LISNews had a couple of posts yesterday pointing out responses from the president of the Marathon County Public Library Board of Trustees and the director of the Marathon County Public Library to criticism of their move to demote, reclassify, and/or fire and rehire at a lower salary some librarians in Wisconsin. The Marathon County Public Library seems destined for a movie-of-the-week treatment, if you ask me.
The president of the board of trustees responded to the Wassau Herald (itself!). According to her, the articles about demoting the librarians "seem to reflect a lack of information and, in some cases, outright misinformation." In other words, they are the work of ignorant liars. Strong words! Fortunately, the trustee board president sets us all straight:
"In your articles, which were published on the front page last month, it was reported that certain positions at the Marathon County Public Library would be reclassified into newer, lower paid positions. In actuality, the existing master of library science, or MLS, librarian positions were eliminated, and four new MLS positions were created."
Oh, well, that's completely different, isn't it. Those newspaper articles were just complete bollocks, obviously. They weren't reclassifying any positions into newer, lower paid positions. No, they were recreating those positions into new, lower paid positions. Something tells me that subtle difference is lost on the librarians in that library. Of course, from what I've gathered, everyone who could leave left before this happened, so the remaining librarians must have seen something like this coming.
The basic problem, according to this trustee board president, is that the librarians just aren't doing much professional work anymore. "For example, the reduced amount of work requiring a master's degree is a direct result of increased electronic access to information they previously provided. In 2007, only about 57 percent of the reference (complex) questions from the past year were handled at the Adult Reference Desk." I'm not quite sure what the significance is of the 57% of questions being handled at the adult reference desk, but obviously this trustee board president hasn't heard that "professional" library work is no longer defined by anything so elitist as answering complex questions. Did she consider whether the librarians were writing blogs? Or playing videogames? Or making wikis? Or posting pictures of their library signs to Flikr? These are the things the hot new librarians are all doing. They even teach them in library school. Aren't those professional activities?
She just doesn't mention things like this, so we can't know for sure what she thinks of them. However, something tells me that the twopointopian rhetoric about what librarians should all be doing wouldn't fly with many library board members around the country. The twopointopians say we need more librarians who are passionate about technology and change and radical trust and all that stuff. What libraries need are more librarians who can defend libraries to the general public and to library boards. But which do you think is easiest to blog about or give HOT talks about at conferences?
The library director herself hasn't been silent on this issue. Another Wisconsin public library director had the nerve to criticize the Marathon County director on the Wisconsin library listserv (or whatever it is):
"I understand tough budget decisions and the difficult times libraries are facing. However, I don't understand devaluing library staff in this way. Sending this message to library staff that their work is not complicated, not worth the money they have been earning, and not worth their library degree is harsh. It has to impact the service that library offers the public. And loss of these veteran professional librarians will definitely make the service there suffer."
But the Marathon County director pooh-poohed all this namby-pamby, touchy-feely nonsense. She doesn't think she's victimizing anyone. Victimizers never think that, just for the record.
"The reduction in reference questions does NOT necessarily mean less work at public service desks. Public service takes place at all points of contact with the people who enter our buildings or visit us on the web, be it the Reference Desk, the Circulation Desk, the Information Desk as you enter the building, or in the stacks as books are being shelved."
This sort of makes it irrelevant whether only 57% of the questions are answered at the adult reference desk. But wait!
"The real question is 'How much of that public service work requires a Masters Degree?' If the answer is that a declining amount requires that advanced degree, then how can we justify maintaining the same staff to do less work?"
That's just mean! But let's engage this poor deluded director for a moment. How much of that public service does actually require a master's degree? How many of us in our heart of hearts can answer truthfully, all of it!
Let's take a look at this objectively. (As faithful readers of the AL know, I'm nothing if not objective.) The objective view would have to be that no one but librarians seems to give a damn about what librarians can do or should be doing.
The ALA certainly doesn't care. They prattle on about so-called "banned" books and promote videogaming in libraries, but they don't address any professional concerns of librarians. As long as you pay your dues and tout the ALA ideology, they don't care what happens to you.
Library schools don't care. Take a look at the course offerings and faculty research interests at the better "library" schools. How much of any of that has to do with libraries? Not much. Library school professors (or "library scientists" as they sometimes call themselves) train other library school professors. They don't work in libraries and sometimes they've never worked in libraries, and they are usually more concerned with "information" than libraries, especially in those schools which have dropped "library" from their name.
But wait, what about the prominent library bloggers? No, they don't care, either. The Shifted Librarian and the Webtamer aren't even librarians, and no one's writing about how to justify public libraries to an indifferent public or to library boards, as far as I know. It's much easier to promote videogames and library blogs than do anything useful. Play more games and use more social software and they will come!
Recently, a faithful reader emailed me. Among the comments were the following:
"This reader is not sure if your intention is to harm the public library to reduce your property taxes or some such nonsense. A few people who think this way post comments on your blog.
You have power, use it wisely."
I've yet to respond. (As an aside, I've been getting a LOT of email recently, and I'm falling behind in my responses. Please keep sending fan mail and stuff to get annoyed about. If I don't respond promptly, it's not that I don't love you more than your mother does, it's just that I'm so busy.)
Personally, I don't think I have any power at all, but let me be blunt. My intention is NOT to harm the public library. However, I can't help but point out lunacy when I see it.
The problem with public libraries isn't that they don't provide useful and necessary services; it's that they can't figure out how to justify their existence to the public and the powers that be. The ALA does nothing. Their idea of advocacy for libraries is their Washington Office, which as far as I can tell backs the losing side in any legislative battle they enter. They have nothing to say at a local level. The library schools aren't doing anything. They've long been accused of not teaching anything practical about libraries, and increasingly they seemed to be focused on anything BUT libraries and their struggle for existence. The twopointopians and the gamey librarians are doing worse than nothing. They're dressing up amateurish nonsense in the guise of professionalism and they think they're doing libraries a favor.
Some of you may be overjoyed at what's happening in Wassau, WI, and some of you may be outraged. Some of you might not care one way or another. But don't make the mistake of thinking this will be an isolated incident. Until public librarians can justify themselves to people who don't care about twopointopia or gaming or informatics or "banned" books, this is the sort of thing that will happen. Some of you reading this hate libraries and want to change them into some techno-funland. What you'll end up doing is getting rid of public librarians and eroding public libraries. I hope you're enjoying yourselves.
And for all you library school students looking forward to being public librarians (rather than gamey "librarians" or twopointopians), good luck. You'll need it.