First we morphed into the “information professions.” Then “information professionals” whatever that means. I am not sure how information became a profession. Sure, the term “librarian” carries some baggage so call yourself what you like, but librarianship is still the profession.
Then we got the “i-Schools,” a rebranding exercise within the academy taken as a much more significant move.
So we focus on information, and its management and use. But to what end? Is our “calling” and purpose not much more significant than that?
Lately I have been struck (read disturbed) by the growing number of public library CEOs and University Librarians talking in the corridors and back halls about whether they need librarians at all. This is after the nodding agreement that we certainly don’t need so many. How could this be true in such a complex environment?
Seems that librarians can dish up all the self-serving platitudes they like about Google giving you thousands of answers but a librarian giving you the right one, but it doesn’t take a librarian to do an advanced Google search. We quote the Pew studies on what Americans think about their libraries (we do like warm and fuzzy). But, really, who cares?
Employers think that they can get more for less, as in hiring a trained library technician rather than a librarian, and they are usually proven right. And they don’t come with “attitude”. We’ve heard for twenty years the question about needing a master’s degree to read a book to children and still haven’t developed an evidence-based response.
More importantly, it seems that librarians (CEOs/ULs) don’t want to hire librarians because they see them as whining, inflexible and demonstrating a high sense of entitlement. Basically, they are out of touch with reality and many think that this starts with the LIS graduate programs.
My own view is that libraries are not offering much that is scarce in the information marketplace except “product” to some extent and the librarians’ expertise, if it uniquely exists.
Focus On – and Exploit – Our Expertise
We need to focus on this expertise and develop it deeply and exploit it mercilessly for the good of our communities. Not “expertise” that can be exhibited better by a teacher or a social worker or a … but unique expertise.
Even our associations seem not to get it. Looking at a national conference list of preconference sessions recently, Measuring Outcomes was up against Book Repair I and Book Repair II. Of course the response is this is what our members want! And isn’t that part of the problem? Sure, you may need that skill set but do you need to come together at a national conference offered only once a year to get it?
So employers say that they want deep expertise but they also want people who can identify and solve critical problems while leading teams for improvement and implementation. In other words, leaders. Leaders on whom they can rely. Who have the best interests of the enterprise and its customers at heart, not themselves.
It is growing apparent that if we can’t hire and develop people with critical and unique expertise able to lead organizational teams we have a big, big problem.