A few weeks ago, I had a Facebook conversation with a group of librarians on apathy in librarianship and the fear of “rocking the boat”. Concerns were expressed that as a profession we were becoming apathetic in the name of “professionalism”. Librarians were characterized by one as “sterile, grey and beige, clean, unassuming, and boring”.
One of my biggest complaints and concerns about our profession is the lack of open and honest debate of issues in the same of consensus, team building, and professionalism. As a group, librarians tend to be conflict adverse and instead seek to build a bland consensus, especially in matters concerning the important issues surrounding our collective futures and our profession. We choose professionalism over profession.
Profession is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an act of openly declaring or publicly claiming a belief, faith, or opinion.” Any profession needs debate and discourse to survive. Librarians need to take a stand on what we feel is important, even if it makes us unpopular. Professionalism, on the other hand, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace.” I would argue that librarianship needs more profession and less professionalism, especially in matters concerning the profession itself.
There are ramifications to taking an unpopular stand, but I would rather be on the side of right than on the side of “the right thing to do”. Being a professional means that we “profess” a belief in something, meaning that we need to take a stand. Too many librarians are more than happy to sit by like a wallflower at the Junior Prom rather than get involved, take a stand, and improve the profession and the world around us.
Stephen Abram is a smart guy, but I disagree with some of his characterizations of Jeff Trzeciak’s presentation and the debate that followed in his recent blog post. What he sees as a “piling on”, I see as a vigorous debate over the future of our profession. This type of open debate is needed in the profession in order to ensure its survival. And I am not so concerned about leaving a digital record of our debates on the profession. Debates in other academic professions have be chronicled in academic journals and elsewhere for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The blogosphere is just the newest medium of academic discourse.
I do agree that vigorous debate does not give license for ad hominem attacks on one’s character or person. But vigorous debate is not piling on or bullying, unless attacks are getting personal. We need to debate ideas, not personalities. And we need to stop penalizing librarians for taking a stand. We need debate in librarianship, with the security and freedom to do so in an environment where the ramifications are felt in the betterment of the profession, not in the career path of the individual.
When I heard that Jeff Trzeciak would be coming to Penn State to talk about transforming libraries, I was excited to attend his presentation. Mr. Trzeciak is the University Librarian at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and has over 20 years experience in academic libraries. Being a newer leader in academic libraries, having roughly the same experience in the profession as I have, a fellow “GenXer”, and a former Library Journal Mover and Shaker, I was interested to hear what he had to say about academic librarianship.
Mr. Trzeciak’s presentation “Transforming Traditional Organizations” provided many good talking points. He suggested that libraries must take risks and be creative and innovative, suggesting that we should take the role of “enthusiastic prospectors”. The presentation went on to highlight some great things going on at McMaster, and many of the ideas that he has tried there (consolidating reference desks, training staff to answer reference triage, getting librarians more “face time” with faculty) are all things that I have tried with great success both at Penn State and elsewhere. I even liked the idea of the library hiring postdoctoral fellows to work on research and collection development projects, especially in the digital humanities and special collections.
When Mr. Trzeciak turned his attention to future happenings in his library is where he lost me. He believes that librarians should not be in supervisory positions, and he doubted that any new librarians will be hired at McMaster in the near future. Instead he made the case for hiring non-MLS PhD-holding candidates to fill positions previously held by librarians. It is these points that I most vehemently disagree with, and I feel that Mr. Trzeciak is doing a disservice to the profession in advocating for this type of change.
MLS-educated librarians are the keepers of the profession. Librarians hold the training, vision, and vocation for this type of work. I do believe that the MLS curriculum can be “bulked up” and improved, and am making this a professional priority of mine in the upcoming years. Making the MLS degree program a full 2 years (48 credit hours) and requiring more courses in management, statistics, assessment, and leadership would be a great way to start. PhDs in fields other than library and information studies are not the right people to entrust with the keys of librarianship. Librarians, educated in an enhanced MLS curriculum are the right choice.
Mr. Trzeciak’s presentation not only touched a nerve with me but with others in the biblioblogosphere. Jenica Rogers and Amy Buckland have posted similarly on their blogs. And I concur. Not only are libraries important, but so are librarians. Ms. Rogers put it more eloquently than me:
Don’t let people like Jeff Trzeciak make you invisible.