Yes, that’s me scratching his head on the ladder. It was early – what do you want? :)
So, I’ve posted my reply to the Why Professional Librarian is an Oxymoron post called (More than) Ten Reasons Why “Professional librarian” Isn’t an Oxymoron on Library Journal. Now people are probably wondering, ‘was he just kidding?’, ‘did he cave into pressure? from the field?’, ‘is he being dishonest?’ and so on. It raises questions (for me) about the nature of blogging itself, how it is perceived by a broader audience, and more importantly, how it’s going to change over time.
The dominant paradigm for publishing — and this includes academic publishing — is the scientific or pseudo-scientific approach. The assumption here is that there needs to be an answer, that can be defended or rejected, and if defended, a ‘theory’ will be shaped around that answer to help us come to broader conclusions about the world we live in. This assumption is the reason why more than one person insisted that I ‘need to define “professionalism” or the whole exercise is pointless’. If I define professionalism in a certain way, then people can live in the comfort zone of ‘well, under those circumstances, I can accept that librarians are not a profession.’
And that’s why the professionalism post took on the shape it did. Some in support, some against, and afterwards, I need to come to some conclusion about whether librarianship truly *is* a profession. Tah-dah! Now we can all write journal articles about professionalism and develop a whole theory of professionalism to add to all our dismal literature.
There is another, different paradigm, that is emerging in society however. I’m going to call it the ‘co-creative’ paradigm. In this paradigm, my post was an exposition – a call for a community to define librarian professionalism for itself. The assumption is not that there is a right answer, but an emergent or evolving answer – something we can use to build our futures together, to create change, and improve lives. The goal in this paradigm is not the ever important ‘answer’ but the relationships and conflict that happen around that discussion. It is here that paradoxes like ‘librarians are and are not a profession’ are okay. Under this paradigm, strong emotions are a means to an end, a way of connecting people and building a dialogue (not necessarily a consensus) around our differences. I think blogs can lend themselves to this paradigm as well, IF the main post and the comments are seen as one voice.
Things that help me understand this new paradigm are new ideas in Restorative processes (including justice), The Hub (a co-creative workspace), grassroots movements and unconferences. I think there is a way to make social media play into these processes more, I just haven’t quite found the right way.
As I write this, MPOW is beginning the process of distributing it’s new strategic plan. The previous mission and vision spoke to the ever important goals of life-long learning, joy of reading and power of information. Our new mission and vision value the same things, but realize that our communities are changing. The new paradigm we are dealing with is about building our futures, and imagining possibilities – with, not for our communities. Our new paradigm sees education and reading as a means now – a way of connecting people, and inspiring discovery. I have to say that i am totally inspired by this new vision in librarianship. I think librarians – professional or not – have strong networking skills on their side and that this skill is the road to a great future for librarians, whereever they decide to work in future. Tally-ho!
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.
Update: After writing this, I read this great article by someone name Astrid who has Aspergers and think it’s a great counterpoint to what I said here. I now can’t imagine this post being ‘out there’ without a link to that post. I have no real response to Astrid except to acknowledge the tension between the perception of Aspies as ‘elite’ (in a way) and the often unfair expectations that those perceptions have on people with Asperger’s.
My son is a genius in so many ways you cannot imagine. He is now six years old. He has been talking since he was barely 12 months old. His vocabulary could make Rex Murphy feel like he needs to go back to grade school.
- What do people use Beryllium for (just watch this video)?
- What is the most dangerous element? (there are various reasons for danger. Plutonium is very toxic. Fluorine and Cesium are the most reactive.) What is the least dangerous element? (probably Helium)
- How do you suppose ununoctium is very small when it has the most protons? (It’s not small, but only a very small amount has ever been made – and the experiment that claimed to have made ununoctium has its critics for sure).
- If bananas contain potassium why do they not explode when you put them in water? (it’s not elemental potassium that bananas contain, but potassium ions, which do not explode in water).
There’s more. He’s gotten as far as level 8 in Globetrotter XL (a game where you are asked to pinpoint the geographic location of world cities). He can probably describe most of the world flags and definitely all of the U.S. state flags. He can name all the state capitals and nicknames. (Also, he is Canadian, so he has no real education on this topic.) When he was 3, I could rely on him to give me accurate instructions on how to drive to someone’s house after only a single visit.
When he got to school, however, we learned that he was having difficulty socially. We are also realizing that there are some issues with some areas of his academic life too. That’s when we discovered that he’s an ‘aspi’ – a child with Aspergers. Whether that’s a diagnosis, a personality type or just a way for so-called ‘normal’ people to marginalize him, I’m not quite sure. I do know that paying attention to the nuances of his learning style has been really helpful to let him deal with everyday life things.
