You Call it Being a Professional; Some of Us Call it Being an A$$hat

March 30, 2008

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.

12 Responses to “You Call it Being a Professional; Some of Us Call it Being an A$$hat”

  1. […] You Call it Being a Professional; Some of Us Call it Being an A$$hat – Circ and Serve […]

  2. Colleen said

    It’s true – I started out in Circ while getting my MLS and was there for 2 years before moving into reference and instruction. Those two years of being treated like crap (not by most of the MLS-holding librarians, but by the administration) made me very careful in my job search. Not surprisingly, that particulr library had a constant mass exodus of parapros once we had milked the benefits of free tuition for our MLS. I got lucky and am now at a place where everyone is valued for their skills and opinions, but that situation definitely left me jaded. Particularly since I did the job of an MLS…

  3. […] here is more on the debate about MLS vs. non-MLS. Some excellent points are raised in this blog post. Until we have a MLS that is not just a […]

  4. Alan Stephens said

    This just reaffirms what I already knew – I work at a really great library. I hope that when I get my MLS I can work at a library that has as good an environment as this one (my preference would be this library) and that I treat people without an MLS with the same respect that the librarians here at UVU have treated me.

  5. […] (my new hero) Mary Carmen, of the blog Circ and Serve, Every time a librarian says or does something that makes a non-MLS […]

  6. Mark said


    As someone who started as a student worker, student supervisor and then LTA for 6 years in an Access Services department I can tell one all about being devalued.

    I did gain much valuable experience, though.

    When some of the degree holders got uppity (certainly wasn’t all of them) I always liked to threaten taking all the staff and students out of that academic library and letting them find out what’s really needed to run a library.

    It is amazing to see folks with the so-called power who have absolutely no idea what really happens on a daily basis. I imagine the point is reasonably generalizable across many kinds and sizes of libraries.

  7. Karen said

    I think part of the problem stems from the fact that it is very easy to get an MLS. I did not find it hard or the least bit challenging. Librarians are constantly having to justify the graduate degree needed to get ahead. Is it necessary? Probably not. Paraprofessionals are doing the same exact tasks. It’s all ego, all the time. My Circulation Department has not had turnover in more than 3 years. That’s right, not one single person has left our department. We do not treat them as underlings. We treat them with respect and listen to their ideas and suggestions. Perhaps if more “librarians” treated their paraprofessionals as colleagues, there wouldn’t be a need to validate their MLS degree.

  8. Andrew said

    I’ve been in both types of positions and different places treated me different ways. Actually different people within the organization treated me different ways. But I always loved the fact that some of the librarians didn’t treat me as some mere underling to fix problems, but shared what was going on in the world of reference and were willing to support me when I made the transitions. Now that I’m a manager (of sorts) I try to treat my staff like the great people that they are by helping them expand their skills and encouraging them as much as possible. I don’t always succeed because of those above me, but it hasn’t stopped me from trying…

  9. Ivy said

    Hey, I am a former Pb and I am thinking about getting my MLS. I’ve been doing web research and I can’t seem to find anything concrete about what I will be when I grow up w. my MLS. I’ve read a lot of panties-in-a-bunch blogs about how much being a librarian sucks and librarians are not shy and sexy, but nothing about what my MLS will do for me or how to pick out an MLS program. Can you (or any of your readers) point me in the right direction? Thank you!

  10. Merriwyn said

    I work in a library where my boss is a library technician and she is great. I know of many good librarians and rubbish librarians, and whilst I do actually think that the degree has value, I also think that being intelligent and hardworking go a long way (further than the degree, actually). In fact, I think the biggest difference always comes when someone is willing to be continually learning and improving. My boss focuses on doing a good job and that is why she actually DOES a good job, regardless of qualifications.

  11. Heather said

    Bravo! I work in Access Services as a paraprofessional and am also pursuing my MLIS and I’m totally shocked by these spheres of professionalism–it doesn’t happen here so perhaps I’ve been immune to that superior attitude. Thanks for standing up for paraprofessionals and MLIS students wondering “what am I doing by getting this degree??”
    -just found your blog and am totally loving it-

  12. […] “You Call It Being A Professional, We Call It Being An Asshat” – a fairly opinionated discussion (no, really?  With a title like that?) about the librarian vs. paraprofessional issue and what to call each other (apparently “asshat”.) […]

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