Valuing librarianship

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…

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About Caroline

Librarian. Bibliophile. Information seeker and sharer. “Life would be unbearably dull if we had answers to all our questions.” ― Jim Butcher, Death Masks
Aside | This entry was posted in Changing perceptions, CPD, Personal Learning Network. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Valuing librarianship

  1. I think you make a very good point about CPD Caroline. I said in my post that I don’t see the vocabulary really being the problem and I suggested advocacy was the solution. However, seeing your point and hearing stories about the treatment people have received in libraries I do believe that there should be some (I hate to use the word) regulation. If people are in the job that don’t want to be and they are unwilling to embrace change or learn new skills that will go a long way to aid the libraries struggle for survival, then are they are as much at fault for the decline in libraries as those cutting the budgets? I think that although this seems harsh, I for one have entered this profession because I think libraries are a worthwhile and important resource, I would hate to see the library fail because of the librarian. If you are not willing to be open with information, to help people and embrace ‘teaching moments’ then is this really the right profession for you??

    • Caroline says:

      Thanks for the comment Sarah. I very much agree with you that I would hate to see libraries fail because library staff who create the wrong public perception through poor attitude or customer service. Although Bernard said he doesn’t favour using the word “customer”, until libraries start valuing their clients the way bookshops value their customers i.e. as the reason for their business, rather than an interruption to it, it will be an uphill battle to win their loyalty and support.

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