So he must be socially awkward right? Must be like Rainman, right? Spock? Temperance Brennan from Bones? Keeps to himself, right? He must shy away from social situations and show little emotion to others, right? Total lack of empathy in favor of logic and detail. It’s all obvious!
Well, no. My child is extremely engaging, interesting and (in a way) interested in people. The differences are more subtle and hard to pin-point. You’d know there’s a problem somewhere with the way he interacts with others, but you would find it hard to pinpoint what. But, if you meet a kid that:
- Is very welcoming and friendly. Almost assuming right off that you are a friend.
- Is very polite on the phone.
- Assumes that you are interested in what he is talking about.
- Assumes you want to participate in the things he wants to do, and maybe gets angry if you don’t.
- Interrupts your conversations with others.
- Gets upset over basic requests or instructions.
- Asks surprising questions and offers amazing insight on a wide range of topics.
- Will do a speech as if he were defending a thesis, but then fail at answering basic open-ended questions about the same topic.
- Is surprisingly slow at getting ready for going outside etc.
- Will repeat certain behaviors and actions over and over again.
That might be my kid.
If you happen upon a kid you might think is an aspi, here are some things you could consider:
Little surprises will make Mr. 6 anxious. Simple requests like ‘go brush your teeth’ can turn into total battles if they appear (to him) to come from left field. A better approach is to give him a list of the things that need to happen, preferably with time-limits to go with them.
Mr. 6 will ramble. It’ll take him a few shots of ‘umm… uh… I have a question for you…’ etc. before he comes out with what he needs to say.
Turn Open-ended Questions into Multiple Choice
No matter how many times I ask Mr. 6 ‘what does he want for dinner’ he will always reply ‘i don’t know, what is there?’ And he’s a picky eater – he only has a few things that he enjoys eating! On the other hand, if I hand Mr. 6 a menu, he will be able to give me ideas even if nothing on the menu is appealing to him. So if you want to ask Mr. 6 why he is angry, you should say ‘I think you might be angry because:
a) you are disappointed about not getting candy
b) you are a mean grouch
c) someone called you a mean name
d) someone ate your lunch’
Even if all of these ideas are absolutely wrong, Mr. 6 will be able to take one of options and give you some insight into how he is feeling.
Act Like a Librarian
There may be no actual evidence to support this assertion, but sometimes it’s like Mr. 6 has a Library of Congress in his head with no retrieval system to find the right information at the right time. If you are able to help him out with a little subject classification, he may be able to find the right book in his head and recite its contents in detail with amazing analytical capability.
Get Ready to Have your Mind Explode
When I explained my little ‘act like a librarian’ technique to a doctor, Mr. 6 corrected me and said ‘it’s like I have to build a tall building and I don’t know what materials to start with.’ That doctor is probably still cleaning up the grey matter from her office after that insight.
Mr. 6 will always be better at imitating the positive behaviors he sees in other than understanding how he is annoying you. If he can come up with a rule about what to do at the right time, he will do it. He understands that people get annoyed at him, but he doesn’t always understand why. Show him an example of how he could behave when certain things happen and he’ll be happy to oblige.
Is Something Else Bothering Him?
Mr. 6 hates loud sounds. It might not be you, but where you are standing that is bothering him. If an environment is complicated or noisy, it might be causing problems for Mr. 6.
It’s About Learning Difficulty, Not Emotional Problems or Intelligence
If you are the sort of person who just likes to label and ignore people with learning trouble, just listen to Temple Grandin for a few minutes. People on the Autism spectrum have the potential not only to be productive members of society, but to transform society for the better. Like the way a wide range of overachievers just so happen to be dyslexic, there’s a comparable list for people with Aspergers (grain of salt needed for both lists, however).
So there’s my contribution on the challenges that go along with the gift of having an ‘Aspi’ in your life. Mr. 6 makes me smarter. He also breaks a wide range of assumptions I have about people learn, teach, ought to behave, and so on.
Going to Podcamp Toronto has been one of the best things I’ve done in quite a few years. Yes, better than Computers in Libraries. Better than OLA Superconference or really any library conference I’ve gone to. And yes, as Phil Swinney mentioned, it was better than Podcamp Halifax as well.
Podcamp Toronto is better than most library conferences because:
- A lot of what podcasters and social media artists do relates very well to librarianship.
