Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Which kind of librarian are you?

This morning I read fellow blogger Library Bitch’s posting entitled Check The Meaning, in which he shares an astute perspective of the current state of morale in libraries. Via this short response, I wish to note that his observation is one with which I agree. Whether "Petty Fiefdoms" or "Empire Building", call it what you will, I suspect that the ongoing resistance to change observed in libraries comes down to the individual's need to feel secure in a profession experiencing high flux.

Historically, librarians have been the keepers of the books, those rare and valuable tomes of knowledge. A challenge to the librarian's position has arisen over the past years in the form of computer technology, most markedly when the kid with an IT diploma from the corner community college was determined by accountants and CFOs to provide a greater and more identifiable return on investment than that provided by the librarian. Return On Investment, folks. This is business, at all levels of librarianship, and our profession is scrambling to maintain, if not re-define or create our place within the professional information field.

Some librarians identify the opportunity to expand their knowledge and skill base to better meet challenges, to personal, professional and client/patron benefit. They are moving outward, beyond the traditional roles recognized within librarianship. Other librarians recoil from opportunity, entrench and defend an antiquated approach that is no longer wholly relevant to our profession, our business, or our client/patron relationship. The world is changing; so must our profession to maintain relevance.

I don't know the cause or understand this almost ‘parochial’ smugness to which LB refers. However, I do understand the several violent slaps I received from established, old school librarians when I entered professional librarianship.

Indeed, I was once told by a head research librarian in mid-2006 to not use email to deliver requested research reports as attachments to clients (though the clients requested such), but rather to use a fax machine. In weaker moments, the head research librarian confided a limited knowledge and understanding of computers, stating that they made her “feel uncomfortable”. She was greatly disturbed by my use of current technology to maximize client service, and chose to convene a committee of senior librarians to review options for document delivery. Eventually, the ‘new’ technologies already employed by myself and other research librarians were formally adopted into library document delivery policy; however, I was (very) strongly reprimanded by the head research librarian.

Since then, I have been informed by insiders that I threatened the position of the head research librarian with my knowledge of current information sources, technologies and practices, and ... most unbelievably ... because I am male. My star was rising too quickly and I had come to the positive notice of the powers-that-be; 'noted in dispatches', as it were. Also, because I am male and knowledgeable, confident, well-spoken, well-dressed ... aka 'professional' ... clients assumed I was the manager. The situation became untenable, a toxic work environment, and I am no longer with this library as the result of this and several other events of similar nature.

I suspect that many librarians believe, as they "Keep Sentinel at the Gates of Knowledge", that they have an expert knowledge and understanding of the content of the tomes jealously guarded beyond those metaphorical gates. What an unfortunate and presumptuous error! Still, take heart. I recently read a statement by Winston Churchill, made at some time or other, that is useful in maximizing this opportunity to the benefit of our personal and professional endeavours:

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

Which kind of librarian are you?


G said...

Well said. It's amazing how many librarians - and people in any type of business, for that matter - are convinced that "the way things worked then / work now" is the way things will always continue to work.

And of course, that's not the truth. As Jagger once sang, Time Waits For No One. (Great guitar bit at the end by Mick Taylor, BTW. Stones never were the same after he left.)

G said...

As a cat owner, you'll appreciate this link. Posted by Dave, one of my readers.

'Tis very true with dogs, also.