There is a great deal of discussion going on this week about librarianship as a profession and the differences between those of us working in libraries who have an MLS versus those who do not and the type of work we do and deprofessionalization or devaluing of the library degree, and yadda, yadda, yadda. I will defer to Rachel’s two posts for a great analysis of much of the debate surrounding this topic and why people feel the way they do. I agree wholeheartedly with Rachel’s and Meredith’s thoughts on this topic and I think Dorothea makes some excellent observations and offers some interesting points for further discussion. My two cents in this whole discussion is: Welcome to my and my staff’s (both current and former) world.

For the most part I am going to take myself as an example out of this, but before doing so let me put this out there, you want a nice, healthy dose of being made to feel second class by colleagues – be a circulation librarian for a week at someplace other than MPOW who thankfully get it. I have written about this before, so moving right along…

Rachel posted a sample of some of the comments left on her post by para-professional staff:

* “My entree into the world of library work made me want to turn tail and run, not become a librarian: the issue of who is “real” and who is not is way too reoccurring on list serves like lm_net.” – Sarah Zoe
* “Having been on the “them” side of an us vs. them argument for a while now, I also feel apprehensive about joining the degreed population. The condescension with which some people refer to those in my position is enough to make me feel ill. I joined publib for a few months last year and ended my subscription after I had a nightmare that degreed librarians were attacking a fellow technician and me while we hid in a car. The librarians smashed themselves up against the windows of the car, clawing at the glass to get at us.” – Jamie
* “As someone with a college degree but not a MLS, I am not treated with the same degree of respect by other ‘true librarians’ although I perform many of the same jobs.” – Judy Tsujioka
* “In terms of treatment on the job, it is intimidating to be in this position, be specifically called an LTA because it’s blasphemous to call me a librarian (!) and not be valued for my ideas. Certain tasks aren’t given to me because I don’t have a degree, though I certainly could do them and have the time to do them. It’s unfair and I’m tired of these two spheres in the library world never crossing over. It does nothing for the profession as a whole. I’m not asking to be put on reference alone or anything, but simply to be respected for what I do despite my lack of a degree. Furthermore, I hate being reminded that I am ‘not there’ yet. I’m doing the best I can, with the finances and time that I have.” – JP
* “In the olden days, whenever I expressed an opinion in front of a “librarian,” I would be asked, “Where did you get your MLS?” This was code for, “Do you have permission to speak?” I would answer that I was a mere school librarian, so all I had were bachelor’s degrees in math and English, a teaching credential, and a library credential — all obtained in the early 1970s. When I got around to enrolling in the MLS program, in the 1990s, I discovered that my articles were on the required reading list. I asked the professor, “Is this guy any good?” After a few moments of praise, he paused (quick fellow) and asked, “What did you say your name was?” And then, “Why are you taking this class? You could teach it.” I replied that I was taking the class so that degreed folks would take me seriously.” – Richard Moore
* “I was astounded when, a few months back, I discovered that I couldn’t get class credit for completing a real-life project at my own library because…. dum-de-DUM… my professor did not consider my director a real librarian. This instructor required all projects to be conducted with the partnership of an MLS-degreed librarian” – what’s in a name?

Do I need to say that this makes me angry, frustrated, disheartened and plain sick? Well, I just did. I have been thinking about this issue of “deprofessionalization.” To quote David Rothman on Uncontrolled Vocabulary last week, I also think the term is a whole “lot of bullshit.”

You wanna know who is devaluing our profession? We are.

Every time a librarian says or does something that makes a non-MLS library employee feel like a second class citizen the profession and the degree loses its value. Every support staff person who is treated badly is one more person who thinks librarians are jerks and that having an MLS means you are better than those who don’t. Every MLS student whose opinion is not valued because they have yet to graduate is one more MLS student who is doubting that this was the right career choice and wondering if the time and money is well spent.

I have to keep reminding myself that just because a person has a professional degree doesn’t mean they act professionally. Respect is earned; not demanded or given freely. Common courtesy goes a long way and treating people differently based on the type of degree they do or do not have is ridiculous. When did it become all about us and not about serving our patrons?

I found some of the comments made by librarians on Rachel’s posts quite embarrassing.

I’m talking like hide my MLS embarrassing.

Hope I never work with you embarrassing.

At MPOW we ask a hell of a lot from our staff. They do work that is being done by librarians at other organizations and they do a damn good job. The day I think I am better or more qualified or my opinion means more than theirs is the day someone better tell me to quit because I am overcome with bitterness. We should be encouraging our coworkers to consider getting an MLS. We should be actively engaging in discussion and listening to their input and ideas. Valuing all opinions – degreed or not.

Until we do this, you can continue to see our profession and our degree looked upon as a union card, a joke, and/or a license to be an asshat. There’s your deprofessionalization.

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Back from the Dead

March 23, 2008

Not really dead, but maybe a little comatose. When we last left this blog it was just before the holidays and their accompanying craziness. So here we are, well into a new year with lots going on and lots on the horizon. I am definitely one of those people who likes the beginning of the year. I definitely look at it as a blank slate, a chance to begin again or start over– a good time for change.

Three months in and there has been a good deal of change in the department. We have had a bit of staff turnover and are in the midst of filling some positions. People view staff turnover in different ways. Some people look at it as a bad thing or a negative indicator. I am not one of those people. I like staff turnover–not all at once, but I look at it as an opportunity to breathe new life into the department. Not to say that those who have departed will not be missed, but it is the chance to see things from a new perspective. To shake things up a little. To make changes and to move forward.

Since I have been here, I have only had the opportunity to hire one new staff member so I am enjoying the chance to hire a few more new staff members. In access services it is really more about personality type than it is experience.  I really like people with fun personalities who  can roll with change and who like working with the public.  That type of personality can come from a wide array of work experience and environments.