is nothing associated with the values of librarians that differs from any other advocacy group. Librarians do not deserve to be rewarded simply because they think information wants to be free.
7. The Primary Motivation for Professionalization is the Monopoly of Labor
The main motivation for librarians to assert their professional status is so that they can lay claim to higher-paid “ALA Accredited Degree or Equivalent” positions in library institutions. We cannot accept any librarian’s claim of professionalism without objective evidence because there is an inherent self-interest laying in that claim.
8. Accredited Library Schools Do Not Adequately Prepare Students for Library Work
The process for creating ‘professional’ librarians has long been criticized for its lack of relevance to real life library work. It’s like saying we are great espresso-making experts because we understand the secrets of tea bag design.
9. Competing Professions Are Offering Different Paradigms to Achieve the Same Goals
Computer Scientists and Engineers are discovering ways to make information accessible to the public using search algorythms, interface design, and social media platforms. Current library practices are following their lead, not the other way around.
10. Nobody Can Name a ‘Great’ Librarian
Go to a typical university and ask the professors to name a great Doctor (‘Albert Schweitzer’), Architect (‘I. M. Pei’), or Lawyer (‘Johnny Cochrane’). No librarian stands out the same way that these great professionals do. No one outside the library field is going to come close to naming Ranganathan either.
So there. I hope these ten items put a little devil on the left shoulder of every librarian who claims professional status without a good dose of self-doubt to go with it. In reality, I think these 10 items put a special responsibility on so-called ‘professional’ librarians to step up and provide exemplary service to their communities. Professional status means nothing to the information world – you have to earn your entitlement.