Ten Reasons Why ‘Professional Librarian’ is an Oxymoron

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.

Chiming in On the Biggies

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.

The ALA Code is Not Enough: Thoughts and Case Studies on Librarian Ethics

Sarah Houghton-Jan, the illustrious Librarian in Black brought up the issue of ethics in libraries reminding us to post the ALA Code of Ethics on our office walls. She also points to a post by BlogJunction highlighting two other studies

Ethics are extremely important, but I am here to say that a statement of a code is not enough. Statements of Codes were a fad in the 90s when accountability in governments became a serious issue. People wanted quantitative measures and performance standards, where they may have been seeing patronage appointments and bureaucratic privilege. Many such codes exist in wide areas. For example, the Values and Ethics Code for the Canadian Federal Government came out in 2003, as an explanation for various government policies around accountability and public responsibility.

In my view, these codes are much too general to be useful, and really are more a promotion piece for the general public than they are any assurance of actual ethical behavior in the industry. I find practical things to be more useful. That’s why I am going to chat about four different “things ethical.”

1. Do Not Put Library Values Before Core Human Values

The most important values in library service have nothing to do with libraries. If you want to be ethical, you ought to be the sorts of things that make a good doctor, lawyer, accountant or whatever. In this order, these are the values you should aspire to:

  • Integrity — Your word is your bond. You do what you say you are going to do and it matters to you lots when projects do not come through they way they should.
  • Honesty — You do not lie, even when it hurts.
  • Accountability — You take responsibility for what happens under your watch, and refrain from the blame game when the results do not come through (yes, even if some jerk didn’t do what they said they would do). Then, you take the appropriate actions to fix those problems if you can.
  • Compassion — You never behave as an automaton. Rules and policies often do cause harm to some at the benefit to others — you see your job as making the harm as little as possible when this happens (eg. when the library fines happen to cause serious financial grief, you do everything within the bounds of library policy to lessen the impact this has on your patrons).

Librarians and Library Associations are so often focussed on their status as professions that they miss the core points related to any public service. Be good first; be a good librarian second.

2. Ethics is Hard: The Case of the Justified Whistle-blower

Sometimes, the most obvious right thing to do is, in retrospect the absolute worst thing to do. The most serious example I can think of is the issue of whistle blowing in the public service. [NB: this case is entirely fictional and any reference to real persons is coincidental].

Say you discover that a high-ranking manager is purposely giving out jobs to family members and no one appears to be doing anything about it. This sounds like a case where someone ought to provide a quick tip off to that favorite investigative reporter, so they can get to the bottom of this heinous practice. It’s the ethical thing to do after all, isn’t it?

Well, actually, no it isn’t. While sometimes necessary, and cases like Watergate and the Sponsorship Scandal make it appear heroic, whistle-blowing often puts the interests of the whistle-blower waaaaay ahead of the public interest, which is a core no-no in ethical terms.

The main reason is this: for institutions to provide good, a trust among elected officials who make policies and the hired bureaucrats who have to implement them needs to be strong. A media feeding-frenzy on nepotism in libraries would have a serious impact on that trust, causing distortions in policy that cost the public much more than the simple act of nepotism ever would. In short, your selfish act (see below for why it is selfish) ends up costing patrons access to information, which if you really think about costs lots in terms of health, education and general well-being.

Whistle-blowing can be the only way out of a situation, but it should never be the first option. You should only whistle-blow under the following conditions:

  • You have the facts very straight, with objective, concrete evidence to prove it.
  • The top official (the CEO or director) knows about the problem and has done nothing.
  • The problem is of a very serious, life-threatening nature and the impacts are imminent (ie. there isn’t any time to resolve the problem).
  • A more broad understanding of the problem would not result in a logical understanding of why the problem is the way it is.

In short, whistle-blowing should only be done when there is no other way out. Finally, if you do have to whistle-blow, you ought to do it under these conditions:

  • the information ought to go to the person or group who could most effectively deal with the problem (almost never the media). In this case, the manila envelop might go to the a library board member, the city HR administrator or the police, depending on the circumstances (again, assuming that the CEO/Director knows the problem exists and has done nothing).
  • think about your motives for blowing the whistle. Do you really want to stop the nepotism, or do you just want to see that high-horse manager with egg on his/her face?
  • whistle-blowing is almost never a career-making move, even when it’s justified. Even Deep Throat, the Watergate informant, remained in hiding until well into his old age.

