Sunday, 29 June 2014

Librarianship as a means or an end?

Well, this is my second-last BlogJune post for the month, so if you'll indulge me, I'm going to revert to one more exercise in navel-gazing.

Why did we become librarians? Did we see it as a means, or as an end? Allow me to elaborate:

Librarianship as an end.

As a child, we're always faced with the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And throughout our lives, we're confronted with this status anxiety of who we are, and how we fit into the society in which we live. I managed to avoid this question for a number of years by being an Arts student, and studying various humanities for their own sake - which, whilst being very noble and academic, and provided me with a strong knowledge of the world's cultural diversity, paired with strong critical thinking skills, did not afford me with any improved social standing. I found myself, in my early 20s, still faced with that question, "What do I want to be." I eventually made a list, and librarianship was in my top three choice professions, along with Teaching and Arts Administration. Yes, I was clearly destined for a career in one of the world's most undervalued professions, whatever my choice was.

Furthermore, whilst I pursued my graduate studies in information management, I found myself working in libraries, and it was at this point that I started to notice the status that having a librarianship qualification afforded - obviously, because they were the ones with all the authority.

And that's what's at the heart of the question, "What do you want to be?" It's about having a field in which you are an authority. Being a professional.

Which is why, when we see organisations making librarians redundant, or we see librarian roles replaced by generalist non-librarianship-qualified positions, or librarian roles are bogged down by menial duties that pretty much anybody could do, then this feels like an attack on our status as librarians. It takes away our ability to exist as a professional in our field. At this point, you start to hear librarians grumbling sentences starting with, "I didn't get a Masters in Information Science just so that..."

And even within the industry, there is such a focus on what kind of librarian you are - whether it's a school, public, TAFE, university, law, parliamentary, court, medical, or special librarian - and one's social standing within the industry is, to an extent, prescribed by the kind of librarian you are. There is certainly a pecking order, even if nobody wants to admit it!

Librarianship as a means.

Some might say that, instead of asking "What do you want to be when you grow up?", we should be asking, "What do you want to do?" Make a list, and then find you a job that allows you to do those things.

It might be something like:
- I want to assist academics with their research
- I want to fill a room with books that I think people will like, and then I get to share those books with those people.
- I want to help parents teach their pre-school children how to read.
- I want to help the disadvantaged and underprivileged people in the community have access to information and knowledge.
- I want to facilitate interesting public discussions on topics of literature, culture or social issues.
- I want to support professionals in a field that I find meaningful by being an information broker that serves their needs.
- I want to teach students the skills that they need in order to succeed with their academic pursuits.
- I want to develop innovative communication systems for the collection, curation and dissemination of knowledge.
- I want to review books and then ask other people what they thought of them.

And so on. Whenever I hear sentences starting with, "I didn't become a librarian just so that..." I wonder, "Well, what are you doing here, then? Why aren't you doing the things that you became a librarian for?"

So often, as New Graduates, we have it in our head that we need to get any librarian job - just to get the experience of being a librarian - when maybe what we need to be doing is focusing on getting a job where we get to do the things that we want to do with our lives. And maybe that means volunteering at a primary school library, rather than going for that entry level assistant law courts library job.

Librarianship as an end... to a means!

I remember when I was back at first year of uni, and there was this comedian who told a joke along the lines of, "Hey guys, welcome to university. Here's some advice that will save you three years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars. Find the thing you want to do most in your life... and just go and do it!" It's a philosophy that seems to have worked for some of the world's most successful entrepreneurs.

However, for the rest of us, we need a Bachelor degree and, let's be honest, probably a Masters degree or two, in order for certain doors to open. A qualification in librarianship does open these doors - and is generally a requirement for most job applications to avoid being thrown straight onto the slush pile.

But the thing is that it opens other doors as well. It gives you that status to be a professional, but what you choose to do with it is up to you. So, when you're looking at applying for that next librarian position, ask the question, "What would I be doing in this role? Is that why I became a librarian?"

And if not, then which job is?