Thursday, February 28, 2008

what do we need librarians for anyway?

not that i’m asking, of course, (that would be a little self destructive, don’t you think?) but a number of people do some to wonder such a thing, especially as budgets are crunched and administrators begin to investigate where they can cut costs…

The latest kafuffle concerns the elimination of the "librarian 1" positions in the Marathon County Public Library. One of the four positions is currently vacant and the others will be collapsed into three customer service/librarian positions which the current librarians will be offered (at $10,000 less per year) or they can apply for a lead customer service/librarian position (along with everyone else) that job pays what they currently make. I suppose this is a much better deal than many people are getting in this time of recession and unemployment, but i find the reasoning for the cuts a bit off: that libraries are becoming more like community centers (not necessarily a bad thing, but they are still libraries) and that their demands are for less complex, detailed work; mainly simple customer service and computer assistance. I have said before and shall repeat myself here that the public has a hard time differentiating between those who simply work in a library and librarians. They don’t really understand what librarians do or that they really need them (coincidentally enough, i just had two gentlemen ask me questions {one for a book one for computer searching [paid database~not internet} which required research only a librarian could perform...). Just because times are changing (and we must change with them, there are new expertise's to be learned but at the same time we must exercise the old~and remind people why they need us). As librarians we do a poor job of self-promotion and if we are to retain our jobs we need to do better…

Here’s John Berry’s opinion from March’s Library Journal:

Blatant Berry: The Vanishing Librarians

It looks like the “transformation” we seek for libraries and librarianship may turn out to be more of a “deskilling” of library jobs than an enhancement of the profession. More and more working librarians are “managed” by a new breed of library leader. Their model for the new public library is that dehumanized supermarket or the chaotic disorganization of the largest Barnes & Noble.

As this process unfolds, the once professional responsibilities of librarians are being dumbed down into the duties of retail clerks or the robotic responses of machines. Our circulation desks are disappearing. The humans who once greeted and discussed with patrons our wares and services as they dispensed them are being replaced by self-service. Those circulation clerks are either being terminated or sent to work elsewhere in the library.

Our reference services and the desk from which they were delivered are gone, too, replaced by wandering “librarians,” with or without an MLS. They are supposed to be proactive in searching out patrons in need but are too often summoned on walkie-talkies or terminals to come to the aid of only those who ask or to respond to the few inquiries that arrive online. Of course, we need fewer and fewer of these librarians, because patrons are urged to do it all for themselves, via Google, PACs, or whatever they discover through our terminals or their own laptops and PCs.

Our catalogers began to disappear with the takeover of that function by OCLC, the nonprofit that aspires to be a corporation in this brave new retail library world. The standardized result of the effort is bypassed by patron and librarian alike, as they turn to the more friendly Amazons, Googles, et al., for the less precise, more watered-down “metadata” that has replaced what used to be cataloging. Apparently, users don’t miss the old catalog, except as a familiar artifact, which is testimony to how low this dumbing down has taken us.

In the new model, that most sacred of our professional duties, the selection of materials to build services and collections, is turned over to either small centralized teams of two or three librarians and clerks, or in extreme cases to an external vendor, usually a library book distributor.

The resulting “destination” libraries resemble the cookie-cutter design of the grocery store, aimed at making sure everyone who comes in goes out with “product” (books, CDs, DVDs, or downloads). What the patron takes is of as little concern to the storekeeper librarian as it is to the supermarket manager. The success of the enterprise is measured in the number of products collected by patrons, now called “customers.” It is no longer measured in the usefulness or impact of the service on the quality of life in the community served.

Many of the American Library Association-accredited LIS programs that once claimed to “educate” the professional librarians who run these libraries have been invaded by faculty from other disciplines, a great many of whom are far more adept at the politics and pedagogy of academic survival than they are at the principled professional practice of librarianship.

Now the progress of this deskilling has come full circle. Having discovered that the manager librarians of these supermarket libraries need fewer and fewer professional librarians to staff their simplified operations, the governing authorities are beginning to decide they don’t need a professional librarian to manage them. Some have been turned over to successful business types from industry, some to lawyers, some to academic administrators or fundraisers, and some to professional financial managers.

The most surprising part is that so few library leaders have raised their voices in alarm or outrage at this erosion of the standards to which libraries once aspired. It is frightening to think that we will stand quietly by and watch as professional librarians disappear from libraries and with them the quality of the services and collections in which we once took such professional pride.

And here’s the ever-entertaining(don't always agree with her, but still love to read her) Annoyed Librarian

Library Jobs that Suck #4

There's an exciting opportunity in Wisconsin for anyone who wants to work in a library with a demoralized staff and a director who likes to demote or drive off librarians.

Wouldn't you just love to apply to be the new Customer Services Lead Librarian at the Marathon County Public Library in lovely Wausau, Wisconsin? I knew you would. Doesn't this sound
like a fantastic job:

"The Marathon County Public Library is seeking a highly qualified individual for the position of Customer Services Lead Librarian. This is a leadership position focusing on constantly improving the customer-library experience throughout the Library system. The ideal candidate advocates for [sic], researches, creates, develops, and executes innovative approaches, services, and products to meet diverse community and diverse customer needs using creativity and entrepreneurial leadership for the
Library’s system. This position works directly with library staff to improve their customer service and responsiveness skills.

"I only had to read through that advertisement once to say, "Wow! This job is HOT!" They're looking for highly qualified people. I'm highly qualified. They want people to service some customers. I'm great at servicing customers. That's how I paid my way through library school! And they have that great long sentence explaining everything the lucky candidate would get to do. The lucky candidate could advocate innovative approaches or execute innovative products, really just anything, as long as its "innovative." And all of us would probably like to work with that persnickety staff to improve their responsiveness skills. That staff must really suck if the library is advertising how unresponsive they are. Someone needs to go in and light a fire under their bottoms! Also, who wouldn't want to work for a library with a mission "to attract customers to discovery and fun through exploration and entertainment." Ooohh, ahhh, discovery and fun through exploration and entertainment! That sure beats this mission: "The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty." Because it's fun! And entertaining! And about servicing customers! Yay!!!

And it would also be fun to work in such a well known library. Oh sure, I know plenty of you work in well known libraries such as the New York Public or Widener or something. But how often do you get to opportunity to work in an increasingly nationally recognized public library in a small place in Wisconsin? Not often. But this library is famous, or at least it should be among librarians. See the news stories here, here, and of course here. Perhaps not everyone reads the Wausau Daily Herald (and why would you?), but everyone reads the AL, at least everyone who's reading this right now.

So if you want to work in a "customer service"-oriented job (and from what I hear every librarian should want to do that because that's what we're all about!), then go ahead and apply to the

Marathon County Public Library. There you can work in an "innovative" environment where the director demotes librarians and cuts their pay and where whatever formerly professional staff are left will resent you until they can find other jobs. And when the last of them go, you can hire some even lower-paid and less competent people to take their place. Yay! And you can improve their "responsiveness skills." Yay!

This is like a dream job, isn't it? The deadline is March 24, so hurry up with that application! Tell 'em the AL sent you and your application goes to the top of the pile.

So I suppose that’s my PSA, blah, blah, blah rant for the day… perhaps i’m just feeling a little self-important and want to hang on to my job as well as my salary (tho i still believe in that M.I.L.S.)

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