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Ten Reasons Why ‘Professional Librarian’ is an Oxymoron

30 Apr

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.

Speaking Engagements Galore!

24 Mar

Over the next few months, I will be doing a little bit of presenting at various conferences and events.   Here is the list:

 

Wednesday April 1st, at Computers in Libraries Conference, Washington D.C.:   CM Tools: Drupal, Joomla, & Rumba

Alongside one of my library heroes, John Blyberg, I will be presenting on ideas and features around CMSs in the world.    I will be talking about why we originally chose Joomla as our content management system and then switched to ModX, while John will be showing off Drupal.     I only have a small amount of time, so I’ll highlight my favorite feature of ModX (template variables) and just provide broad stroke overviews of the advantages.   The bigger context is what should you be thinking about when choosing a content management system for your web presence or intranet.

Monday April 6 at the Halifax Infirmary Boardroom ( it’s sold out!):  Why Online Community-Building Matters to Health Care and Capital Health

This is a discussion about the current and potential uses of social media in Healthcare, especially in Halifax.   Dave Emmett, the guy who did the “What is Social Media?” presentation at Podcamp Halifax, is teaming up with me to show how people in Halifax are using neat tools like Twitter to engage community and what is being done pertaining to Community Healthcare as well.    Watch this space, because we might see if we can invite people in on the presentation virtually.

Monday May 25 at the CALL/ACBD Conference Westin Hotel, Halifax NS:  Making Some Room: Strategies that Turn New Staff into New Leadership

Using some skills I developed by engaging with folks from Envision Halifax, The Hub Halifax, Podcamp Halifax and others, I am going to facilitate a discussion about leadership in a world where a new generation is about to take over.   How can I speak to leadership and strategy without being Anthony Robbins?   Easy – I’m going to get the audience to do it for me by using an innovative methodology called “The Fishbowl Conversation.”   I will start off by laying down a few principles though – things like “Theory U” and the change process, but in the end, the solutions will come from the audience.

That’s my story these days.   Anyone going to be at any of the conferences?    Be sure to say “hello” if you are!

Chiming in On the Biggies

1 Apr

There have been a few, ahem, debates going around and I could make a post on each of them, but things have just been too much in my home life recently, so I’m going to chime in one on one.

MLS or non-MLS?

My favorite call on this issue is coming from Dorothea Salo, but there are others by Rachel Singer Gordon and Meredith Farkas. I know great librarians of both the MLS and non-MLS variety. I am one of those who started as the latter and made the decision to got the former. I know the good, bad and ugly in both realms — but most of it from my line of view is good. I hope my colleagues do not see me as a “high and mighty OMG I have my MLS so sit back” kind of person. In fact, it was because I had a mentor that was the opposite of a HAMOMGIHMMLSSSB that I was able to gather the knowledge and skills that make me who I am today. The MLS, well it sort of helped I think. I’d say the MPA helped more, frankly — but I did have the opportunity to meet some very interesting people along the way to the MLS as well — and that did a lot too.

There is one thing that getting the MLS does do, and that is establish an accountability trail which may reduce risk in the workforce. That’s not a whole lot, but I do think it is something. One thing I find interesting is that the blogosphere may be a not-bad proxy for accreditation and the recent blab on the MLS may be a side-effect of this. David Rothman and Walt Crawford are good examples. The contribution that those blogs make to librarianship more than counts for having an accredited degree in my mind.

I think the ALA and librarian accreditation as a whole better start looking to Web 2.0 and social networking as a threat to their credibility. If the Masters is going to mean something, it ought to mean that those who came through the gate had earned it using their head, heart and body — and not just their pocketbook and ahem lips. Dorothea Salo has more to say on this.

Gaming or No-Gaming

I support gaming in public libraries. It seems to me that most of the gaming skepticism comes from non-public librarians, though I could be wrong. There are a few things that I feel are being misconceived here.

  • Public Libraries use gaming to attract teens

That’s not precisely true. If we have public computers, the teens are already there — gaming. Gaming programs are an attempt to channel the gaming energy into a community building experience. It’s noisy; it’s not books; it’s probably more fun than your average taxpayer would like to think a teen should be having in a library — but it does some very important things: a) it builds trust with teens, helping them to see the library as a positive place to be b) it engages them toward other positive — not necessarily toward books, no — but if it is staffed properly, lots of progress can be made toward strong research skills, safe internet use, respect for property, respect for each other and so on and c) it builds community support around the library. Police, Fire Fighters, Health Professionals, Recreation Professionals, Social Workers and more have got behind some of the activities we put on for teens — and that’s because they know libraries play their part to help young people grow into productive, healthy and happy adults.

In a nutshell, teens are in the library anyway — we might as well say “hello” on their terms. If I can go back to my “made-of-straw” non-public librarian again, we cannot forget the essential role (no, responsibility) that public libraries play in community development.