This is all to say that the first action that comes to mind may not be the most ethical action after all.   Forget Blink, you have to think before acting.

Ethics Hurts

(Again, this case study is entirely fictional. If I seem to be describing anyone, it’s a coincidence. Besides, the people I work with are all perfect anyway.)

The media is full of former employees and/or customers who accuse institutions of heinous acts and yet ethics tends to suggest that institutions are not allowed to defend themselves. You may be accused of all kinds of things that are untrue, so much that it would be very tempting to demonstrate in clear terms why that employee or customer came to dislike you so much.

Appearance and reality are definitely two different things, and librarians being the committed-to-truth sorts of people they are may want to breach confidentiality to reduce the amount of gump out there. But the important thing to remember is the “put your own interests behind the public interest” piece.

Ethics are Contradictory

If you haven’t already figured it out, I have already said “honesty” and “integrity” are the most important values on one side of my mouth, and on the other side said “don’t rat on your boss” or “don’t tell the truth about that disgruntled patron.”

That’s the reason why I think ethical codes are so problematic. Honesty and Integrity ought to be the default settings for your behavior, but sometimes you have to change those settings to suit the circumstances.  Perhaps the 5th and most important value is this:

  • Alertness — the mind is constantly open and aware of both the small details and the big picture.

The ethical person may even be aspiring toward divinity in this regard. That might be very theocratic of me, but from where do we get “goodness” if our imaginations cannot perceive an “ultimate goodness.”

And if that’s the case, then I ought to add one more value: humility.   Ethics might be the very humbling process of trying to be as good as a god.  Like I said, ethics is difficult.

Too Bad “Librarian” Doesn’t Meld Well into “Entrepreneur”

So I stopped into the Uncontrolled Vocabulary live discussion forum only to be told that they were previously discussing my “We Asked for 2.0 Libraries” post from a few days ago. Besides being a bit surprised (though after today I have discovered that the post has potential to beat out my “no brainer” posts for most visited post ever), it was an interesting experience because I got to be part of the epilogue to the discussion and then had to go back and listen to the podcast to hear what was actually said about me.

There were alot of good points made, none of which I could really argue with. In fact, many were echoing some of the things I was trying to say. For instance, we are getting to the stage where Library 2.0 (for many) is going to die out as a buzzword. As one person noted, “maybe we should stop talking about the 2.0 thing and just get back to doing it” (rough quote).

There was one point, though, that could have been covered a little bit more, because it is essential to my argument. Basically, the most important change that Library 2.0 brought about was a change in [some] librarians. As I thought about it today, I thought — hey — it’s almost as if librarians are finding their own niche markets and acting like entrepreneurs.

The Librarian Entrepreneur?

It’s not an uncommon thing in the business world for employees to see opportunities that their organizations are not willing to jump at, break off and start their own businesses. It seems to me that librarians are doing something quite similar to this. To be realistic, there are some important differences:

  1. 2.0 Librarians are not exactly making money from their entrepreneurial activities.
  2. Most of the librarians are not quitting their day job.
  3. If anything, librarians are spending their own time and money to make these neato things happen.

Take the Uncontrolled Vocabulary podcast as an example. Someone (namely Greg Schwartz and Mary Carmen Chimato) recognized a gap in professional development — namely that librarians do not have the opportunity to discuss library-related stories and articles in real time. So they take a few Web 2.0 tools and turn them into a radio-talk show. Or a seminar class that works 10 times better than most I’ve experienced in University. This is entrepreneurship at its best — only better because it didn’t cost me anything to participate. 🙂

Librarians have many the same frustrations now as have existed probably since the times of Alexandria. Library courses with dubious relevancy, colleagues refusing to learn anything outside of their comfort zone, change occuring at a snail’s pace and so on to name just a few of these frustrations. What’s different is that individual librarians are taking proactive steps to solve hard information access problems as if they were individual library entrepreneurs. The good news is that, on the whole, libraries are letting their librarians be these entrepreneurs because they recognize that, in the end, if the public sees their librarians as important figureheads, so will they see their libraries as important too. They may be doing this in lieu of change but let’s face it, change is hard — and worse, sometimes it takes time and money that libraries do not have.

