By now many of you have read about the poor little Marathon County Public Library in Wisconsin. That's the library where three of their librarians are being demoted and having their pay cut. The library is eliminating its professional librarian positions "in favor of creating three customer service librarian positions and one lead customer service librarian spot." It turns out that a "customer service librarian position" pays $10,000 per year less than a regular old "librarian position." Customer service isn't all gravy, I guess. The more librarians start to sound like they have an MBA instead of an MLS, the more suspicious I become, but I seem to be in the minority. Customer service, here we come!
According to the board, they have some financial problems there in Marathon County, and the choice was to cut some pay or fire some librarians. Who knows what the real story is, though. Eleven staff members have left in the past year, and a couple of the librarians accuse management of trying to drive out older librarians. All in all, it doesn't seem a pleasant place to work.
Except for the pay cut, this would seem to be the sort of thing that the twopointopians and the frustrated trendsetters and the gaming librarians all want, but there are probably some crusty librarians who'll be upset by this.
From the article: "The reorganization also aims to meet the ever-changing needs of customers, she said. Librarians today do less complex work, she said -- calling for pay adjustments and more technological assistance. [What does this mean?]
'We're really becoming a community center,' she said. 'Our public has different requirements of us.,"
That's a lot of "she saids" in three sentences, but let's ignore the sloppy writing and instead focus on the "ever-changing needs of customers." Isn't this the kind of thing we always hear from the twopointopians any time they try to deny they're not a cult of technology? "No, we're about focusing on the customers!" It turns out that focusing on customers isn't really anything you need librarians for. Clerks at Walmart focus on customers, just like clerks in a library. If you try to be all things to all people and have no idea what a library is for (except to bring in "customers"), what do you really think will happen? You'll be treated like a retail clerk, of course, or perhaps a program planner or something else, but certainly not a professional librarian. Librarians have to focus on building expertise and promoting that, not on bending over the reference desk with a big "kick me" sign on their bottoms saying they'll do absolutely anything to get people through the doors.
Let's examine the library director's public rationalization for cutting salaries. "Librarians today do less complex work." Is this true? I'm not sure about that, but it's certainly possible. I'm not even sure what librarians do these days. My job has become almost too complex to describe. But I can be sure that the more generalized libraries become, the less likely they need librarians. Librarians used to have special functions that they learned in library school. When library school students can spend their time in "graduate" seminars playing videogames, then they're not really learning any special skills. Teenage boys play videogames, and we all know they're the stupidest people on earth. And if these librarians don't have any special skills, then what makes them any different from mere ordinary mortals without MLS degrees? You don't need a graduate degree to play videogames or use Twitter or schedule community space.
"We're really becoming a community center." Isn't that what so many librarians want? They don't want to be book warehouses or perceived as places for quiet study or reading or justify their existence because the commonwealth needs educated citizens to survive. That's so stuffy and old fashioned! No, they want to be fun and vibrant and happening, where people come and drink coffee and play videogames and dance. Those librarians get excited about stuff like this (which has to be one of the most annoying and insipid blogs not written by a librarian I've ever seen. Anyone who uses creative as a noun is a moron). Libraries want to be cool. Here's a description of what one Wisconsin public librarian does: "I plan and promote library programs for a living." This is from a post called "The library as community center," and the author makes it sound exciting and important and, what's more, beneficial to the library. The library should be perceived as a community center, and the more people come the better it is. That's all great, but it doesn't take professional librarians to plan and promote library programs, and there's nothing peculiarly librarianesque about program planning. Librarians need a public service mission beyond that.
Many librarians want to turn libraries into community centers, but there's one interesting thing about community centers that a lot of excitable librarians haven't noticed. Community centers don't need librarians. They don't need people with "advanced" degrees in libraries or information or whatnot. They just need people to staff the cafes and plan stuff. Librarians pandering to the public trying to be all things to all people just succeed in making themselves look ridiculous. This might be good for the "customers," but it's not good for libraries or librarians. It's very nice of these selfless librarians to sacrifice their profession for the needs of the "customer."
Several readers sent this story on to me, wanting me to unleash the wrath of the AL on the library board of Wausau, WI. "Let's give them some bad publicity," one wrote. I don't know the full story of what's going on in that library, so I'm not going to unleash my wrath on anyone. But I do see this as possibly the beginning of a trend, the trend to deprofessionalize public librarians by turning libraries into recreational infotainment centers instead of focusing on the traditional mission of libraries to provide books and information. We need libraries because we need an educated citizenry. We need libraries because there are people who can't afford books and magazines and computers, and they need help, too. We need libraries because children need to learn the joys of reading. Libraries provide most of this now, at least any libraries worthy of the name, but that's not enough for some librarians. They don't like the educational mission. They want to be all things to all people. They want to play videogames and have dance parties and reduce the dissimilarity between libraries and malls. Libraries must change! They've got to move with the times!
Well, they're moving with the times, all right, and the people paying the price are librarians. I sure hope the "customers" are benefiting. The twopointopians and the frustrated trendsetters and the videogamers have made the bed, and now the Marathon County librarians have to lie in it. God help us all.