Wednesday, November 29, 2006


A couple of weeks ago I criticized a remark Keith Michael Fiels made regarding librarians entering the profession to make the world a better place, so money wasn't always important. He's since posted a response to that, and I'd like to bring it to the attention of those who might not read the comments. Here it is in full:

"As the subject of this particular annoyance, I must point out that anyone who has ever spoken to a reporter is all too familiar with seeing one's comments taken out of context. When asked why someone would take a job in librarianship if they could make more money elsewhere, I think it is self-evident that they are not doing it just for the money. Aside from this, I have worked hard since I came to ALA to make the ALA-APA a reality, and the APA is now working hard to improve salaries - not just with rhetoric, but with real strategies that should achieve real results over time. ALA-APA's new Director Jenifer Grady has posted on some of the ways we're working on improving salaries. She's doing a great job, but we need you to get involved in what is going to be along, hard job. Thanks for letting me give my side of the story, Keith Michael Fiels ALA Executive Director."

Here's the page of the ALA-APA on salaries, where it says, "The salaries and status efforts of ALA-APA are a response to the fact that library workers are outspoken when it comes to intellectual freedom and other issues that affect library users, but have not been nearly as vocal on our own behalf." Well said. I might even add "and other issues that have nothing to do with library users or libraries," but otherwise no complaint. Nothing for me to attack here, and I wish ALA-APA Director Jenifer Grady good luck.

I would like to say I fully applaud this ALA-APA initiative and wish it all the best, but I'm very skeptical, partly just because I'm generally cynical, but also because from what I've read so far the ALA-APA case for increasing salaries has some problems.

One problem is the lack of intellectual rigor in library schools. Between the incoherence of the profession and the intellectually slack library education, having an MLS doesn't really mean very much, and this undercuts the argument that people with "so much education" should be paid more. Here's a statement from the Better Salaries Toolkit: "Starting salaries for systems analysts and database administrators are almost twice those for librarians, who also have a master’s degree—$61,000 a year compared to $34,000." This false analogy between the MLS and other possibly more rigorous and coherent master's degrees doesn't further the argument much. "Librarian" is just too vague a job description as well. I'm planning a more thorough critique of this document, so I'll stop talking about it here.

I'm also skeptical because of what I read on the ALA-APA site itself: "ALA and ALA-APA are separate, independent legal organizations. They are tied together by fully interlocked governing bodies. The governing body of the ALA-APA is the ALA-APA Council, whose members are those individuals concurrently serving on the ALA Council."

For some reason, I can't get very excited about any group where the governing body consists of the same people who pass all the irrelevant political resolutions. And while the "making the world a better place" remark was just an aside and possibly quoted out of context, the "reasoning," such that it is, of some of the politicized council members is so ridiculous that I just hope they have no practical relationship with the ALA-APA.

What I particularly like about this initiative is the way it tries to give librarians and libraries tools to work with, rather than having the Council make idiotic statements or have the ALA spend millions of dollars pursuing losing political goals. The ALA does its best work when it tries to create tools for librarians to use in diverse ways and settings.

But I'm still skeptical.


il library student said...

First thing first regarding library schools: they need to be willing to drum out the slackers and do nothings. They also have to stop accepting anyone that applies.

I'm thinking of a particular classmate of mine who seems to have every excuse in the book as to why he didn't do a project correctly or couldn't do a project correctly.

Greg said...

You're right to be concerned about using the same government body of ALA as for ALA-APA. Look for a very pro-union outlook.

My primary complaint with APA has been its focus from creation on introducing new standards *in addition* to the MLS. They have created a certificate process for those interested in director positions. Its insulting. I wouldn't describe my MLS program as having been intellectually rigorous but it was pro-management and very effective.

disgruntled librarian said...

Based on the quote in the "Toolkit" from Michael Moore, I would expect the strategy to be keeping salaries low until the revolution comes when people won't need money anyway.

Dances With Books said...

