Saturday, August 22, 2009

Perplexed Librarian - Part Five

Five years ago I wrote a series of short articles submitted to Publib asking a series of questions trying to gain a better understanding of the state and direction of the Library world. Some of the logistical and system information is dated. Some duties have been refined and redefined. My email address has changed. However, my questions are still valid and I'm still seeking answers to these questions.

This is the final article in the series. GFW

August 5, 2004

Hands on experience answering patrons’ questions using the available resources create a valuable public services librarian. Simply having the initials MLS behind your name does not mean you are a qualified librarian. If you do not work with the public trying to answer the questions posed then you have no idea what a reference librarian should look like, let alone do. You will learn more about being a librarian in 6 months at a reference desk than you will in 2 years of class work. It is an understanding of what the available resources provide, and don’t provide, the ability to listen and hear the patrons’ questions, and the ongoing experience of working the desk that will build a valuable librarian.

Traditionally, people in management do not work with the public or the collection and therefore do not have, or have lost, the experiences which make a valuable public services librarian. Yet it is Management making the decisions about how librarians at the large public library in Sacramento, California, will serve the public of Sacramento. These decisions have
turned the valuable librarian into a mere "library worker" like the clerks found in any retail bookstore.

Watch the progression of events I have outlined in the last four perplexed writings:

1. Management has taken away the experience of selecting resources for the collection from the librarian and given the responsibility to a buyer similar to those used in retail stores. Librarians lose a way to gain experience.

2. Collection Development and Technical Services are outsourced (this is happening in many systems). Those librarians who worked in these departments no longer gain, and are unable to communicate, the experiences they have to enhance the collections, breaking down the ability of the public service librarian to grow in value to the public.

3. Librarians are moved away from the collections they formerly cared for, losing the experience needed to enhance and maintain the collection. Para-professional workers are reassigned to work the floors housing these collections. Retail stores have centralized information areas. This has happened were I work.

4. Experienced librarians working the reference telephone system are given the added clerical duties of a receptionist. The job description of the librarian is defined down. The ability to grow in experience is overwhelmed by the important, but routine, job of a receptionist.

If the trend in the pubic library world is toward limiting, removing and overwhelming the experiences needed to make a valuable librarian, then the librarian, as we know it, will disappear. Within a generation, our profession will go away, replaced by simple "workers."

The next logical step is to redefine the mission and limit the scope of the collections found in libraries.

Gerald F. Ward

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