Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Perplexed Librarian - Part Three

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. My email has changed. However, my questions are still valid and I'm still seeking answers to these questions.

This is the third article in the series. GFW

August 4, 2004

In part one of my personal perplexed position I described how the system for which I work has moved to a centralized retail style buying of materials. Part two examined the possible outsourcing of the departments which handled the actual buying and processing of the materials selected by the buyers. We are beginning to look like a retail outlet. In this part the blurring of the lines between the work of the professional and the para-professional perplexes me. It appears that there will no longer be Librarians and Library Assistants but simply "Library workers." Again, let me give some background pertaining to the Library at which I work.

In 1992 the main library opened its doors in a brand-new building. I have been working in this building since right after it opened. There are five floors open to the public. Four of those floors are the responsibility of the Information Librarians (the last being the domain of the Youth Service Librarian). Initially, Librarians would be at the Information desks on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors. Located on the 2nd floor are the Reference materials and part of the circulating collection. On the 3rd floor you will find Federal, State and Local Documents, Fiction and Periodicals with Indexes. Our 4th floor houses the rest of the circulating collection and a Genealogy collection. The 1st floor has new titles, audio and video, and the circulation desk.

Librarians at the main library provide service for walk-in patrons, answer the telephones for all 26 branches, and staff an archive devoted to local information. In 12 years of service the 4th floor has never been staffed. Librarians from the 2nd and 3rd floor regularly go with patrons to the other floors to help find materials and then return to their current desk assignment.

Recently, the main library lost five Librarians, four LA’s, and one Technician to other branches. A Librarian and LA left the system for other jobs, and the Head of the main library was reassigned. It was determined by Management that para-professional library workers only would staff the 3rd floor. Now, those para-professional library workers are asked questions about Federal, State and Local Documents, Readers Advisory, and searching periodical indexes. They must also care for 15 Internet computers and two MS Office computers, in addition to their other previously assigned duties. Librarians must care for four floors from a central location, or try to explain in enough detail how to find material without leaving the floor because we have a line of people in front of the desk.

Are the lines between professional and para-professional duties and expectations dissolving? Are para-professionals now expected to provide reference expertise to the public? Are Libraries offering less hands-on service to their public? Should we refer to ourselves as ‘library workers’ instead of Librarians?

Do I need to change my expectations about how I serve the public?

Gerald F. Ward

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