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.


I just read the article that ran in the Fashion & Style section of the NYT about librarians titled, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers.”

I am so embarrassed and aggravated I actually threw the paper across the room after I finished reading.

I would love to know when this became the new stereotype about the profession (urban hipsters, sipping $10 cocktails who became librarians because it seemed like a cool profession).

Maybe 5 years is a long time, but when I graduated from library school, none of my classmates became librarians because it seemed cool. They were interested in teaching, collection development, preservation, outreach, literacy, web development, etc. Trendiness had nothing to do with it.

Why are we allowing ourselves and our profession to have one stale stereotype swapped out for a younger, “hipper” one that may be even less accurate than Marian the Librarian ever was?

After some thought, I think I can boil my issues with this article down to two points:

1. Admittedly, I have never worked in a public library, so I have no idea what the “office culture” is like in them, but I am sure many of my fellow large academic librarian colleagues and those who work in a corporate environment will agree when I state that while the academic environment can be fairly liberal, there is a definite culture of professionalism. In some places it is more evident and adhered to than others, but it is there. You want to be taken seriously and advance in your career, then you have to play the part. Yeah it is a game, just like most things in life. I am not sure how far a pink-haired, openly heavily tattooed librarian would go in some academic environments. I have worked in some that could care less, but I have also watched librarians sink in other, more rigid work environments. Never underestimate how important a skill being able to navigate your organization’s political climate is.

This is not a judgment, just an observation. I feel like this article has chipped away a bit at the professional aspect of our positions. We are professionals and I think part of our problem when it comes to salary, benefits, and library school curriculum is that people tend not to view us as professionals. Nothing in this article helped clear that up. And I would *love* to know where the $51,000 salary positions are in NYC.

2. Secondly, and this is probably the bigger issue for me, social networking software, web design, programming, and L2 tools are not new anymore. They are increasingly becoming the tool kit that many of us are using in our daily work. Highlighting these tools as the reason people are becoming librarians does a huge disservice to what all of us do everyday.

I found it interesting that no one quoted in the article stated that they are becoming librarians because they like to work with people, or that they enjoying teaching. Jessamyn is not hip and cool because she uses IM. She is valued because she has chosen to work in a small, rural public library assisting the community in becoming more aware of and adept with new technology. She is also a tireless advocate of small public libraries. That has cool written all over it.

I guess I am the Grinch who stole Library School Graduation. The article mentioned one library student talking about their career path after they heard a zine curator speak. That absolutely is an awesome and interesting job…if you can get it. Updated to add: The student quoted blogs here, where you will find a thoughtful post about what interested her in librarianship and greater detail about the speaker she heard. I wish the article included more of this and less about the clothes, the IT toys and the cocktails. The reality is that being a librarian you find yourself doing things that are not cool a lot more than you’d like to admit. See this post for my list.

We do these things because we care and they need to get done. And while a position such as a zine curator does sound pretty awesome, there is not an overabundance of them in the job pool. Distance education librarian may not sound cool, but I guarantee that there are plenty of them out there who think they have the best job in libraries.

I don’t want to see a new crop of librarians who joined the profession because it seemed cool and they thought that they would work with technology all day. I want new colleagues who are committed, engaged, energized, willing to go the extra mile to help a patron, will advocate for change and who want to be taken seriously as educators.

This article didn’t touch upon any of those things, nor did it even paint a portion of the picture of true librarianship. Unfortunately, I think it successfully made those of us over 30, who are not urban hipsters feel slightly more alienated than we have before.

Age has nothing to do with it. Nor do your clothes, body modifications, the type of cocktails you drink, or where you hang out after work. It’s what you do when you are in your library assisting a patron that matters. You want to be valued and respected, do something that is relevant and that matters to your patrons and your colleagues.

This article begs the question: Are we failing library school students in another way by not giving them an accurate depiction of the profession and the types of positions that are available? I hate to beat a dead horse, but again, this would be one of those issues where working while going to library school, or doing an internship pre-library school would solve some of the confusion and misrepresentation.

I love my job – headaches and all. But, I am constantly amazed by how many librarians, new and seasoned, who are surprised when I describe some of my responsibilities. There needs to be more honest discussion about job duties and responsibilities in library land. Articles like this one reinforce my belief that a lot of library school students have no idea what it means to be a librarian and they type of work that gets done on a daily basis. That worries me.