These activities are beneficial beyond libraries too. Let’s face it, the idea that libraries could be obsolete by the next generation is not a new one. This idea — as it should well be — is equal parts something to scoff at and something looming over our shoulders. This entrepreneurial style of library service could well be a savior for people trying to access free information if there ever came a time when libraries were shut down for lack of interest. It’s almost as if librarians are applying war paint so they can re-invent libraries should such a tragedy ever happen. Like it’s not a bad idea to learn karate on the off chance you have an intruder in your home, it’s also not a bad idea to practice starting new services from scratch in case that’s what we have to do. Many librarians do not see themselves in a particularly privileged social position just because they have a Masters degree and this is such a positive step that I can’t help but envision one of my favorite librarians inventing something so unique that journalists will be mythologizing about it for centuries later. Ok, that’s a dream — but it’s not exactly an impossible one.

Entrepreneur vs Professional

There is no doubt that I am introducing a false dichotomy, but I am doing so to point out the tensions between professional work and taking things into ones own hands. Professionals depend on peers to establish credibility. A good doctor is most often given that title because other doctors have bestowed it upon him or her. In most established professions, mere survival is not a measure of success. Because professionals often strive to achieve unachievable goals (ie. the judge’s ultimate goal is justice — but no judge has ever seemed to have worked him/herself out of a job), survival is often a given. Promotion is often described as being bestowed based on something called merit — which, while a bit mystical ultimately means “you can’t get credit in this field by just surviving at your job.” A failure to survive in a profession is a “true” failure, largely because it usually means the professional breeched ethics somehow or has been proven incompetent.

Entrepreneurship is measured most emphatically on making as large an organization as possible survive for as long as possible. Most people will marvel at the entrepreneur that managed to keep their business open for any length of time longer than five years. That’s because even the most lucrative business can be brought to its knees very quickly by a tough competitor. A failure to survive in the entrepreneurial realm is not a true failure, because it is expected that new business ventures will fail from time to time. Most businesses, on the whole, do fail because markets shift, competitors seize new market opportunities and so on.

To the entrepreneur, peers are the competition — the enemy and not to be trusted. While seeking the respect of peers, they do not count on them for status or promotion. Their friends are the people they serve — their users. Users/customers tell the entrepreneur that their ideas matter. The more customers, the better the idea.

It seems to me that librarians, though professionals, have taken considerable pride in their survival over the past few decades, despite the continuous banter that computers, then the internet, then Google, then digital media and social softwares will eventually take over. The user/customer focus, and complaints about systems made for librarians also implies a call for a more entrepreneurial style of service. Add other calls for things like taking risks and trying new things and it is clear to me that the call for library 2.0 is a call for entrepreneurialism in libraries.

You simply can’t tell me that if some god made all the libraries disappear right now, you wouldn’t have a big bunch of ex-librarians working at mcdonald’s during the day and still helping people find information at night. (Moreover, I bet those people happily would be paying those ex-librarians a nice heavy dollar to do it for them too).

Don’t get me wrong here, either. I am not saying that this entrepreneurial trend is unique to librarians — it is a global thing. There are people from all walks of life realizing that their ideas could mean something in the broader scope and act on those ideas by starting blogs, making YouTube videos and so on. It just seems that librarians are doing it surprisingly large numbers.

Keep the Professional Values, but Grow the Entrepreneurial Spirit

This brings me to another point made at Uncontrolled Vocabulary. I mentioned the demographic trend of low income people traveling to areas where there are few services (besides libraries) to support them. The reply came back that librarians are trained as social workers, so why should libraries be homeless shelters?

This is a very good question. In some cases it is a serious question — for instance, when a person has a mental illness they should be treated by people with an awareness of mental health medications, not by librarians. Drug abuse is another arena where, clearly, librarians are not equipped to help out.

But, for 90% of the cases 90% of the time, libraries are the ideal spot for low-income and homeless people — precisely because we are not trained as social workers. In my view, this is, in part, because of the adaptive, entrepreneurial side of many librarians. As folks like Jon McKnight and others have claimed, social problems are not solved most times by professionals making people better, but by communities seeing their own strengths and using those strengths to cope with their own unique situations. If librarians behave more like entrepreneurs — wanting to impress their customers more than their peers — then the opportunity to help people help themselves is all the more possible. That is why I advocate the teaching of community development strategies such as open space and appreciative inquiry in library schools. When seen without preconception of what information services are, these strategies are knowledge sharing strategies — equally valid as Library of Congress subject headings or any system of social tagging. Moreover, these strategies are relevant to the actual business of libraries (particularly public libraries) themselves — namely the development and support of self-directed, knowledge curious individuals. Continuing to be a “catch-all” social/community service is a key opportunity for libraries and a natural expansion of traditional library services.

