May 04

“Professional Librarian?”

I’m reading, re-reading, and loving this post from Ryan Deschamps:

Ten Reasons Why ‘Professional Librarian’ is an Oxymoron

Deschamps’ 10 Reasons are:
1. Librarians Have No Monopoly on the Activities They Claim
2. There are No Consequences For Failing to Adhere to Ethical Practices
3. Librarianship is Too Generalized to Claim Any Expertise
4. ’Librarian’ Assumes a Place of Work, Rather than the Work Itself
5. Peer Review in Librarianship Does Not Work Because There is No Competitive Process to Go With It
6. Values Are Not Enough
7. The Primary Motivation for Professionalization is the Monopoly of Labor
8. Accredited Library Schools Do Not Adequately Prepare Students for Library Work
9. Competing Professions Are Offering Different Paradigms to Achieve the Same Goals
10. Nobody Can Name a ‘Great’ Librarian

Go read the whole thing. Even if you don’t agree with him, you’re still likely to find it meaty food for thought.

I strongly suspect Deschamps’ post is in response to this piece by Rory Litwin:

The Library Paraprofessional Movement and the Deprofessionalization of Librarianship

It will probably come as no surprise that I don’t care for Litwin’s piece.

A little fisking follows to supplement the things I like about Deschamps’ post.

Litwin writes:

Most librarians support the requirement of the master’s degree for professional‐level work, but many find the issue difficult to discuss when it is restated in terms of fairness toward working-class library workers, who are pursuing their rights.

Seeing “working-class library workers” literally made me snort aloud. Class has no meaningful or useful place in a discussion about where we are and where we need to go, especially when many degreed librarians make far less than many “working-class” people in many lines of work. I dearly wish that I could say my libraryfolk friends with multiple masters degrees and years of experience had as much income as my plumber, but they don’t. I also distrust anyone (and I mean *anyone*) who uses the term “working class.”

While it is difficult to say exactly what will be required of students who go through this certification program, one can assume that the academic standards of graduate education will not apply…

When the standards are as hugely varying as they are in library schools, they aren’t really “standards” at all. Like most, I know some paraprofessionals with greater knowledge and skills than some degreed librarians. Let’s stop pretending that the degree necessarily says something about the skills and knowledge of the person holding it…because it doesn’t. (See Deschamps’ #8.)

Litwin pretty much admits this:

There can be no denying that many paraprofessionals are more talented, more experienced, and even better educated than many MLS‐holding librarians. There are also libraries that fill their professional positions with non‐MLS holding librarians who, after years of working closely with their communities, can serve as positive examples for the profession in many respects. This is all true.

If you put aside Litwin’s condescending tone ([sarcasm]”I CAN, Rory?! In MANY respects?! Wow, thanks!”[/sarcasm]), we seem to agree.

The problem with framing the question in these terms, however, is that it overlooks the value of the professional status of librarians itself, both for the institutions in which they work and for the world of libraries as a whole.

Think about this for a minute: Litwin is comparing “library professionals” with “library paraprofessionals” but DOESN’T think that comparing skill-sets or experience isn’t a good way to frame the comparison. I call shenannigansWhich is a nicer term for the subject of this book.

After telling us that we’re overlooking “the value of the professional status,” Litwin gives several paragraphs on sociological theory and completely fails to support his assertion.

A profession that is dedicated to sharing knowledge is unlikely to create effective barriers to its knowledge base, a factor undercutting the profession’s defense of its degree of autonomy.

Two things here: The first is that Litwin is saying the failure of librarians to create effective barriers to knowledge is a bad thing. The second is that I reject his assertion that there is a significant difference in the level of autononomy of an employee in a library depending on whether he/she is classified as a professional or a paraprofessional (or, as Litwin writes elsewhere in his piece, salaried or paid an hourly wage). In my experience, the autonomy of an individual employee is largely based on the management philosophies of those they report to and the credibility the employee has earned. Perhaps this is different in academic libraries.

A librarian in technical services, according to Gillham, is a manager, meaning that the department is left without an autonomous professional presence and the attributes that accompany it (code of professional ethics, graduate‐level education, intrinsic reward of service, etc.).

So…now it seems that one cannot ascribe to a code of ethics or experience intrisic reward of service without an MLIS? I’m calling shenannigans again.

Litwin’s article isn’t *all* bad. If you remove the unsupported (or just poorly-supported) assertions about libraries, it is an interesting review of sociological literature on “deprofessionalism.” *With* the library stuff, it is pseudointellectual gobbledygook that provides no useful insight or guidance. (See Deschamps’ reason #5.)

By contrast, Deschamps’ piece is clear, succinct, and lays out the reality of our circumstances in a way that cuts through all the shennanigans.

Since I’m giving Litwin such a hard time, though, I’ll try to find some nits to pick about Deschamps’ post.

[Insert 30 minute pause here]

Deschamps’ #5 is “Peer Review in Librarianship Does Not Work Because There is No Competitive Process to Go With It”

I disagree that so much of library literature is mediocre because of the collaborative habits of libraryfolk. Rather, I think it is largely because of Reason #8, “Accredited Library Schools Do Not Adequately Prepare Students for Library Work.” The degree is frequently not academically demanding, so it doesn’t produce a lot of academics.

Deschamps’ phrasing of his Reason #7 (“The Primary Motivation for Professionalization is the Monopoly of Labor”) could, I think, be improved. I might rephrase it:

“The Primary Motivation for the Whining about ‘Deprofessionalization’ is the Fear of Losing Work or Having Needlessly Invested a lot of Effort, Time, Money, and Psychic Energy becoming a ‘Professional’ Librarian.”

But these are nitpicks.