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Praise for Librarians?

I was reading this book review by ricklibrarian today morning.  The review was about Marilyn Johnson’s new book, This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.  In the book review, it was stated “most librarians knock themselves out serving their clients regardless of pay, institutional support, or appreciation from society at large.”

And is this supposed to be praises for librarians?  No librarian would argue against the fact that librarians tend to be more than 100 percent service-oriented.  Yes, librarians are eager to help, librarians are willing to do almost any kind of work that may contribute to library users’ better understanding and use of library resources, librarians are friendly, librarians are polite, and librarians protect the public’s freedom and privacy.

But I don’t think librarians are to be praised for knocking themselves out serving their clients regardless of pay, institutional support, or appreciation from society at large.  That is just crazy, isn’t it?  Not because there is something wrong with librarians being devoted to their work but because librarians’ services rendered in such a way may well make them almost meaningless.

There are obvious and clear limitations to ‘individual’ librarians’ devoted services that is unsupported by proper pay, institutional support, and appreciation from society at large.  No matter how excellent their services are, without the proper recognition and support from society and institutions that govern and fund libraries, the value of libraries and librarians’ services will go unnoticed or taken for granted.

I wonder how many people are even aware of the fact that librarians are required to finish a graduate school to be a librarian and also have to invest additional years as a library assistant for experience enduring a surprisingly low salary for their education and previous experience.  Probably not that many.  I wonder how many academic faculty members at a college/university know that at their institution, librarians may also be faculty just like them (although it may not be tenure-track)?

Some may question why what makes someone qualify as a librarian should be common knowledge.  Why not?  After all, everyone knows that what doctors, lawyers, journalists should do to become qualified in their professions.  The point is not bragging that it is not easy to become a librarian nor claiming that librarians are intelligent, knowledgeable, and talented people (although both of them may be quite accurate a description for librarians in general).

Rather, my questions is this.  If the basic qualifications of a librarian is unknown to library users -either faculty and students or the general public, why would they respect, listen to, and work with librarians?  Without such knowledge, there is going to be little appreciation and understanding about what librarians provide and offer to library users.  It seems to me that there is some serious work to be done in libraries’ outreach activities and that it may concern more librarians than library services or resources.

So, librarians, let’s please not knock ourselves out regardless of pay, institutional support, or appreciation from society at large.  Instead, libraries and librarians have to help people understand what kind of places libraries are these days – certainly not just a warehouse of books – and what kind of work librarians perform -certainly not just shelving books.

As the cataloguing librarian describes so vividly in the recent blog post, the general public’s perception and understanding of a librarian is sadly obsolete and dismal.  How did it happen that a used car salesman is so convinced that he knows so much about what a librarian does and laughs at librarianship as a profession?  Although deplorable, I don’t believe that this car salesman is any unique exception.  But in my opinion, it is mostly those outside a library who declare the death of librarianship.  If you are working at a library, you will be so busy that you won’t even have time to worry about the death of a library.

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