All in all, I recommend finding yourself joining the folks at Uncontrolled Vocabulary or listening to the podcast for the last episode. Obviously, my brief moments on the show have given me a lot to think about and they should do the same for you. Go for it: it’s the entrepreneurial thing to do. 🙂

We Asked for 2.0 Libraries and We Got 2.0 Librarians

We are closing in on a year after the September 1st article in Library Journal proposing a “new model of library service” called “Library 2.0.” Unless you have been asleep in your library duties, you ought to know that Library 2.0 calls for things like user-centered change, reduced institutional boundaries, and a heightened awareness of social software and related technologies.

My sense is that the prominence of the Library 2.0 moniker has plateaued and we are about to see put it in with nostalgia-inducing sayings such as “groovy” and “smashing.” I see the obsolescence of the phrase as an indicator of success. Sure, it was hype. But as hype it did exactly what it was supposed to do: raise awareness of a problem and get people thinking about possible solutions.

No Guff, it was all Hype

The success of library 2.0, as is to be expected, has been mixed. That was kind of the point anyway. Library 2.0 was, in part, a way of seeing success in failure — we had to learn to play, take risks, fail, and learn from the process. In short, the library 2.0 movement was not really about changing libraries, but changing librarians. Librarians needed our time in the sun, and now that we are getting our time.  Now that we are popular, hopefully we will see that we need to clean our houses before we invite people in.

Examples of Librarian 2.0 changing Librarians

As I’ve said, while we called for changes in libraries we actually got changes in librarians. While folks like Meredith Farkas, Helene Blowers and Jessamyn West got broad attention, I’ve seen many examples of people who looked beyond the time, space and resources of their workplace to offer better services to clients. Lots of librarians I have met started blogs and shared notes for conferences. Lots of librarians plugged their noses to try things like Second Life, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole range of other Web 2.0 tools, even though it was cutting away at other hobbies they enjoyed more. I know more librarians than is fair that have used their own money to have access to a test server so they can install, experiment and create various open source or self-made projects on their own. Lots of librarians gave us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves by creating YouTube videos, composing songs and photoshopping pictures for our amusement.

There’s no doubt that Library 2.0 got librarians to learn about themselves and the world of information they live in.   But, considering the “user focus” that supposedly went with Library 2.0, did our brains translate into actual services?


For the ILS, Library 2.0 has meant comments and/or tags in the catalogue front-end for some particularly innovative and/or resource-rich libraries.    In the broad spectrum, libraries are moving very slowly along these lines.   For one, very few libraries have the knowledge and resources to provide a useful overlay to our current systems that can provide these products.   While many resource-rich libraries have been very generous in offering their innovations to smaller libraries, they are not often able to provide long-term support for these changes — making the prospect of any major alteration to our core service a scary process indeed.

Many libraries depend on vendors to provide library 2.0 innovations for them.   LibraryThing has just started to offer a vendor-based service to get us started in this realm.   Other vendors are moving forward as well — for instance, Aquabrowser is offering visualization tools to help customers access information more easily.   However, on the whole, service enhancements such as RSS feeds, user comments, book ratings are largely enhancements that need to be provided over the long term by librarians with fairly specialized knowledge and an understanding of the long-term maintenance of code.   And if your code fails and you have failed to back-up your system — you are on your own.

The good news is that Librarians are learning how to code (If you want to learn to code in a library environment, here are my suggestions — in this order:  Html, XML, SQL, PHP or Perl, JSP or ASP, XSLT, & AJAX.   Bonus points for Ruby on Rails).   In an environment where librarians know how to code, open source systems such as Evergreen or KOHA become real possibilities and communities can develop that can support wider ranges of services in the long term.


Gaming has gone on in libraries for quite a while, in many cases to the disdain of staff.   The change that Library 2.0 appears to be making is that libraries are now actively encouraging gaming in libraries.   Changing the attitude towards games have helped libraries become what they have often longed for — popular with teens.   Managing this popularity is a topic for another blog post, but on the whole, being gaming-friendly has changed the outlook of libraries, perhaps for the better.

Some folks espouse that gaming has serious learning benefits associated with it.  Personally, I find that the benefits from gaming are limited.   I cannot conceive that the next Jimi Hendrix  will come out of young people playing Guitar Hero, for instance.   However, gaming as a recreational activity is no different from recreational reading.   Thus, it is a positive move that libraries are providing programs and help for young people access recreational technology.

