I attended a fascinating talk by Bernard Barrett yesterday. Bernard qualified as a librarian but styles himself as an Information Scientist in his job at the Child and Family Support Agency (MidWest). According to him, we need to change the words we use in describing our roles. Highlighting concerns about the use of words such as “service” and “users”, particularly in the current economic climate where services can be outsourced as part of cost-cutting exercises, he also noted that Library & Information Professionals need to question the work they are doing. We are qualified, educated professionals yet there is a danger that we become so caught up in the doing part of our role that we forget about being. In other words, we can be doing a fantastic job of managing the stacks but if we aren’t out there demonstrating our skills and drawing attention to our qualifications we are not serving ourselves, or our colleagues. We need to be clear that librarianship is a profession and that we are professionals.
One key point that I thought was very valuable was the need to communicate the value of our qualifications to those we work with in larger organisations. Certainly in my dealings with friends and former colleagues there is a rather bemused response to the concept that one must study in order to be a librarian. Explanations about the need to manage staff, engage in a digital age and source information are met with a polite but mildly incredulous expression. Similarly, non-library work colleagues may frequently not understand what exactly the librarian does. Some may perceive the role as purely clerical and consequently perceive it as of lower status or value. How do we change this?
In the financial services sector, the Financial Regulator determined that all financial services staff working in a customer-advisory capacity must complete a financial services diploma. They also have to complete a minimum number of hours of continuing professional development (CPD) each year in order to retain the qualification. Staff without the qualification may no longer work in customer-facing roles. Solicitors, accountants and nurses all have to complete CPD too.
Should something similar apply to librarians? Would it improve the public perception of librarians if everyone working in a library had to complete a defined number of courses each year in order to keep up or enhance their skillset? Would it enhance the value of our qualifications if we had to complete CPD each year? Would it improve the experience of our clients if we had to refresh not just our bibliographic but also our communication and marketing skills? Would it improve our career prospects? All comments welcome…