Five Things You Can't Say About Libraries, Librarians, and Library School

As with any sector, there are a lot of unchallenged statements, pieces of accepted wisdom and politically incorrect sentiments in the library world that seem to be lurking just beneath the surface.  But for a profession concerned with freedom of expression and sharing of information, this restraint seems to be especially preposterous.  So here are a few I've come across…

(Disclaimer: these aren't necessarily things I believe, they're just some provocative statements I've heard (or heard hinted at) over the past year.  Okay, some that I believe.  You have to guess which are which.)

Five Things You Can't Say About Libraries
1.  Libraries basically exist to serve the middle class and for all the talk of serving everyone equally, do an extremely poor job of serving both upper and lower classes (and not surprisingly, especially how they serve marginalized people.)  To put that another way, John Pateman says: “libraries are used most by people who don't need them and least by people who need them the most.”

2. A related point.  For all our talk of serving everyone equally and fairly (which is a fine and noble goal), maybe sometimes you have to serve people according to their needs even if it means one group receives “special” or extra service. (also John Pateman – who I apparently am in love with! )

3. Libraries are not in competition with Chapters (or Starbucks or Blockbuster) although this is a fairly common sentiment, especially in recent library literature and the library school classroom.  Those are private enterprises and libraries are public institutions (at least for the time being) and in my mind, this means they aren't (or at least shouldn't be) considered competitors. Does a high school “compete” with the television news to educate teenagers?  Only in the loosest sense.  Does a hospital “compete” with a pharmacy?  Not really.

4. Libraries don't do nearly as good of a job at promoting the full range of services and programs that the library offers as they could.  For most people, “library = free books” (I think one study I saw said that 80% of people use the library for borrowing books and nothing else.)

5.  Andrew Carnegie may have built the majority of libraries that exist across North America but he was still a robber baron who made his fortune off the backs of his workers and we shouldn't forget that either.  Put another way – your second half of life can't buy a pass for the first. 

Five Things You Can't Say About Librarians
1.  This is buying into the stereotype a bit but stereotypes often have roots in reality.  So, in my opinion, we could probably all use a course in assertiveness training.  Not to become domineering, loud personalities but to help us to not be afraid to ask for what we want or do something we want to do. 

2. Another stereotype that I find has its roots in truth.  A lot of librarians don't embrace technology and the possibilities it allows in a way that they should or could. 

3. Just because you can give somebody access to something, doesn't mean you should give somebody access to something.  (This was put more succinctly by a professor, talking about how we'll get used to educators in our libraries whining “But I'm a teacher…” as justification for any request they might have.  “I wonder what the equivalent phrase for a librarian would be?” she wondered aloud.  “Probably 'But of course your six year old has a right to look at pornography!'”)

4. Some librarians are terrible at their jobs.  They hate work.  They hate patrons.  They even hate books! 

5. On the flip side, the majority of librarians are some of the coolest, smartest, most creative, most amazing people you will ever meet.  (Yes, librarians.)

Five Things You Can't Say About Library School
1. Why do librarians need a Masters degree when a range of other professionals – from teachers to nurses to engineers to pharmacists – get by with an undergrad degree?

2. Library schools are more about “school” than “library”. 

3. Students might feel like a McDonald's hamburger – processed and fried assembly-line style to be spit out at the end – by their library school experience. 

4. Not every
professor is a wonderful teacher and out of all the classes you take
(we do 15 in this program), there's a pretty good chance that anywhere
from one to three of them will be complete duds.  (Trust me on this

5. Just like journalists become public relations officers to earn twice the salary, librarians should probably go get a business or a computer science degree if they want to make the really big money in this profession. 

On a different topic, I'm screening Party Girl in NCB113 tomorrow at 1pm.  I decided that instead of doing the traditional poster and a mass e-mail thing, I'd try that “viral marketing” all the kids at Ivey are talking about.  I sent an e-mail invitation to a few people and asked them to invite a few people and tell them to invite a few more.  I didn't even tell them which movie I was screening.  Which probably means that I'll be sitting in NCB113 tomorrow afternoon watching a movie by myself! So if you want to keep me company, feel free to drop by.  

By the way, the IMDB link above says that Party Girl was the first movie to be shown in its entirety over the Internet.  <Johnny Carson voice> I did not know that. </Carson> 

And speaking of trivia, “Murph and the Orillia Silencers” lived up to their “nom du semaine” by going out with not a bang but a whimper last night at the final Trivia Night of the semester.  After a first round where we thought we'd finally done the impossible and got 20/20 (except we got three wrong – most career goals after Gretzky was Howe but the three sports guys at the table somehow talked themselves into Messier; the most common blood type was O, not AB and I would've got that but I didn't hear the question as I was lolly-gagging; and then the worst, I jokingly said the Wall Street Journal was the highest circulation daily before guaranteeing it was USA Today.  And the answer was…the Wall Street Journal.)  So, after a couple third-round come-from-behind victories in the last few weeks, there was no comeback and instead, we went down in a burning platter of fried pitas and chicken wings. 

Here's hoping Melissa implements a “virtual trivia” option for next semester for those of us who won't be there in person anymore but who let probably too much of our lives revolve around knowing the name of Ziggy Marley's band (trick question – it was the Melody Makers, not the Wailers) and which Simpsons character has a superfluous third nipple (you'll have to Google that one yourself!)

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    “1. Why do librarians need a Masters degree when a range of other professionals – from teachers to nurses to engineers to pharmacists – get by with an undergrad degree?”
    Mainly because those other professions have professional associations that certify the qualifications and aptitudes. You are an engineer after your B.Eng or B Applied Science, or a teacher after your B.Ed. But you aren't a professional unless the appropriate national or provincial association says that you are. In the case of teachers, because certification is provincial, your B.Ed means different things depending on which province you move to.
    CLA doesn't take any responsibility for certifying that its members have any particular skills or talents. Nor does any other organization. The programs are accredited by the ALA, but that's only half of the professional equation.

    Posted 02 Dec 2006 at 9:36 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    That's a good point. I had someone ask me this question before I came and I didn't really know how to answer so I just mumbled something about it being a good way to attract a range of people from different disciplines with more of an educational foundation than they would have if students could go straight into a “BA – Library Science”.

    Posted 09 Dec 2006 at 3:00 am

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