Using Web 2.0 Services on the Whole

Using Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, del.icio.us and other social software to promote the library has been another side-effect of the Library 2.0 hype.  The interesting part of this in my view is the fine line between library services and library promotions.   If we put an RSS feed on a MySpace page, is that service or a promotion of a traditional service?   Either way, there is alot of benefit to engaging these services to help boost library usage, particularly among young people.

The use of these services in libraries also speaks to a broader societal trend — namely the globalization of library services and the promotion of “library” rather than “your local library.”    I will speak to this point later on, but using global services to promote local ones leads me to question who gains from Library 2.0 — librarians or customers.

Discussion — Whither a Core Library Service?

Library 2.0 has produced some minor benefits to library services, but hardly the radical change of model that was proposed in the article about a year ago.    The changes that have occurred, in my view, are hardly noticeable to the average customer because, for the most part, the actual changes in services are merely logical extensions to what libraries have done all along.

So, can we call Library 2.0 a lukewarm success?   A failure?   A waste of time and resources?  To do so would be to misunderstand libraries on the whole.    Libraries are largely democratic institutions and as democratic institutions they should change not with the rapid pace of technology, but with the slower pace of society.    Library 2.0 should happen when Society 2.0 develops — and that means once we have a majority of converted folks.   That puts libraries on the “late adopter” part of the adoption curve, to the chagrine of many a library 2.0 advocate I am sure.

This doesn’t mean that librarians should be on the “late adopter” side of the curve, however.   The largest benefit of Library 2.0 has been a radical change in the core service that libraries offer — namely, librarians (and by “librarians,” I mean anyone who works in a library).     In that realm, the largest success of library 2.0 has been projects like Helene Blowers Learning 2.0 programme.   Through their librarians, libraries are able to break out of such institutional barriers as normal operating hours and formal community locations.   Library service in the library 2.0 realm happens every time a librarian’s RSS feed shows a new and exciting novel to read.

To recap, the benefits of library 2.0 have resulted in rather subversive actions of librarians including:

  • Using personal web space to design and create potential new services.
  • Librarians are learning that previous technological barriers are being broken in big ways and are stamping potential technology projects with a “yes” more frequently.
  • Librarians being more active in online communities, and thus providing better access to information.
  • On the international scale, alot of “library” (as opposed to “your local library”) service happens on the 24 hour clock.
  • Despite the snickering at such lines as “guybrarian,” this year has been good for changing the stereotypes about librarians in the world.
  • Through blog posts, YouTube videos and other web 2.0 tools, we have amused, promoted and reminded users everywhere that we exist and can help.
  • New librarians and library students have had the experience of something cool to stitch their career choice to.
  • Librarians are also getting involved in the open space/unconference movement, which will lead to better community development on the whole.

In sum, Library 2.0 has done a lot for the library world.   So, while the term and hype dies down or changes to something else, rest assured that change has occurred in big ways and that libraries are adapting to the world.   They are not doing this through the institutions themselves, but through a steadily increasing change of heart in librarians on the whole.    Harp on hype all you want — Library 2.0 needed to happen and the world is better off because of it.

Why You Should Fall to Your Knees and Worship a Five-Weeks Librarian

Hey you! . . . Yeah, you!

I’m going to tell you what I think you should do right now. Then I’m going to tell you why you should do it.

What you should do:

Find the email address of one of the following librarians:

  1. Dorothea Salo
  2. Meredith Farkas
  3. Amanda Etches-Johnson
  4. Elyssa Kroski
  5. Michelle Boule
  6. Karen Coombs
  7. Tom Peters
  8. Heather Yager

and drop an Amazon or other convenient gift certificate their way.

Why Should You Do It?

Especially if you are a techie librarian, they did you a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiig favor at great expense to themselves and for no pay. I’m not going to rah-rah about how important social software is, or how they are leading the charge to a “new” library world (though they are). I am simply interested in the fact that they put their blood, sweat and tears into something that brings amazing value to the library community at large. What did they do precisely?

They started the Five weeks to a Social Library program. Ok. Let’s assume that the course was mediocre for now, and begin with some Mathematics.

Meredith says that she spent 8-14 hours per week of her time during the 5 weeks. Then another 3-5 per week during the planning stages. Let’s go with the small numbers, under the assumption that, as chair, Meredith spent more than the average 5-weeker. 8 * 5 is 40. 24 * 3 is 75 for a grand total of 115 hours per person. Let’s pay them each $20 an hour. $2230 of their time put out into the library community — for your benefit.

