05 Apr What makes a librarian a librarian?
There have recently been some very interesting posts about the difference between librarians who hold a qualification (mainly the American MLS as discussions have been primarily from those across the pond) and those who don’t have a qualification. There seems to be ambiguity about the term librarian and when it should be used, something which causes me no end of confusion as a not yet qualified “librarian”.
It all started with a post by someone who felt that the Library Journals Mover and Shakers should only include qualified librarians:
… why are non-librarians getting these acknowledgements? I’m very much for non-librarians bringing their expertise and excellence to libraries; but shouldn’t there be a clear distinction between the work that we do and the work of non-librarians.
Personally, I don’t agree with this view – to me a Mover and Shaker is someone who has had an innovative idea or put into practice something that has made a drastic difference to either their own library or the library world in general, regardless of who they are. This year, Tim Spalding from LibraryThing was named a Mover and Shaker which I think is great – he may not be an information professional but he’s made a massive difference to libraries and fully deserves the recognition.
I believe the original commenter feels that whilst non-information professionals do deserve recognition for their efforts/achievements, Mover and Shakers should only be qualified “librarians”, whilst others should be represented in a different category. Why? Why should only qualified librarians be able to become a Mover and Shaker? Why does a period of study at a library school mean you deserve greater recognition?
I guess maybe I hold this view because I’m not yet a qualified librarian, but to be honest I think I would feel the same even if I was qualified. You see, despite being a typical “academic” type, I really don’t think qualifications mean as much as experience in the real world. OK, so without my Undergraduate degree I couldn’t have got my first library job and until I complete my Masters I won’t be able to progress to the next level, but aside from the letters after my name I don’t feel I’ve gained many relevant skills from them. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed the courses and I have found out some interesting things, but almost all the skills and knowledge I use and will continue to use as a “librarian” have been learnt through experiencing them in the workplace. Yet I can’t be called a librarian until I’ve got the qualification, which isn’t so bad for me but really sucks for those who’ve worked in the field for numerous years and for whatever reason have not taken their qualification. Also taken from the original post:
Those without the MLIS do not have the requisite training or ‘right’ to call themselves librarians
This makes me quite sad to be honest. I guess strictly speaking, my blog shouldn’t really be called Joeyanne Libraryanne as I’m not qualified yet and haven’t earned the right to call myself a librarian. It seems to only be in the profession that there is this distinction. Our users tend to refer to anyone who works in a library as a librarian, and why not, it makes logical sense! However, as a recent post by Pegasus Librarian shows, even users are now getting confused about whether or not they can call us librarians due to bad experiences from library staff correcting them. Whenever I meet people at conferences and events I always feel really awkward when they ask what I do, I don’t want to offend anyone so I try to avoid using the L word but without it it’s very difficult to describe what I do.
The ironic thing is, despite certain librarians being fussy about making sure non-librarians are not thought of as “real” librarians (yes sadly this is true but fortunately not from personal experience), in my experience most of the UK general public think of a librarian as someone who stamps books and shelves them, whereas in the library world they would probably more commonly be known as a library assistant.
I’m pleased that CILIP seem to have recognised that experience is just as valuable as academic qualifications with their route straight to Chartership, and I just hope that maybe in the future other members of the profession will recognise this too.
Now, anyone have any suggestions for a different job title that could be used universally to eliminate these difficulties and also shake the librarian stereotype people have? I’m all for killing two birds with one stone!