  • Gaming programs are unnecessarily noisy in libraries

Have you ever been around public libraries post-adult programming? You get a group of people excited about a topic, they are going to be chatty, noisy, laughing sort of people. I have also seen a good share of older adults being disruptive, evening bullying to teens simply because they are teens. The library is a public space, shared by many people from many walks of life. There are going to be moments when a public library is not going to be the Mecca you expect it to be. We try our best, but it’s always a challenge to make everyone happy all the time.

  • That’s not what libraries are for. . .

As they say in the unconference world “the people who are here are the right people.” Teens are in public libraries because they need us. We bloody well better serve them. We’ve had board games for years. Heck, I went to the library in my young age to play with the games on the Apple computer way back when.

Media Equity

Michael Sauers chimed on Media equity at the request of David Rothman in an episode of Uncontrolled Vocabulary. And, yes Greg, I will buy a t-shirt. I think I am going to put in a longer post on this issue, but I’ll start my questioning now.

I agree with Michael that policies related to public computers in libraries should try to mirror those for other formats, but I am not yet convinced that this has to do with a principle of media equity. As an avid reader of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan in my day, I feel that media makes a big difference in communication. Whether this difference can or should influence freedom of information as offered in libraries is a hard question. The only way I can think of to get at the bottom of this is to try as hard as I can to refute Michael’s position and see what I have left in the end. My instincts say that I’ll conclude that Michael is right on this one — however, there is an assumption in favor of individualism that makes me a little uncomfortable in using media equity as a axiom for all service.

I will say that the media equity line does make things easier in the end. Explaining the policy is alot easier too when you treat the computers the same as if they were anything else.

What Librarians Can Learn from (and, yes, I’m serious) Accountants

22 Feb

One of my favorite Monty Python works, is the famous “Accountancy Shanty” coming from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. With the lyrics “It’s fun to charter an accountant and sail the wide accountant-sea,” it’s obviously a satirical look at the idiosyncracies of your friendly neighbourhood bean counter.

Five Accountant-ish Things for Librarians to Know

Well, put your accountant jokes aside. Accountants know things that librarians also should know about. Here are five examples:

  • Relevant Costing

The Principle: Poor decisions in the past should not effect future cost decisions.

Example:

A key priority for your library is the quick circulation of books, DVDs and whatnot. You spent $50,000 on a design for a circulation desk that has made your library’s ability to circulate books even worse. Another product comes along that will improve circulation, but involves losing the old design and spending another $10,000. Whether or not you decide to spend the $10,000 would depend on a lot of things, but the most important thing you should *not* say is “but we invested $50,000 in the old machine, we can’t lose it now.”

Explanation:

You can’t take back a bad decision. Mistakes can be embarrassing and hard to admit, but you can make the problem worse by letting past mistakes impact future correct decisions. While you can learn from mistakes, you should do your best to make sure they do not have a continued lifecycle in your organization. Some times its just better to let go.

  • Gross Margins

The Principle: In business, it’s a measure of your revenue over your cost of good sold; in a public organization, you could think of your margins as the value to the user divided by the budget you put into the service.

Example:

There are two ways to see margins in a library context. 1) You provide a service that patrons love, but for reasons outside your control costs keep creeping up. 2) Costs remain the same to provide a service, but the value to the customer drops over time.

Explanation:

Margins are something to be watched over time. In a business, your margins show the “markup” of your sales per-unit. When these decrease over time, it suggests that managers ought to find ways to reduce product cost — usually through innovation of some sort.

In libraries margins are harder to quantify but that does not mean they are not relevant. Seeing an overall service that uses up the same amount of budget, but appears to lack its old lustre is also a sign that creative heads should bang together for ways to improve the service.

  • Current Ratio

The Principle: Your current assets (mostly cash) over your current liabilities (payable accounts etc.) that measures a firm’s ability to cover short-term debt obligations.

Example:

A general rule of thumb for your average business is that your current assets ought to be twice that of the current liabilities. This basically means that if you want to close up shop, you can do so fairly quickly.

Explanation:

Flexibility is a key component of a good library service. The best projects are the ones you can close up quickly when things do not work out, or priorities change. It’s very important is having few added resources on hand to adapt to user expectations when you are launching something out into the world.

  • Net Present Value

The Principle: You should always take a lump sum of cash now versus the same amount of cash provided over a period of time (present value);  you need to consider the time value of money when you make costing decisions.

Example:

Two vendors are offering an equal product.   One asks you to pay $10,000 up front, with no payments later on; the other wants to charge you $15,000 over 5 years ($3000 per year).   Which one should you go for?

That would depend on one essential variable:  the interest that you could make on the money you spent over time.   With an assumed 5% interest rate, the value of $10,000 in five years would be $15,591 over 5 years.     A $3000 investment over 5 years on the other hand would be slightly less at $15,576.    The bottom line, however, is that you could always take your money and put it into a bank to collect interest.   If your projects do not provide more value over time than what you put into them, then you should not do them.