Ok ok ok. So you read a previous post of mine that said very specifically, that you should not measure staff time with a straight dollar-for-hour value judgement. Well, I won’t get into why you are wrong even technically, but let’s start costing out the value to the library community that this project has put out there. You can argue with my numbers, but you cannot argue with the overall value.

  1. Value of upgrading the skills of the 30(+) librarians in a geographic scope at 1.5 credit hours (let’s say $400 for a 1/2 credit course). $12,000
  2. Value of 30(+) pre-established service plans and proposals, with wise consultant feedback and support (let’s say $1000 for a month’s consultant fees). $30,000
  3. Value of journal entries, research notes, transcripts, ideas, and whatnot developed within the social software site (let’s say $100 for every person that will read that site in the next year or so). $ [Just about unmeasurable].
  4. Add an extra $50 workshop fee just for the stuff I learned on the site.

Now let’s look at the reality of the course, and understand that by no means was the project “mediocre.” Amanda ended up a “mover and a shaker.” Great feedback abounds. People out there are exposing their senior management to these ideas and tools in ways that are sustainable and exciting. And here are some more numbers then:

  1. The value of one more person in my town to demonstrate how much of a “no brainer” some of these things are: priceless.
  2. The value of a community of people who have joined the theoretical ranks of Librarian 2.0s: priceless.
  3. The value of sharing an infrastructure that can be used for a wide range of learning projects: priceless.
  4. The value of just a handful of library leaders chomping at the bit to organize their own “5 weeks” project: priceless.

This stuff is truely making libraries everywhere better. Making our libraries better means making our work lives better. We are wanted and desired in the community. People want to pay taxes to sustain our salaries. This stuff is money, health, love and happiness going directly into the pockets of librarians everywhere.

Then we can talk about what money, health, love and happiness spin-offs result from having our users experience great libraries.

I think each one of these guys should have their in-boxes spammed with gift certs. It’s the least the library community can do.

CMS Playdom — an Offering to Students and “non-John Blyberg” Librarians

Ok. So maybe you read Karen Coombs’s essay on “Building a Library Web Site on the Pillars of Web 2.0” or heard about the amazing things John Blyberg has done in turning your average library website into a fully-functional Web 2.0 integrated blazing super-powered mystify both users and librarians online cool device and you realize somewhere, like a certain goblin named Joshua has wondered that more librarians have to be thinking and understanding more about how a content management system works.

Well, here’s what I’m proposing. I am willing to let some people see what the back-end of Joomla looks like. I know, I know — John uses Drupal, which is also amazing, but Joomla is easier to install for now. I may get into Drupal later, anyway. And besides, Joomla narrowly beat out Drupal for the Open Source CMS Award. In my view, Joomla is better in one way [easier back-end interface] and Drupal is better in another [easier for coders to customize] — but that’s another whole blog post.

Here is my commitment. I am willing to let a maximum of 20 people see and ‘play’ with the backend of a Joomla-powered website on a test-server. You will get:

1. An “administrator” (not super-administrator) account.

2. Some limited willingness on my part to share some tips on how it works (via IM or otherwise).

3. Some willingness on my part to re-install the system if you manage to blow it up.

4. General forgiveness for #3 so long as you aren’t a hacker doing it on purpose.

5. Perhaps a look at some other CMSs like MediaWiki, e-Collab and zencart [and maybe Drupal].

What do I need from you? Just the following:

Send a name, institution name, desired username and some way for me to confirm that you are a librarian or library student at the institution you mention to ryan [underscore] deschamps123 [at] yahoo [dot] com.

That’s it. That’s my contribution to the library world. If I get lots of replies, my priorities will go this way:

1. Local first, then global. (Slow library movement stuff, ya know?)

2. Small libraries, then medium, then large.

3. Students first, then new librarians, then curious seasoned librarians.

That’s it! Just let me know.

Doctor Norman Horrocks, OC

As the current president for Dalhousie University’s Associated Alumni, I had the great fortune of emcee-ing a night of celebration for Doctor Norman Horrocks who recently became a successful nominee for the top honor for Canadian civilians — the Order of Canada. The event was very well attended (no surprise) and this was my first emcee ever, so I was more nervous than usual. I think I came out unscathed.

