May 6th, 2010

‘Professional’ editorial from the medical librarian in theory

David Rothman and Michelle Kraft brought to my attention the confluence of a blog post by Ryan Deschamps (Ten Reasons Why ‘Professional Librarian’ is an Oxymoron) and a revised article that was  in the Progressive Librarian (which I thought was dead by their website saying Winter 07/08 was their latest edition) entitled The Library Paraprofessional Movement and the Deprofessionalization of Librarianship by Rory Litwin.

Ryan later clarified in David’s comments that his post was not in response to the article but the perspectives of both are interesting. Since the latter had no bearing on the former and David picked it apart pretty well, I won’t review it here.

Ryan’s rationale is:

1. Librarians Have No Monopoly on the Activities They Claim
2. There are No Consequences For Failing to Adhere to Ethical Practices
3. Librarianship is Too Generalized to Claim Any Expertise
4. ’Librarian’ Assumes a Place of Work, Rather than the Work Itself
5. Peer Review in Librarianship Does Not Work Because There is No Competitive Process to Go With It
6. Values Are Not Enough
7. The Primary Motivation for Professionalization is the Monopoly of Labor
8. Accredited Library Schools Do Not Adequately Prepare Students for Library Work
9. Competing Professions Are Offering Different Paradigms to Achieve the Same Goals
10. Nobody Can Name a ‘Great’ Librarian

He prefaces this with

If librarians cannot personally address the anti-professional assumptions as individuals, they cannot call themselves professional.    What I am saying is that the MLIS or whatever equivalent a librarian has on their wall cannot count towards any status in society.   Each librarian needs to respond personally to the following 10 things to claim their status as professional.

Call me oblivious, naïve, or highly pigeonholed as a result of both my job and my focus in health informatics and medical librarianship, but I could not care less whether librarians are considered ‘professional’ or not so I don’t feel any need to claim my own personal status as one. I know plenty of actively engaged and involved librarians who either do not have an advanced degree on the wall or are on the path towards one. Their status in society is already greater than those who point to paper on a wall as an indicator of theirs.

What I care about for every career path (whether or not it is ‘professional’) is if you are committed to doing the best job possible with the education, knowledge and expertise you acquire (note present active tense, you’re never done)  while using what resources (including networking with colleagues) you have available. I followed this in my previous payroll and human resources career where a Bachelors degree was not required; I follow it now in my librarian career where a Masters degree is required… and I just verified that my current salary is lower than it would be if I had stayed where I was.*

That said, I’ll briefly address 2. about ethics with a reminder: It our job to call ethics lapses when we see them. As a recent graduate I’ll tackle 8. Accredited Library Schools Do Not Adequately Prepare Students for Library Work

Unlike most comments I see addressing this throughout the library blogosphere, I did have a directly relevant  library school education that I have utilized every single day of my 2-year medical librarian in theory** career. The Health Informatics program of study at the University of North Texas more than adequately prepared me. I was shocked more than a few times during my practicum that what I was learning from my coursework was at the cutting edge of  medical librarianship. It was not an easy program. It drove me to tears of frustration (and almost incineration) that I never experienced in my undergraduate degree.

Every job has an initial training and learning curve as practical experience is gained in the institution and/or the career field. Why do so many recently-graduated librarians (and hiring managers) seem to assume they can have the full knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) at the same level as a librarian (advanced degree or not) who has worked for 10, 20 or more years? Is library school education honestly not preparing new librarians with adequate core competencies as they gain the particular KSAs to their institution and the field, and participate in continuing education activities with meaningful learning objectives? I sincerely doubt it. Is everyone assuming this completely unrealistic expectation of KSAs due our perfectionistic culture and the fact that so many current librarians have been working for at least 20 post-‘technostressed‘  years? I don’t know. I’m still new here, what do you think?

*One could argue I made a very unprofessional choice to move down the salary ladder to a ‘professional’ field with increased education requirements. If I was paying back student loans (my graduate education was free & I’m acutely aware of what an anomaly that is for library school) I’d be pretty ticked off.

**What is this medical librarian in theory bit? Yes, I do have an ALA-accredited Masters degree. Yes, I am employed as an academic librarian with a rank of Assistant Librarian (for fun about rank, you can see the out of date personnel code information for us from the main HR page). Yes, I consider myself a medical librarian. All that said, I am not a traditional medical librarian serving traditional academic users. Explaining what the National Network of Libraries of Medicine is (and isn’t, there are some interesting assumptions out there) and my role within it is an elevator speech impossibility.

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