Monday, May 07, 2007

Truth and Consequences

The truth is a cruel mistress, and sometimes so is the Annoyed Librarian

Last week a reader's comment provided a list of unpleasant and unattractive traits said by one experienced librarian to describe most librarians. The list was long, but here are a few of the characteristics that supposedly describe librarians. Librarians are not scholars, are intimidated by scholars, have low self esteem, do not generally have high IQs, do not have good social skills, do not value innovation, are reactive, are introverted, are underachievers, never question authority, avoid confrontation at all costs, design systems that serve librarians and not the public, have difficulty making decisions, and fear and resist change. Does that sound like any librarians you know?

Another reader hoped that no one was reading the blog. No, that's not quite right. Here's an excerpt: "I do hope intellectual, bright, energetic soon to be librarians out there are not reading particular thread of commentary.... Please do not call this a dead profession, it is only dead if you contribute to its demise."

The problem, apparently, is that if intellectual, bright, energetic soon-to-be librarians read the AL, they'll discover that a lot of jaded librarians think most of their colleagues are unintellectual dullards. I understand the intent of the comment. How are libraries ever going to attract bright, intellectual, energetic librarians if people like me go around pointing out how silly and annoying so many librarians are? Aren't I doing a disservice to the profession by telling it like I see it? And more importantly, aren't I doing a disservice to the brighter among us by possibly discouraging other bright people from joining us? Possibly. But please don't accuse me of contributing to anything's demise. I'm just calling 'em like I see 'em.

First, I should note is that it's not just me. I write a post about these issues, and lots of librarians leave comments. The AL attracts the disaffected, but the disaffected seem to be legion. I give one perspective, and then comes a chorus to confirm it. While I've gotten a lot of criticism about my political posts, rarely has anyone disagreed with me about library schools or library jobs. I get the occasional snipey comment, certainly, though I often suspect the snipey comments come from librarians who see themselves as the objects of my criticism. But I'm certainly not alone in my jaded view of librarianship.

I should also note that a lot of these librarian stereotypes are perpetuated even by the manic and frantic bloggers, especially all those techie bloggers who wet themselves whenever they use Twitter or make a wiki. They often write about the librarians who are reactive and slow to change, who don't leap aboard the "clue train" or whatever. The frustrated trendsetters say the same things about librarians, but approach the subject from a different perspective. They're so excitable and hyperbolic and you're so distracted by the pee pee dance video they've just posted to Youtube that you don't realize they're just as critical as me.

I'm trying to correct the record of typical library propaganda, in which librarians are saints and libraries the salvation of society, where we're all lovely people doing great work and making the world a better place. That may occasionally be true, but it's also true that a lot of library work is drudgery, that it could be done by a well trained monkey, and that it's not always easy to distinguish the librarians from trained monkeys except that the monkeys don't have such an unhealthy relation to chocolate. Future librarians need to know what they're getting into. It's time we stopped lying to them.

Of course I'd like to see more intelligent and even intellectual librarians join our ranks, but there's no way that can happen as long as library schools actively recruit anyone with a pulse and as long as library school is ridiculously easy and as long as so many jobs classified as "professional" are little better than clerical positions.

That's not true of every library job, but it's true of a lot of them. I do some pretty high level work in my own job that requires knowledge, intelligence, and skill, but the job could be done by someone much less competent than me. It wouldn't be done very well, but libraries have shown for decades that they'd rather pay poorly for shoddy work than pay well for great work.

As I see it, there are two questions involved--should I tell the truth (or at least a truth) about librarianship, and am I telling the truth about librarianship. I would answer "yes" to both questions. Maybe I'm wrong. As Cary Grant said in To Catch a Thief when Grace Kelly offered him a breast or a thigh--You decide.

The good news is that in a hundred years we'll most likely all be dead and none of this will matter anyway. There, I just wanted to bring a little Monday morning cheer into your life.

28 comments:

Karin Dalziel said...

While I agree with parts of the list, the thing for people considering a career in libraries to remember is: EVERY profession is filled with slow changing dullards. Librarianship has issues, sure, but find me a profession out there that doesn't. If you look around, you can find blogs like Annoyed Librarian for just about *any* industry.

I have been awed by the intelligence of some of my fellow library students. Many already have advanced degrees, many plan to get another Master's after their library degree.

I'm not worried about AL scaring away the intelligent, because the intelligent know how to take these things into consideration.

Dances with Books said...

It does sound like a lot of librarians I know, especially some of my administrators, which is even scarier. Or, hmm, maybe not.