Anyone who knows “Norman” knows that there is no more deserving person on earth. Just look at the man’s CV (ie. click on “Doctor Norman Horrocks” above). Madeleine Lefevbre did a wonderful speech in his honor, citing The Tipping Point to describe Norman as a “Connector.” That’s basically right. Gladwell’s description of connectors are precisely Norman-ish. He knows folks and brings people to people better than anyone I know (besides my wife).
I definitely have to speak of Norman’s generosity as well. I won’t go into details, but Norman’s generosity has touched me more than once and I will be forever in his debt. There were lots of folks who would have been more worthy to emcee this event, and I feel like I had a leprechan in my pocket to get this honor.
There was a lovely basket made of goodies appropriate for a good Lancastrian. The only thing missing was the fish and chips! I said in passing that I would take him to John’s Lunch (which is a chip shop near me) to make up for it.
But another show of what is important to Norman, is how he closed everything up quickly to ensure that student and alumni had plenty of time to network. He is definitely not the sort to let any shy new librarian get out of networking at these events. Be a wallflower at your peril!

Overall, I think everything went off very well and I have to thank all the organizations who helped out, including APLA, CASLIS, SIMSA, MHLA, HLA, Dalhousie University Libraries, and of course, the school itself. The Dalhousie Student Chapters of SLA and CLA were also nice enough to volunteer to help with the tables. Nothing like a team of partners to make our team look good. Thanks for all that.

But most of all, congrats Norman and I am definitely serious about the fish and chips.

From Student to Professional: The “YEAH BUT” Transformation

I barely read Librarian Wannabes anymore, although I am still subscribed to a daily digest. It’s not that the list is not a good resource anymore, it’s just that I have been through a few cycles already of people asking the same questions: “is the labor market dried up?” “how much on-the-job experience do I need?” “what’s the best school?” “is it better to do in-person or online?” etc. These are all very important questions, I am sure, but there are always enough people to chime in on these discussions and my responses still haven’t changed that much.

Today I saw John Gant’s excellent letter on Job seeking for librarians and it inspired me to attempt the next level — that is to offer meaningful advice to students about what (in my view) is important in the professional realm.

The challenge here, however, is that I have a major advantage over the “librarian wannabe” and I definitely want to acknowledge this. A wannabe has to deal with a level of uncertainty that I have now probably (and thankfully) forgotten. When I was a wannabe, I just wanted people to tell me that my job was guaranteed after I graduated. And, of course, no one could — so I’d come up with other questions instead — “are librarians going to retire en masse in the future?” “Does my paraprofessional experience mean anything to the workplace?” Aka: “What is the future oh great professional swami?”

Of course, the best that anyone in my position can do to help out with uncertainty is to sing a few verses of “Que Sera Sera.” There are so many factors that apply when careers and the people who want them encounter each other, that it is hard to comment.

It seems to me that every class is going to have its individuals who will excel in library school but, for one reason or another, will not find a job. Some of the factors will be individual — for instance, a person will lack social skills, making them perform poorly in interviews. Some factors, unfortunately, will be social or cultural — for example, while one might hope that discrimination does not exist in the workplace, men still dominate technical librarianship. Others will be based on what people are willing to do versus what work actually exists.

In the end, the labor market will always appear tight to those who cannot find a job and the people who do love these people will not say otherwise because doing so amounts to saying “you aren’t cut out for the job.”
Those who get jobs will always think that it was their own individual success that got them there, rather than some external factor. Those who do not get jobs will see external factors (like the labor market) as the most important. It is absolutely impossible to be objective on this front.

So, I ask myself, how can I be helpful here? Well, one thing I have done is talked to both students and professionals and I can relay some differences between what gets the idea of “librarian” into a prospective student and how the professional actually behaves. I will do this by headlining a few things I have heard from the “spanking new” library school student and how well it meshes with my experience (and the experiences of other professionals).

But first I want to make two things clear. 1) I am generalizing. Exceptions abound and I am glad for that. However, I am willing to guess that even the “exceptions” will know one or more librarian wannabes who fit into my generalization. 2) That students have a rosy view of their librarianship future doesn’t mean that we are going to have a horrible workforce. Part of going to school is testing one’s perception of something versus the real thing. In no way am I trying to imply that library school students are naive or otherwise missing the point. In fact, I think the rosiness is something to cherish in librarians. I just want to point out that the visions are rosy, and do my part to make sure the rosiness is tempered with plain old common sense.