- As a librarian, I felt I had a unique perspective to share in the discussions about social media marketing and podcasting.
- Unlike librarians, social media marketers want to connect to as many people as they possibly can – not just their friends and colleagues. The #PCTO2010 crowd was very friendly and supportive. They wanted to help newbies learn and share tips with their colleagues.
- Podcasters and Marketers are very curious about librarians. They know we are very crappy marketers of extremely valuable and useful services.
Podcamp Toronto was better than Podcamp Halifax for a few common sense reasons:
- They were much better at filming / streaming etc. of the presentations – (because they are bigger).
- They were better at securing sponsorship (at the Saturday party, an elephant could have got very drunk without paying so much as a cent).
- There were just that many more connections, more excellent presenters, more diverse questions etc.
- No one had to justify their social media presence. It was a given that social media is important and valuable and Podcampers were going to reap the benefits of their diving in to this space early.
- There were more podcaster presentations. The one I went to by John Meadows about editing interview content was fantastic. (I’m not really a podcaster, but he made me want to become one).
Podcamp Halifax was Better at:
- I like that we have a keynote – it goes a little against the ‘everyone’s a rockstar’ idea, but it does offer a little break between the sessions that everyone can comment on.
- Many of the things the organizers were worried about (markers, water, printing capabilities, computers etc) were things I didn’t even bat an eyelash about because the library already had it all.
- We were more newbie-friendly.
- Our battledecks session rocked the socks off everyone. (That said, the #PCTO2010 battledecks session, was great as an opportunity for a newbie presenter to develop their skills).
There were some similarities as well:
- It is harder at a Podcamp to get a conversation going in sessions than it is at other unconferences I’ve experienced. I think this partly has to do with the fact that the ‘marketplace’ is set before the event. When you put more time into establishing the marketplace and explaining such things as the law of two feet, I think it opens the door more to true unconference ‘OMG-the-audience-just-overtook-my-presentation’ effects.
- The average caliber of presentations was about the same. Toronto had more outliers (both bad and good), but in general, there was at least one good presentation for everyone.
- This was a great place to meet all those podcasters that you’ve never met and wish you had.
I also have some suggestions for both Podcamps:
- Arrange rooms for circulation. Make sure that people can get in and out of rooms reasonably easily without disturbing others. (I got caught in a room that I wanted to leave really fast, but couldn’t because of the way the room was set up).
- There’s got to be a way to enable impromptu sessions. I haven’t figured it out myself, but it would be so helpful.
- It’d be nice if there was a way for everyone to get beyond promoting their business/brand at Podcamp. I realize that it’s all part of the game, but it can’t be just a dream.
- I’d like to get more people ‘from away’ to Podcamp Halifax. We had a good mix in the first one and that made for some really great learning for the more experienced podcampers. This year seemed a little more like a ‘newbies learn from experienced folks’ camp.
- Schedule by Plain Old Wiki would have worked better for me as a potential presenter.
- After PCTO2010, I’m not convinced a two-day podcamp is better. Many many fewer people there on Sunday than there were on Saturday. A lot of great presentations were missed by the people who partied just a bit too hard the night before.
In general, I feel really refreshed. I think I’ve learned a heck of alot about social media, podcasting and making Podcamp Halifax better. I met a whole bunch of great people. I have a nice stack of business cards so I can keep in touch and I paid alot less than if I went to a traditional conference.
Librarians, get thee to a podcamp!
Oh The Future of the Library is still in question. This time it’s Seth Godin weighing in. I actually agree with most of what he has to say. I think alot of what he thinks is shaped by an aged or narrow sample of libraries. I find it kind of like saying ‘It’s over for Restaurants’ after getting poor service from an old-style greasy spoon that’s been around for 50 years. It’s the future of ‘restaurant’. Not ‘restaurants’.
Librarians have weighed in as well. One of them is Sarah Glassmeyer. I have to say I am disappointed in her response. When it is fairly obvious that Seth is talking about Public Libraries, her response is to refute by reminding that we also have academic, legal and special libraries. That’s pretty weak. The latter libraries serve a specific purpose and are available for a specific audience. I would not expect Seth to have a beef with Academic libraries, unless he had a beef with academics in general (which might be the case, but it’s kind of a different story). Public Libraries have to stand on their own two feet, thank you. We need to comfortably explain what we do in very specific terms. We have to envision a future of service that meshes with reality.
