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The Professionals

May 13, 2010

Ryan Deschamps posted a very thought-provoking article on The Other Librarian about “Ten Reasons Why ‘Professional Librarian’ is an Oxymoron”.  His ten reasons are compelling ones, but there are a couple points that I’d like to address in detail.

Obviously point #8 (Accredited Library Schools Do Not Adequately Prepare Students for Library Work) strikes a cord with me.  I mean, no duh.  Library school is useless.  But that doesn’t mean we aren’t a profession:  it just means that we’re a profession whose leaders and educators need to figure out what the heck they want to be.  Currently library schools are torn between meeting the demands of students to providing them with the skills they need to get a job, and the school’s desire for the prestige and funding which comes from fostering theoretical research in information science.

The split personality of the modern MLIS is partly the fall-out from point #3 (Librarianship is Too Generalized to Claim Any Expertise).  Deschamps argues “The issue is that librarians, rather than having a specific area of expertise, actually need surface knowledge of variety of things – management, technology, community development and so on”. To some extent this is true; jack of all trades, master of none sums up the role of many librarians nicely.  But most jobs these days require you to be a bit of an all-rounder.  And we do have an area of expertise; we manage and connect people with information, and we do that better than anyone else.

A lack of expertise leads into point #4 (‘Librarian’ Assumes a Place of Work, Rather than the Work Itself). According to Deschamps Librarianship is “not an activity, but a product or service” and this excludes us from being professionals.  I would argue, however, that the service of information organization and retrieval is theoretically little different than what a lawyer or a CPA, and they are indisputably professionals.

And what side of the argument do I come down on?  I’m not sure.  Are we professionals in the same way that doctors or engineers are? No.  But neither do we fall into the category of common labourers.  Really I think we librarians exist in an awkward middle ground, neither fish nor fowl, along with people like teachers.  Really what it boils down to is whether being a professional is in the mind, or the membership card.

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