So here goes — what do library school students seem to think, and what “yeah buts” do I have to add to them?

  • “I like Things to Be Organized, therefore I will be a Successful Librarian”

YEAH BUT #1: you have to get used to the idea that you will be dealing with other people’s messes all the time. If you can’t live with a mess, you better learn to fast. A library that is always perfectly organized is one that no one uses and that is a bad thing.

YEAH BUT #2: managing and organizing information is always 3 parts organizing people to the one part organizing stuff. If you do not want to think about people when you organize stuff, you probably have to re-think your choice of becoming a librarian.

  • “I got into Librarianship because I Like Books”

YEAH BUT #1: I did a little reading myself over vacation. Besides that, I can’t really tell you the last work of fiction I read. Being a librarian is definitely not being a “professional reader.” You read articles, blogs, reviews, reports, and maybe some management tomes if you are lucky. But your book-reading days are going to take a serious hit. See if you can change your love of books into a love of book-lovers, then you are going to be cooking with gas.

YEAH BUT #2: Do you love other information technologies as well? The way something is displayed is not as important as what is being displayed. You better be ready for a world full of wikipedias, blogs, YouTube and the like to go along with the hard copies.

  • “I worked towards my Master/PhD/Post-doctorate in X and then I thought I wanted to become an academic librarian instead.”

YEAH BUT #1: You probably will notice alot of people in your class are saying the exact same thing. Many of them already have the PhD. How is your resume going to be more impressive than theirs? Don’t you think you need a fall-back?
YEAH BUT #2: librarianship is not proxy-academia. Will you be able to reconcile the service aspects of the job with the [not as prestigious as professors] research and teaching aspects?

  • “I Love Kids and Kids’ Books.”

YEAH BUT #1: Do you love parents and the books that parents want their kids to read also? How about teachers? Cub Scout/Girl Guide Masters? As a professional, you will probably be talking to these folks more than you will be talking to the kids in their care. Your staff will be doing the puppetshows & storytimes most likely.

YEAH BUT #2: Do you love foul-mouthed, kissing-in-public teenagers that will also visit your children’s department? Can you be calm, assertive, and positive among teens of all shapes and sizes? Can you insist on respect while at the same time show it consistently?

YEAH BUT #3: Can you mediate (and be fair doing it) when the adult parents of children and teenagers come to loggerheads?

  • “I got into Librarianship because I feel strongly about Censorship/Privacy/Intellectual Property etc.”

YEAH BUT #1: Can you show sufficient empathy for the parent, public servant, political official, or pundit who disagrees with you while at the same time using solid evidence to support your views?

YEAH BUT #2: Can you consistently take challenges to your assumptions as seriously as if it was cancer? Can you take a step back from your beliefs and identify problems in the broad view?

YEAH BUT #3: Could you accept that a higher body may require you to implement policies with which you do not agree? Can you tell the difference between a “toe the line” situation and a “blow the whistle” situation? Can you speak truth to power, while accepting that by becoming a public servant, you give up power for the benefit of anonymity in public affairs.

  • “I like the idea of being one of the world’s only subversive professions left.”

YEAH BUT: Can you inspire other subversives too?

That’s a general list of some things that I think librarian wannabes should think about while they go to school. I’m not worried that wannabes have rosy expectations of the profession, because I believe that most wannabes can re-shape their perception when they see they are deluded. At the same time, there should be a tinge of these rosy concepts sitting in their heads as well. Notice, that I used “YEAH BUT” rather than simply declaring the beliefs as mythical. There is truth in such beliefs as “librarians protect the public from censorship,” but there’s also the reality that no subject is clear-cut and grey areas abound inside every subject.

And how is all this related to the labor market? Well, I guess the point is that you just have to forget about the labor market for a bit and ask “is this what I really want?” If you can’t deal with the sort of realities I describe here, you are doing no one a favor by toughing it out through school. If you can deal with these realities and still keep that rosy understanding of libraries then the labor market is just one of many barriers that stand in the way between you and your idea job. The problem then is just a matter of how to get beyond the barriers.

Maven Studies — My Ideal MLIS Program

I am not one to allow myself to complain without coming up with something that leads towards a possible solution.

So, here it is: My first crack at the ideal MLIS program. I put up an introduction and 8 required courses.

And guess what? It’s a wiki. So, if you don’t agree with me, you can fight me for it!

I’d like to see some great requireds and electives. And syllabi. Required reading too! No rules, but remember: people might take you seriously! 🙂