Sunday, August 19, 2007

Are we witnessing the death of librarians?

First, let me say that I'm bored with this blog. My intent was to see how blogs work and to learn how sites can become interlinked and how networks form. I'm not an expert on that, but I've seen a few things that I didn't know four or five months ago.

So I'm bored. Normally, when I'm bored I do stupid things with my hair. But my friends advised me not to do stupid things with my hair; and without them I wouldn't have anyone to drink with, so I took their advice and left it alone.

Then I wanted to post my novel on this site. I like my novel. It's for kids and I think it's pretty funny. Nobody has ever wanted to publish it, but I still think it's good. But then I was told not to do that because the point of this blog is library stuff, which made me ask, "have you ever read my page? It's about library stuff the way a doughnut is about nutrition." But I agreed not to post my novel.

Anyway, remember that I'm bored. Whatever follows might not make any sense...

I think I've been watching too much tv, but I think I've discovered the reason for why librarians are unhappy with their jobs.

It has to do with dominance and submission.
The nature of the profession is to classify and categorize, to analyze data and form conclusions. Is it fair to assume that the type of person who succeeds at this profession has a dominant personality?

But we help patrons find information, you say. Yes, but a doctor helps patients to get well, and don't doctors exhibit dominant behaviors?

I'm just wondering if all this "social work" role changing is wrong. Even librarians whom I would call liberal thinkers start to get all Stalinesque with the rules when it comes to smelly and crazy people wandering around the library.

When you want to attract families into your libraries, you create programs to attract families. When you want to attract business-people, you offer services to attract them.When you want readers, you buy new books. When you want teens, you provide isolated corners where they can pile on each other, and you give out free cigarettes.

So here's what I'm thinking. And this is just speculation, but I think we are on the path toward the destruction of the profession, or at least the elimination of the customary role that librarians have played.

What I think will happen is this:
Librarians who make good social workers will become social workers. They will care for abandoned children and the elderly and the mentally-ill by establishing daycare centers in the library. They will consider this proactive. Fewer librarians will be needed at those locations, but more caregiver-slash-paraprofessionals will be hired. End result: fewer professional library jobs.
Librarians who are not good social workers will retire early or find other careers or become webmasters or learn to do other chat reference or virtual reference. And, again, fewer professional librarians will be needed.
This is just the natural evolution of the "give em what they want" philosophy. If the squeaky wheel gets the grease, then the baby and senior and mental health caregivers will survive.
All this depends on what you believe is the role of the library. Is that role to provide for the information needs or for the social needs of the public?
Either way, when a dominant personality is forced to accept a submissive role, the conflict will cause chaos.

Librarians are dominant. Yes, we serve the public, but traditionally within a framework we
created. Libraries didn't have to be in separate buildings. Why weren't they built within schools or hospitals or courthouses? Because the public library satisfied information needs similar to those other institutions, but in a way that could be understood by the general public. We understand these specialized worlds and we help the lay person to understand it. That is our professional role. When we forfeit our professional training (unlike educational, medical and legal professionals) and accept other roles, then we will become those other roles.
And that is what is happening.

Librarians complain that governmental agencies are neglecting their jobs and sending people to the library to go online and submit applications for food stamps and immigration appointments and other aid. Why aren't the Internet kiosks located in those goverment offices? Because in the game of dominance and submission, we submit. We lost.

We are becoming something that is "not a librarian." So how can we fix it? I think we need to behave like similar professions. I think the library needs paraprofessionls with excellent customer service skills to work at the service desks. Like receptionists. The paraprofessional handles direction questions and basic reference, but acts as a friendly face to make the patron-customer happy. When something happens that requires the librarian, the receptionist says, "Please have a seat over there and I will get the librarian."

And I don't think you can make librarians develop excellent customer service skills. You might have a good bedside manner, but ultimately, thinking and analyzing makes people look kind of grim. And why should you be punished by some patron who sees you thinking and says, "having a bad day?" And then I think, "no, but if you want idle chit-chat, I can smile while you talk about your geraniums or your quilting bee or your grandchildren, but I damn sure ain't gonna smile while this stupid database is taking forever to give me a list of plant nurseries in Hoboken."
So regardless of the path, I think there are going to be fewer professional library jobs in the future. If we don't change to satisfy the public desire for social services, some group will sue the library until we are forced to change. But if we do change, then the taxpayers will vote all our money away because the library isn't providing a safe, family-friendly place to visit.

Then some company will come along and tell the local government that they can manage the
libraries better. They will hire two to five librarians for each branch in place of the six to eighteen you have now and fill all the other positions with paraprofessionals. And like in the doctor's office, customers will request to see the librarian who will handle complex request or serious problems in the library. Reference services will be done through a centralized reference station run by the company or with a contracted provider. Cataloging and half of aquisitions will be handled by private companies; local librarians will purchase some materials based on customer requests or local interest.
And again, fewer professional jobs in the future.

Now that I got that off my chest, I think I want my next poll to be:
Who "shush"ed first?
the patron?
the librarian?

I feel a lot better now. Don't you?