I recently posted to Facebook
Dear ALA, Library Journal, and others: I have an MLS. I paid good money for it. I earned it. I am a librarian. Forever. The fact that I do not currently (nor may ever again) work in a library does not change that fact. Please make room for me on your surveys etc. Thank you. Bobbi, MLS Forever.
Then I made this
Then someone at ALA sent me a message saying they completely agreed with me and asked me what this meant to me. How does an ALA that supports librarians who do not currently work in libraries look to me. Which I thought was a great response and a completely fair and smart question.
Let me start with why I made the post in the first place. Because I am still active in libraryland I often see links to surveys from vendors, libraries, and other library related parties. Like a good little librarian ready to share my knowledge and opinions I click on the links only discover that said surveys are not for librarians. They are for librarians working in libraries. Which is probably not even accurate what they are really looking for is people working in libraries (including those without the degree). (I am not even going to get into the whole degree vs. non-degree thing here). I still read, write, blog, and speak about library related issues (much of my grad school work has been connected to the same issues I focused on before – privacy, digital literacy, information access, etc., just from the policy and political science perspective) so I still consider myself part of the library community and, more importantly, a librarian. My post to Facebook was prompted by a recent attempt to take a Library Journal survey, ALA sort of got thrown under the bus. Sort of. Because, as I wrote about over a year ago a rather high level ALA employee asked me directly “Why are you here?” upon discovering I was not employed in a library and was in fact pursuing a masters in political science. It wasn’t a sincere question, one looking for an answer and a connection outside of libraries, it was flip and dismissive.
I have addressed this many times in the past. I believe it is important for libraries and librarians to have supporters outside of librarianship. The diversity of librarians is important just as diversity of supports is important. I still believe in libraries, the work they do, the role they play in our patrons lives, now and in the future.
This post has been languishing in my drafts for a couple of weeks for two reasons. First, I wasn’t sure I was comfortable writing about why I am not currently working in a library. A couple of things have happened to help me push past that and at least talk about it a little, beginning with the post I made on Facebook. The number of smart, capable, forward thinking people who commented publicly and privately that is resonated with them really stuck with me. In part people those are some of the people I respect the most, people who may well be the future of libraries even if they aren’t working in a library. Then Nina McHale wrote Breaking Up With Libraries on why she is leaving libraries for a position at non-profit. The short version – lousy pay and lack of real innovation at the expense of both our patrons and our libraries, but go read the whole post.
This week I saw this Tweet
Interesting stats from US: public librarians make up 28% of librarians, but contribute less than 3.5% of research.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j…
— David McMenemy (@D_McMenemy) June 3, 2013
This brought all sorts of things from my time in public libraries home for me. Most public library staff are not encouraged to contribute to the profession in this way. In fact it is often frowned upon. Time is too scarce to allow public library staff time for research never mind professional reading or writing opportunities. Most public library staff who contribute in this way do what I did for years – they do it on their own time and dime. (this really is worth a whole blog posts or series of blog posts about how management and other staff view public librarians who devote time to professional projects outside the library).
There is an experience that sticks out firmly in my mind from the period when I was deciding if I should return to school, what field I should study (I did consider a PhD in library science and decided against it) and whether I should go full time. I had an interview with a public library that claimed to want to expand and improve on their digital and technology services for both staff and public. Although the salary was ridiculously low it was in a part of the country I was interested in and the possibilities were interesting, so I did a Skype interview. At some point during the interview I mentioned my involvement in ALA, and the other things I did like writing this blog. The response “I don’t know when you think you’ll have time for that, we plan to work you to death”. I was appalled. Needless to say I dropped out of consideration. I have no objection to working hard, to putting in extra hours, to going the extra mile, but it was clear there was no respect or support for work that would contribute to the profession as such.Public libraries really need to work on this (again worthy of its own series of posts).
There were other matters at play, including some family and personal ones, but in the end I returned to school full-time.
Which brings me to the second reason this post has been languishing – when I made the post on Facebook, someone challenged me (and rightly so) to define what an ALA that makes room for people like me looks like and I am still struggling with that. But part of the purpose of this blog has always been to work through issues like this publicly. So I’m putting it out half thought through and looking for answer from you. Some really basic things that come to mind include adding “do not work in a library” as the option for “what type of library do you work in”. But what about bigger picture things? Is it just a change in attitude, and from the profession at large? You tell me.
- Breaking Up with Libraries by Nina McHale
- Jack John’s responseOn breaking up with libraries, by Nina McHale
- Managing High Potential Employees in Libraries: The Rock Star Dilemma by Stephne Abram
- 51 Insights, Perceptions, and a Few Things That I Think Are Important to Professional and Personal Progress by Stephne Abram
- Hey Libraries: It’s Not Me, It’s You by Kate Kosturski