As for being mostly technophobes, as long as it is not the ones wetting themselves over the latest foot fetish video in a library on BoobTube. I see two extremes. One, the ones as mentioned on the list that could not type their name into a Word document to save themselves. In other words, the extreme luddites. Two, the technolusting extremists you describe who get. . .well, you get the idea what they get when they do the Twit dance. At least, you say it like it is. The techiemaniacs are just mean for spite (either get it or get lost attitude).

Anyways, you keep telling it like it is. Someone has to.

Anonymous said...

It wouldn't be done very well, but libraries have shown for decades that they'd rather pay poorly for shoddy work than pay well for great work.

And they aren't above interviewing overqualified candidates for the sole purpose of pumping them for information.

Anonymous said...

EVERY profession is filled with slow changing dullards. Librarianship has issues, sure, but find me a profession out there that doesn't.

Sure, but a big difference is that in many other fields, the lazy or incompetent can be weeded out. In libraries (and granted, lots of other public institutions) once somebody is in, it's extrememly difficult to fire them even in the face of extremely poor work performance. Of course, this also brings the overall level of work down...

Anonymous said...

My library work is drudgery because it's more social work than library work. I manage an urban library and I'm paid well, but the building security issues alone are enough to make me dream for employment where I can sit around and discuss whether staff are intellectuals or dullards. This past month I've had two gang-fights, an overdosee in the public restroom, a couple having sex in the stacks, and a Civil Rights lawsuit. I would kill for a day as trained monkey on the reference desk.

AL said...

I highly recommend having a job in a pleasant academic library where the worst problem is student workers eating their dinners at the circulation desk. It sounds like your library should be named the Fort Apache Public Library.

Anonymous said...

AL, keep telling it like it is!

I personally get sick and tired of knuckleheads who don't want to admit that library work is occasionally tedious (as are many other jobs).

Just as important, it isn't designed for intellectuals. Instead, only those who want to do the same work every week (and who have some stamina) ought to work in libraries.

As for those worrying about job prospects, there is an opening for the Director position at the Trenton (NJ) Public Library. Here are some links that show the reader why that post is vacant:

http://blog.nj.com/timesupdates/2007/03/city_library_losing_top_admini.html

http://blog.nj.com/timesupdates/2007/03/new_library_director_leaves_po.html

http://blog.nj.com/timesupdates/2007/04/city_council_wants_to_hear_why.html

Anonymous said...

In case you want to look at the articles related to the Trenton (NJ) Public Library situation, check out the nj.com/blogs/ website, type "Scott Hughes" in the New Site Search box, and you should get three online article results.

Snoodle said...

As a current library school student, I agree that it could be a lot more intellectually rigorous...but how could you make it more meaningfully challenging?

Also, I'm sad to realize that some, or perhaps even the bulk of everyday librarian work will be tedious. I guess I will just have to be more proactive about pursuing more interesting projects, and accepting the tedium alongside of it.

AL said...

I just looked at those Trenton articles. "This is the fifth time in six years that the library system is left without its top administrator." That sounds like a great job! What are they doing to those poor library directors?

As for library school and tedium, I don't think it can be made more rigorous. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the MLS is a waste of time. And I suspect that most parts of all jobs are tedious, but maybe I'm just too cynical. Everything looking very tedious to me right now.

Anonymous said...

"As for library school and tedium, I don't think it can be made more rigorous. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the MLS is a waste of time. And I suspect that most parts of all jobs are tedious, but maybe I'm just too cynical. Everything looking very tedious to me right now."

Not sure if library school can be made more rigorous either. It should be an intensive one year degree, but then it would not be a
Masters degree.

I definitely agree with what Karin D. at 12:01 posted: there are dullards in every profession. It's excruciatingly annoying to me how fed up I am with other librarians I work with who refuse to share the simplest directional information, because they feel that (as senior staff) "they simply don't have to". Year after year, and I can't figure out why that attitude is confinually accepted. (oh yes, union job, my bad).

Perhaps you're right: there really is no real reason to get an MLS, except that the pay is semi-decent, (a slight cut above entry-level teachers) and it depends what area of library work one applies to.

Just don't expect to move anywhere soon, unless it's out of state.

theotherwaldo said...

Remember: Being a librarian is inherently abnormal. First, it requires a level of education that puts librarians in the top 5% of the population - decidedly abnormal.
Second, it requires successful librarians to specialize in general subjects - be able to assist almost all specialists in their fields. That's pretty far out there.
Then it pays below median wage... and librarians accept this. Weird!
An intelligent, well-balanced person should run screaming.

Anonymous said...

I take some issue with the characterization of library schools as accepting "anyone with a pulse" or that the programs are all without intellectual rigor. The program I attended between 2003 and 2005 made offers to fewer than 1/3 of the applicants, and I found quite a bit of the work in the program challenging.

