Saturday, February 23, 2008

Will you miss them when they're gone?

Walter Minkel has a post with a link to an article about librarians in Wausau, Wisconsin, dealing with pay cuts and demotions. Besides financial anxieties as a result of higher health insurance costs, library director Phyllis Christensen said that, "Librarians today do less complex work." As a result, there is a call for "pay adjustments" and "more technological assistance."

When I worked in the public library system, "technological assistance" sometimes translated to "tinker with the jammed printer" or "show the caregiver how to find the games on the library homepage for her 2 year old son." More often, that technological assistance involved teaching children and grownups how to find online materials that had authority and relevance to what they needed for research projects, book reports, and independent seeking of knowledge.

In my first year of library work, I once helped an adult patron who said in a chirpy voice, "I really don't see why you have to get a degree for this work." She uttered this remark after she had asked for my help for some in-depth children's reference question. I tried to explain to her that I couldn't summarize for her in two minutes what I had learned in two years. One spends a relatively short amount of time in library school, learning about organizational and research tools, ethics and philosophies of services, usually followed by an internship in one's speciality. The majority of library education is on the job experience, but that prior schooling is as important as prepping one's walls with TSP before painting.*

Over the years, librarians have been working to help educate the public on what they do so that people actually understand (and therefor value) what they do. The public, however, needs to let library directors and elected officials know why they value librarians with specific examples of how they have benefitted from being helped by professionals. These specific examples can't come from the librarians themselves, or it looks as if we're working in our own self-interest.

It may well be that the people don't value the services they've previously received, and would prefer just to have someone around to fix the printer or show them how to find the games on the internet. Perhaps the people don't want toddler and preschool storytimes planned by professionals who have bothered to study a wide range of stories and rhymes to know what works for different groups. If the demand for excellence isn't there, then librarians probably will be phased out in favor of technical assistants and library host/esses. But here's the question: when the librarians go, will you miss them when they're gone?

*You did wash your walls before you painted them, I hope...!


Anonymous said...

How can there be a shout of glee? I can offer only a sob of despair. The libraries are joining the independent newspapers and the free airwaves and the buffalo. Oh wait - if the buffalo are inching back, perhaps in 200 years libraries will enjoy a resurgence.

El JoPe Magnifico said...

Would it help for the buffalo and the librarians to team up? Even if only for parades. Think about it: If the librarians are on foot, they get a few good-natured cheers, while the audience waits for naked cyclists. But the buffalo-riding librarians? Man, that would totally rule!

As usual, I jest to mask my sense of helplessness. Sort of.

Lone Star Ma said...

I would cry to lose librarians. Really - it is a more ridiculous thought now than ever - This is The Information Age. Even if you can make the scary-to-a-book-addict-like-me claim that people don't need librarians for what they used to need them for (I wouldn't agree with that), we still need them now more than ever!!!!

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Anonymous and El Jope: The buffalo and the librarians would make a formidable team. I'm rooting for both.

LSM: Yeah, ridiculous is the word of the day. I used think that if I presented someone with facts and evidence, the truth would be enough to convince the person that something was important/ pertinent. Now, I know that for the most part, people see what they want to see, believe what they want to believe. Well, at least I think that on my most cynical days.

AareneX said...

Clearly, what we need is a front-page article in the free and independent press, with a fabulous photo of the librarian/buffalo parade drill team.

I offer myself as flag carrier for the team--who will join me?

More importantly: who will alert the public to turn out in force to clap and cheer and wave their library cards in the air as we trot proudly down the main street of town?


MotherReader said...

Sorry, I was thinking of the Hank Green cover of the song Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone (From your Pants).

It's hard to make people get what we do, but we'll keep on fighting to be understood.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

MR: Hank Green's cover will always secretly be the definitive version for me.

I just wonder why we have to struggle to get people to understand what we do (or rather, what I used to do). I wonder what other professions have similar challenges.

Library Lady said...

US News and World Report just put librarians on their "Best Jobs" list. Though their idea of what someone in a public library does leaves out winos, the mentally ill, the folks who use us purely for the free internet and the moms who use me as a free entertainment place between Gymboree and Kindermusik.....