For instance, Seth speak in particular about offering DVDs for rental and how this is a fairly uninspiring use for public libraries. It’s a bit of a sham argument, actually because it offers flawed anecdotal evidence. DVDs may circulate more often than other items, true, but they also have shorter borrowing times (they used to have 1/7 the allowed borrowing time at MPOW; we just changed that to 1/3.) and tend to have larger fines when they are late. In short, by nature every DVD we circulate will have the opportunity to be borrowed 7 times before a book gets returned. Not to mention that DVDs tend to be on hold, so they are un-renewable, and so-on.
DVDs also act as a catalyst for other library uses. It’s plain good old fashion solid business practice, like offering a coupon for Prime Rib Roast knowing that people will also pay full price for the horseradish, potatoes and string beans to go with it. And, well, some of those DVDs are the popular renditions of Pride and Prejudice, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy and encourage reading (re-reading, even) just as well.
But enough about DVDs – we need to talk about the future of libraries.
Part of the problem is that a public library is not specifically about individuals, but a learning community. Take, for example, the idea that we could just buy everyone a Kindle and be done with libraries. At this time, the Kindle offers a selection of about 336,000 books. As an individual, that is a huge collection of books to choose from, and almost certainly bound to improve my learning. On a community level, 336,000 books is dismal. We do not want or need a community that reads the same 336,000 books, and probably the same 336,000 books that will be yammered on about in the usual channels. Maybe Amazon will fulfill this important community knowledge diversification need in the future, but I would suggest that they have no incentive to do so. On some scale, for a good 25 years at least IMHO, communities will need to share their resources in an organized way for the interest of the community. Some libraries will fulfill this need very well. Others will not. The former will succeed and flourish; the latter will die a slow and painful death (until another model emerges from the ashes).
(Notice that I haven’t brought up the many other issues with things Kindle-ish, like Jessamyn West has previously.)
In other words, this one idea about libraries (which covers about 50% of library work, I would say), while admittedly declining, still has a fairly good shelf-life on it. I would also remind that no librarian in the 21st century is advocating for a faster horse here. Public libraries are dropping those reference books like they were no tomorrow. They’re also getting rid of those old books that no one is borrowing too. Public Libraries are no archives. We don’t keep artifacts on any large scale (although it’s a bit of a political thing to admit that we do actually throw books away when they’ve had their time.)
I haven’t brought up the plethora of other things that libraries can, have and continue to do. For one (shameless self promotion) MPOW is hosting Podcamp Halifax, which (i think) strives to do precisely what Seth suggests is the right thing: Train People to Take Intellectual Initiative. Except it’s not really training. It’s better. It’s providing space, moments-in-time and opportunities for people to gather and train themselves. Actually, training is not even the right word. When a space is designed right, the learning is self-organized. Learning is a natural human behavior, provided that barriers don’t get in the way. Oh hell – Angela Mombourquette explains it all much better than I do. In short, we need more unconferences in communities and public libraries are one avenue to help make sure these happen.
And you know what? I’ve been talking about this for years. My very first post (July 2006) is an interesting look at how to help people take intellectual initiative. Not too long after that, I was talking about Open Space and The Law of Two Feet. The way I see the future of public libraries then and now is still the same and Seth pretty much hits the nail on the [side of the] head. It’s not about training. The public, as a rule, doesn’t want training per se. They would go to school for that stuff. What they want are places to learn. Places that have, among other things, DVDs to borrow. (It’s always nice to bring a little bit of library home with you. ) Places with a little bit of friendly nudging to keep you motivated about learning. Sometimes with a bit of facilitation. Sometimes with a bit of structure. Other times but just leaving them the heck alone to read in a nice quiet spot. No one is filling this niche right now on any grand scale. It’s a market failure. That’s why we need public funds to fill it. For now and into the future.
Finally, this article needs a shout out because Erin Downey speaks my mind about information and learning as well.
Originally uploaded by maritimes online.
I am passionate about librarianship and social media, but when it comes down to the wire, I really truly madly deeply love playing sports with kids. And make no mistake, this crowd looks like they are just a bunch of kids with hockey gear on, but I can guarantee a few things:
- You cannot score on the big goalie in the center.
- You cannot keep the young man dead centre from scoring top corner on any goalie.
- The little girl in the front will have the ball away from you, passed on and in your net before you even know what happened.
- You cannot thank the two guys on the left enough. They are from Old Navy and they gave us new equipment and Jerseys so we can keep playing hard.
- You need to drop lots of money into Salvation Army kettles this year, because they are what keeps this program running.
This crowd is seriously tough, folks. Given a little teamwork from the community, they will make big things happen. Consider doing the same thing in yours!