I admit that, without another masters or other advanced degree on my resume, I have nothing with which to compare my experience in library school, but I'm no dummy and I found much of my coursework interesting and challenging.

Setting that aside, I will say that I agree that there are many in our fair profession who lack a basic intellectual curiosity or strong reasoning skills. I like to think that the face of librarianship is slowly changing, and that soon our ranks will be filled with bright professionals ready to change the world. I can hear the AL now: "Fat chance, bub."

Zillah said...

There is a problem with making a basic distinction between what is professional work and what should be delegated to people who make even less.

I don't know why this occurs so much in libraries. I suspect it is becuase librarians are perfectionists and loathe to let people less adept or less efficient do the simpler work.

It makes no fiscal sense to have librarians do drudgery - shelve books, un-jam printers, copy-catalog. But it happens in every library every day.

We need to figure out how to better use our bright people (they are out there - I know a few) and not de-value and de-professionalize what could be more intellectually engaging work.

And intellectually engaging work does exist in libraries. I know a few people who have done it.

Privateer6 said...

Anon. 9:11PM
Maybe you went to one of the better schools, but let me tell you this: the school I attended would take you as long as you had a pulse and paid tuition. With the exception of the database and management classes, none of my library school classes were demanding. My challenging classes came from the archiving classes that I took at another university as part of the program I was in.

I'll give you an example of a presentation given in one class I took as the final project. Student comes up and uses a power point presentation with cutesy graphics, i.e. smiley faces, flowers, and other visuals totally unrelated to the subject they are discussing. Accompanying their ppt, the handouts are on pink stationary with more unrelated artwork in the background. While the pink paper only happened once, almost everyone in the class used some type of cutesy, unrelated artwork in their presentations. Tell me this is professional.

With the exception of the nurse and the retired senior chief petty officer both of whom had another advanced degree, I do not think ANY of my fellow students in that class could have handled the rigorous demands I encountered earning a MA in history.

As for how to make library school more demanding, her are some of my suggestions.

1) Remove the deadwood from the faculty. Yes it's hard once they get tenure, but I bet their is a way to slowly edge them out.

2) Increase standards and demands on students. Quit taking anyone with a heartbeat and money. Make people have to earn the right to attend.

3) More emphasis on hands on, day to day work and less on theory. Yes theory is needed, but it needs to be reinforced with practical applications. For cataloging, teach them how to do it, supervise them doing it, then put them in a situation where they are doing it for a grade. Instead of making people write reports on the sources used in reference, show them the sources, quiz them for review, then test them by giving either putting them on a reference desk or answering actual reference questions the instructor has encountered. Again more practical classes and less theory classes like "Users and Using Information"

4) Mandatory internship/practicum. Because of the way my program was set up, I had to do two internships. The first one was for only 40=50 hours and applied the archiving theory I learned the semester before. The primary internship was 120 hours, and forced me to use everything I learned in my archiving classes. It was the best experience I had, allowed me to gain real experience, especially since all of my archives experience had been as a patron using the facilities. Although I had an idea what to expect as a librarian because I married one, 95% of the people I went to library school with had no idea what to expect working in the field.

Anonymous said...

"It sounds like your library should be named the Fort Apache Public Library."

Please, AL. do not denegrate Fort Apache. It's a small community that lacks a public library, much less a decent school library.

To name it the Yuma Library would be more to the point.

An Anonymous Native Arizonian

AL said...

I was in fact thinking of the old Paul Newman movie, Fort Apache, the Bronx, not anywhere in Arizona.

Anonymous said...

stationery, bootymaster.

Anonymous said...

My library school was loaded with middle-aged schoolteachers desperate to get out of their classrooms. Can't say I blamed them, but they were simple folk, most of 'em. Translation: morons.

janitorx said...

I take some issue with the characterization of library schools as accepting "anyone with a pulse" or that the programs are all without intellectual rigor. The program I attended between 2003 and 2005 made offers to fewer than 1/3 of the applicants, and I found quite a bit of the work in the program challenging.

If this is a US program you are referring to, I take issue with this gross exaggeration. There is no highly selective LIS program in the US. I attended a top 10 LIS school and admission was not that competitive. Some applicants were even offered conditional acceptance before they took the GRE--all because they couldn't manage to take the GRE the several times a year it is offered.

I'll give you an example of a presentation given in one class I took as the final project. Student comes up and uses a power point presentation with cutesy graphics, i.e. smiley faces, flowers, and other visuals totally unrelated to the subject they are discussing. Accompanying their ppt, the handouts are on pink stationary with more unrelated artwork in the background. While the pink paper only happened once, almost everyone in the class used some type of cutesy, unrelated artwork in their presentations. Tell me this is professional.