Explanation:

Understanding the importance of time on the value of a dollar can be very helpful.   Pumping large amounts of money into an investment that will produce the benefit over a long period of time may not be as effective as a sustained small investment with immediate and logical benefits.   While large, expensive projects can certainly boost a resume, you can provide better bang for buck to your patrons by offering simple, adaptable and logical services over time.    That’s why open source hell (offering open source projects that require later investment of resources) may not be as bad as expensive proprietary hell (expensive projects that may stay fresh longer).

  • Opportunity Costs:

The Principle: The true cost of an activity is equal to the value of doing the next best alternative.

Example:

By choosing to go to graduate school for two years to become a librarian, you gave up two years worth of a potential non-librarian job (plus the advances in pay/experience/seniority that go along with that job).    That’s fine if your librarian earnings now make up for that lost revenue;  it’s not if you could have been making more.    Also, you do not have to think about it always in terms of money.   You could think about it in terms of the happiness lost because you couldn’t join the yacht club/drink more beer/start a family sooner.

Explanation:

Anything you choose to do (or not) has a cost in that you could be doing something else with the same time and resources.     Lots of time spent on pet projects with marginal value has a cost equal to that of the project you could be doing if you were not doing the current project.

Innovation can be another factor.   Put your employees to work on mundane projects with no learning value and you could be risking the benefit of skills and knowledge that come with doing exciting and innovative work.   All in all, thinking about what else you could be working on is an essential skill that librarians can learn from accountants.

Summary

Just because people come from a different environment does not mean that libraries cannot learn from them.   Learning from other groups can make librarians better.   Accountants are one of these groups.    Can you think of other professions we can learn from?

In With the New; In With the New.

8 Jan

Ten more ideas about how I can make my life better, in libraries and elsewhere:

  •  Plan an unconference — somewhere, somehow.

The field needs more unconferences, and I’d like to host/organize one for local librarians this year — probably in the summer sometime.

  •  More controlled and productive computer time.

No, this has nothing to do with social software.   I just found that the end of last year turned my computer into a television/gaming system.    I have nothing against gaming or entertainment, it’s just that my kids are growing up, and I definitely want to spend more time focussed on friends, family and physical fun.

  • Two good books a month.

I want to start tracing my reading just like Jessamyn does.   It’s been a good start though.   I just finished Evelyn Waugh’s Men at Arms, which is a great book and the first of the Sword of Honor trilogy.

  • 12 Beers (or other favored beverage) for 12 Librarians

Librarians deserve a beer.   12 librarians will get a beer from me.

  • More blogging, but with more citations and reading to go with it.

One of the most satisfying posts from my point of view was my review of Margaret Somerville’s The Ethical Imagination.    I disagree with many points that the book makes, I truly felt that Somerville gets a bad rap around town undeservedly for her views on same-sex marriage.   Further, I am glad Somerville is out there with the guts to say the unpopular thing that she believes needs to be said.   True ethics may just about the opposite of being popular, in my view.

Anyway, even though my online survey (there’s going to be a results post soon!) has suggested that book reviews are not really a priority for my audience, you’ll just have to accept my indulgences here, ‘k?

  •  More fiction/poetry writing, published or not.

I used to love writing fiction and poetry.   I even won the Clare Murray Fooshee poetry prize (first place) once.    I’d like to get back to some of that.   It was a great hobby and it brings back my memories of the rec.arts.poems usenet group (which, like many usenet groups, is a mere shadow of its former glorious self).

  • Pare down the social with social.

Libraries weed books that have lost their relevance over time.   I think I need to think about the relevance of my “friends” and look at doing some serious weeding as well.   Of course, I mean “friends” as in “Facebook friends,” which, in the end, can be likened to a reference source more than it can to a “real” friend.

If you can be of use to me, information-wise, I’ll read your blog.   If I can be of use to you, read mine.   If we have some mutual co-sharing thing going on, you will make my Twitter list.   And, honestly, I’m just about finished with Facebook.

  •  Less money waste.

It’s crazy how the local coffee shop will just eat away at my wallet.   And for what?   It’s not like there is a ton of nutrition there — and it’s not like I couldn’t just drink water.   That’s all money that could go to my kids’ RESPs or some of my favorite charities.

  • No gifts please, and clutter-free-me!

Another one that is just wasteful.    Please, no gifts.   None — except maybe a book I don’t have, or a donation to a charity in my name.

I do not want anything that will end up in a landfill within a year.   I do not want to pay to store stuff that I never use.  Whenever Big Brothers, Big Sisters asks me if we have any used clothing, furniture or appliances to give them, I will say “yes.”

  •  Increase my code-fu.

It’s coming along, and I want to learn more.   At this stage, however, it’s about doing — developing skills versus learning syntax.

That’s 10 and that’s enough.   I look forward to re-visiting this list next year to see how well I did/didn’t do.

What’s on your self-improvement list?

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