That is my primary complaint as well with the ALA-APA, their whole wanting to add more standards and the whole certificate process. I did find it condescending and insulting. True, my program may have had its gaps (and those gaps would make a few good posts), but they certainly taught management.

AL said...

I think the motive behind the movement is good, but I haven't had a chance to look too closely at the toolkit and other stuff. Sounds like I won't like what I see, because if the point it just to add more certifications after the MLS, why not instead change the accreditation and standards for the MLS?

Privateer6 said...

Since I am still in Lib Sch and very well acquainted with a cute librarian, my wife, I'm going to give my thoughts.

For the amount of time and money spent getting the MLS you would think that salaries would be better. But the problem is that the general public do not consider librarianship a professional occupation. Rather they have a steroetype, and from my expereinces right so, of the white, middle-aged, bespectacled woman who is challenged by chairs when sitting. They believe all that is done is sitting at a desk or computer asnwering questions all day with no social life. This stereotype needs to not only change, but an active campaigne by the ALA needs to go out stressing the importance of librarians and libraries, stressing what is involved in the science.

How can this be done

First off the ALA-APA movement will go nowhere until it's leadership is completely replaced. The ALA has done nothing, why expect them to do so via nother organization? Again a campaign needs to be conducted to inform the public on the importance librarians. Heck if the NEA and teachers can do it, why not ALA?

Second, library schools MUST weed the slackers and idiots. GREAT SCOTT some of my soon to be exclassmates just didn't get it and should not be in a grad school. Increase the standards, and you will see an increase in salaries.

Third, make the courses tougher, more demanding, and hold the students accountable. Grant you my slack library courses ( almost all of them) helped out tremendously while I did the tough archiving courses. For someone who wasn't in a management position before lib sch., my management course was good, and my database class was interesting, but the rest, no. As some of my wife's collegues have said, "you probably learend more from your pillowtalk than school."

Finally a decision needs to be made whether accrediating a lib sch is enough or taking a certification exam upon completing your degree needs to be made. Maybe both. I beleive the Amer. Bar Assoc. has accredited schools with each state administering a bar exam approving you to operate in a state. With teachers, their is the national exam, PRAXIS, as well as individual state license requirements. While NC does have licensure for public librarians, I belive that is because one university is not ALA accrediate (ECU), and one is conditionally accrediated (UNC-G) Most public libraries in NC do not require an ALA cetified degree, just the state certification.

Again my thoughts.

anon7 said...

No disagreement from me about the relative worth of library work--many of our patrons use the reference desk as their own personal [free] reference staff for their own small/home businesses. But the main problem I see with the comparisons is that most of the other professions listed are in private industry or are not really comparable in terms of job responsibilities. "Teacher," sure, but "architect"? I don't think so. I'd like to see comparisons of public reference librarians with those working in corporate libraries.

Library Guy said...

The entire time that I was in library school, I kept asking myself how on earth this was considered graduate level work. By my last semester, I was consumed with the idea of revamping library education. If I can work a full-time job, attend library school full-time, and get all A's in my entire program...well, something's wrong there. I can guarantee that I would not have had the same result had I been pursuing an REAL graduate degree in those same circumstances. I just don't understand why it's so difficult to see that we need a huge change in library education.

As for getting rid of the slackers and do nothings...amen to that! I had a fellow classmate who never once turned in an assignment on time (even though the school and all professors stressed how important this was) and yet she graduated with me. Same degree, yet she was not held to the same standards as the rest of us.

I think slack teachers also need to be weeded from library programs. I had a professor who constantly sent us e-mails that purported to be from her cats. This was no joke. She was dead serious. The cats, on more than one occasion, informed us that they were sorry to say that they had gotten carried away and destroyed assignments that we submitted. Luckily, those assignments simply vanished from our final grade. (Despite NUMEROUS student complaints, this professor is still there...being as useless as ever.)

I realize the MLS is supposed to be a professional degree, but does that mean that there can't be ANY intellectual rigor to it?