I suffered through similar craptacular presentations as well. One of the offending presentors is now a LIS professor. I can only imagine what her dissertation is like; maybe she used Hello Kitty for her page borders.

My job reality: My current supervisor is incompetent. Really incompetent. She doesn't even understand the concept of an Open URL Link Resolver. This does matter to me because I spent a lot of time setting things up and getting this off the ground. In fact, I manage most of the e-resources, but she refuses to allow me to handle the statistics because we have a lazy circ. manager who "needs something to do". The easiest thing would be to put this person on the desk more, but no, she is desperate to avoid conflict. In the meantime, she enjoys her sinecure and spends most of her days talking to various family members on her cell phone. When she bothers to do something, it is usually a draft of a document so poorly written that me or the reference librarian have to redo it anyway. I have no other recourse but to leave and that is what I am doing. I am moving about 1000 miles away from here for a better job. It does come with some costs and added stressors: selling our home, my spouse has to find employment, etc. This time, I did some careful investigation of my new place of employment. Be prepared to hop a bit at first or you may be stuck putting up with deplorable situations.

Karin Dalziel said...

Sure, but a big difference is that in many other fields, the lazy or incompetent can be weeded out. In libraries (and granted, lots of other public institutions) once somebody is in, it's extrememly difficult to fire them even in the face of extremely poor work performance. Of course, this also brings the overall level of work down...

Every profession carries unique problems. I was going to give some examples from ad agencies, academia outside of libraries, and retail here, but since I'm using my real name, I'll refrain. Suffice to say I have seen examples EVERYWHERE I have worked of people who are practically useless, and maintain their jobs.

Anonymous said...

I am the poster that you quoted regarding contributions to the demise of librarianship. I haven't yet gotten the chance to read all the comments to this particular post yet, as I am at work and have "intellectual" work waiting to be done. I just wanted to clarify that I was not implying that the AL was contributing to any form of demise (more so the posts as a whole) quite the contrary.

I think this blog is an excellent forum for discussing so much that is bad in the profession, and there is so much, as of course most of us have agreed with regards to Library School (which I still find particularly heinous and have bitched and moaned my way through). My saving grace through my last 2 years of library school has actually been my library job, which has provided me with incredible experience.

I don't think that anyone should approach librarianship with rose colored glasses, or any field for that matter. I just felt that there was too steep a trajectory downward through the comments following the post, particularly of course, the list of librarian qualities that the AL quotes. It's actually pretty funny that I, of all people (I am a horrible cynic) came off looking like the happy go lucky yay for librarians person. I just felt there needed to be a balance struck.

In response to some of the postings here, not all library work is designed for intellectuals. People seem to forget how much of it is public service, in addition while it may have been in the past it is in no way an inlet for the anti-social anymore. I work in special collections in an academic library and have a keen interest in art librarianship as well. I seek out intellectual library work and so far have been lucky enough to find it. Maybe I am finding out that I am much luckier than I ever thought.

AL said...

Perhaps I pulled your comment out of context. Didn't mean to.

Anonymous said...

Janitorx said:
If this is a US program you are referring to, I take issue with this gross exaggeration. There is no highly selective LIS program in the US.

I invite you to view the admissions statistics for the University of Washington's Information School for the Masters of Library and Information Science degree program (URL below), wherein you will note that what I said was no exaggeration, gross or otherwise. Really, that was a pretty sweeping misstatement on your part. Are you a librarian? If so I would expect a modicum of research to precede such commentary.

www.grad.washington.edu/stats/Admissions/admissions03.pdf

Privateer6 said...

Anon 5:21PM
After working in a non-profit corporation where statistics are what you are based upon, I have learned that you can make stats state anything you want them to say.

A perfectly good example, I was able to "boost" my job performance by using a "per capita" stat rather than the "net" stat.

janitorx said...

Are you a librarian? If so I would expect a modicum of research to precede such commentary.

I guess you've never read "How to Lie With Statistics"? All of these programs are essentially businesses and will employ all sorts of pr spin to increase their enrollment figures. LIS programs are cash cows because most people do not get assistantships/fellowships.

In any case, UWash is a fine program. I would ask the dean of that school why they currently aren't ranked as the best in the US? That honor goes to two schools tied for 1:

U. Illinois and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Anyway, you'll see how little this all matters when you are on the job market. As the rest of us who used to be entry-level librarians, you will be on equal footing with job candidates with 3rd rate distance education MLS degrees.

Greta Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

God how I hate this inane do nothing loser "profession." AL, why couldn't you have been around before I went to library school?

All day I sit in my office praying for someone to come in and kill me....Hope springs eternal!!!!