19 Mar Am I a librarian?
Apologies in advance for what may be a very confused post, I’ve had lots of thoughts running through my head that I wanted to write down!
Well, you’re reading Joeyanne Libraryanne so I’m guessing that after reading the title of the blog post you’re thinking, “erm…. Yes, you’re a librarian! Aren’t you?”. Well I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve been mulling over a few things recently, partly due to the struggle to define what I do whenever I meet anyone, and partly because of some excellent blog posts to do with the CILIP Future Skills project which have really made me think (if you haven’t yet read Tina‘s post, A plea to CILIP, please do so – it’s excellent).
The main argument in Tina’s post is that to be a profession, we need to have skills that set us apart from other professions and define us as librarians. I totally agree. But what are our librarian skills? Well, I guess managing information is one, but isn’t that something most people do in their jobs? Then there’s understanding the needs of our users and delivering appropriate services for them – but again doesn’t that describe many jobs? So what is it that defines us as librarians?
The more I think about it, the more I doubt my identity as a librarian. All my work is involved in some way with library and information services, but does that make me a librarian? I have my qualification, but a qualification doesn’t define someone (I don’t think anyway). It definitely benefits my job that I am a qualified librarian and have worked as a subject librarian in an academic library so I can understand the needs of many of the people we work with, but you could do my job without the qualification or library experience (it’s not a requirement in my job description). Really, my job is a researcher who specialises in supporting library and information services. That’s not a librarian. So I have a slight identity crisis.
I’m heavily involved in professional organisations to support other LIS professionals (and para-professionals), as evident with my committee roles for CILIP and ALA. This year I’m an ALA Emerging Leader and I’m working on my CILIP chartership but is this the right path for me? To highlight the difference between my role and that of a librarian, here are my chosen areas for development which I’m focusing on for CILIP chartership:
- Research skills
- Formal communication skills
- Face-to-face networking
- Presentation skills
- Event organisation
- Project management
All of these are a key part of my job role, and all are skills I develop through my committee involvement too, but when you look at them as a skill set do they say librarian to you? I don’t think so. I think that describes any academic researcher. And even the marking criteria for chartership, again they aren’t really specific to librarians:
• An ability to reflect critically on personal performance and to evaluate service performance
• Active commitment to continuing professional development
• An ability to analyse personal and professional development and progression with reference to experiential and developmental activities
• Breadth of professional knowledge and understanding of the wider professional context
Then we cross the murky waters of an information professional and what defines that. Maybe I’m not currently a librarian but I am an information professional? I’d like to think so, but again that could describe any researcher really – we all collect information, analyse information, and repackage it for our user/client’s needs. I differ from Tina in my views on this topic – I think the commonalities between librarians and information professionals mean that they should be part of one profession, whereas I know Tina feels they should be separate (and I do question whether my views are totally objective!). I think it’s interesting that in the UK we have the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, but in the US it’s still the American Library Association. Where do information professionals fit in the US? Do they still come under ALA?
I’m still figuring out my identity, as well as working out what I want in the future. I love being part of this profession and don’t want to leave it (not for the foreseeable future anyway!), but the things I really enjoy about my job aren’t necessarily specific to this profession. I could do a lot of what I enjoy doing in a different field. I could be a psychology researcher for example, and I could still be working on developing all the areas I’m focusing on for chartership, just with a different subject context. In one sense this is probably a good thing (i.e. the skills I’m developing are transferable), but it does lead me to question where I fit. I can still see a lot of potential for things I can bring to both CILIP and ALA so I don’t plan on leaving either organisation, and I very much hope I can still gain my chartership, but I do think I need to accept that I’m a researcher specialising in library and information services, rather than a librarian.
What do you think? Does it matter?
ETA: As I’ve been drafting this post, Simon has posted on a very similar topic – worth a read.