Following up on a few thoughts- public libraries, librarians and the value of each

So, why do some librarians seem to value their job, qualifications etc so little?

I think with some it is a genuine desire to be equal and fair handed. Remove barriers. No more professional/paraprofessional.

That said, what message does that send? It is a message often given without any well thought out alternative for training and development. When it comes from non-librarians it is about saving money, whatever the cover; from librarians it’s a little less clear but the impact can be the same. Librarianship isn’t anything to worry about.

If librarianship isn’t anything to worry about, why should libraries be? Ah, Pete, aren’t libraries just about books and access to them?

No. They are about people gathering those books, making them accessible, sharing their knowledge of them etc. They are about adding value to a collection of books ( and, as the Act says, other resources.) And librarianship should be about that. What that means for library education is another post; but there is still a need for a structured program of training and reflection leading to a recgonised qualification.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with hierarchies either…

In public library terms saving money is all very well, and efficiency is important. But there will come a time when the savings become damaging and you aren’t left with a public library but a bookshop manquee; and based on a poor bookshop model at that.

There needs to be a balance between books and people, the resources and the services that go with them. Current plans for Hillingdon, which could well influence other councils, are based on a simplistic money saving get more books in model, with a side order of Starbucks to go. The councillors will get to pose outside their shiny new libraries, and are already celebrating triumph. But what of the people of Hillingdon- will we hear from them? And the library staff?

Edit Early indicators were that the project had been well received and that usage figures in the first of the remodelled libraries had increased. Staff and the local MP held a vigil to highlight the staff issues, but little was made of it. /Edit


6 Responses to Following up on a few thoughts- public libraries, librarians and the value of each

  1. Tom says:

    If we equate non-professional/professional with non-qualified/qualified, then I don’t think sending messages is a good enough reason for the present qualification/professional/chartering set-up. In fact, in the modern world, I think librarians are in danger of marginalising themselves by hiding behind them. Instead of saying, “I have an MA in libraries so I am employable” we should say “I have the skills to run a library, so I am employable”. Although I work in cataloguing, a peculiar discipline, and an academic library, so probably am slightly barking up the wrong tree, I think it is significant that the most important part of any selection process for a new cataloguer is the test we give them: not whether they are CILIP members, have an MA (this carries a little weight), or even how long they have worked (if they have learnt nothing while doing it); What matters is how well they can catalogue.

    I wonder how many web developers, whose work underpins what we do as librarians and the way the modern world works, feel the need to be professionally validated in the same way? How many have an MA in web development on top of their computing B.Sc.’s?

  2. Pete says:

    Quite a few, along with other quals Tom- MCSE and so on. Very few stop at their Bsc. And in academia, it really does matter.

    But of course, any professional qual needs to give practical skills- I wouldn’t be a great cataloguer solely because of my MSc- and that is perhaps where development needs to take place. There is a need to match skills and study, not just depend on narrow skill sets or qualifications.

  3. Woeful says:

    Experience is undoubtedly a highly valuable trait, however there was a considerable investment on my part in terms of both time and money, to earn my Masters Degree. This should be worth something, as it is in any other profession. In the corporate world, someone might be a business whiz, but without a degree they will always be licking the boots of the MBA. They will never attain the same salary, and there will always be a ceiling no matter how much they accomplish.

    If we adopt the attitude that you have, we might as well trash the education (degree) all together, and regress the profession back to a “trade” where we would have apprentices, librarians, and master librarians. However, without a unifying standard assessing skill levels from institution to institution is going to be a bitch, testing/certification is required.

    Right now, Librarianship seems to be neither here nor there as a profession. We have adopted the professional degree as a barometer of basic knowledge, yet as you indicated, many of our institutions don’t seem to have any confidence in this and still test new hires as if they were plumbers. No MBA that I’m aware of ever gets tested on his business knowledge when seeking employment. That’s why the degree exists. We need to make up our minds as to what we want to be. I choose “professional.”

  4. Pete says:

    Well, I thought I was clear on the need for study and practice, and the value of qualifications.
    Still, to clarify. I too choose ‘professional’. However, I am willing to look at how we can mix practice and theory in our qualifications structures. This would allow for a standard which employers could use (which doesn’t exist now, oddly enough) whilst retaining an academic and reflective component.

  5. Tom says:

    Woeful: it is precisely because of the considerable investment in terms of both time and money that I think the MA (or equivalent) should be worth more than the letters it confers. I will admit to a lingering personal resentment at having to jump through the hoop myself at considerable effort and money. I’ve also seen perfectly talented and skilled librarians forced to jump through the same hoop to get on despite the fact they have the talent and the skills anyway. Why make them? If we want status, wouldn’t it be more efficient to offer Oxbridge-style MA’s instead? I agree that skills need to certificated, but these could be done individually with more flexibility and relevance. As I said in a comment on another post on this site (apologies, Pete, for the repitition):

    I would have been better served, I believe, by a short intensive course in cataloguing rather than two years of part-time slog (or the alternative of risking job security and financial problems by dropping out for a year to do a full-time course). A series of such short courses (eg one on circulation, one on children’s/school librarianship, one on subject support, etc.) would be much better, if we are prepared to do without the apparent status of an MA. This would also better suit those wanting to change the direction of their career.

    If we cannot rely on the MA as a guarantee of any particular skills, what basic knowledge is it a barometer of? If institutions don’t trust it, surely it needs to change.

    Does it matter whether we are trade or a profession as long as librarians are properly skilled and the skills they have are trusted by employers and the qualifications meaningful and relevant? I agree that some kind of educational structure is necessary, but I think the MA is too monolithic and there must be a better, more targeted, and more flexible method of providing it.

  6. Woeful says:

    I think we’re on the same page here guys. I was raised in a very blue collar household, and was the first in my family to go to college. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter to me if Librarianship is a trade or not. Like I wrote, we are currently in a transitional period professionally. I work with people who I consider to be excellent librarians who don’t have degrees, but in 20 years time this will no longer be the case because of the MLS. I could be wrong, but I believe the degree was concocted as a way to eventually boost salaries across the profession… Though it may be another 30 years before results are seen? Either way, we certainly aren’t going to be privy to this.

    I believe that standardization should underpin the MLS/MLIS. Certain aspects of this are already in place such as the AACRII, MARC, and Dewey, or LC. Sadly, it seems that just as the degree requirements were ramping up, the profession itself changed drastically with the advent of the Internet. Now that technology is so rapidly evolving, the core methods of Librarianship are in flux further complicating what is standard. I really think that the key lies in making the MLS more uniform and more rigorous. How to do that I leave to the library scientists. Unlike someone certified in something like Oracle, there is a profound philosophical component in what we do, which, I believe, makes higher ed a critical component. It’s not just the mechanics, it’s also the culture.

    Anyway, stay tuned, the next event to further complicate the matter will be when MARC dies and is replaced by XML. If you think there are growing pains now, wait until the “old” get a whiff of that! I hear the sounds of many people taking early retirement…

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