Response to "The Master’s Degree Misperception, Ctd."

Via Twitter, Andy Woodworth directed me to his response to my response to The Master's Degree Misperception, which I respond to now below. Tomorrow: maybe a comic!


I understand what Andy was getting at in discussing image--how librarians are perceived. I think "I didn't go to library school to end up having to [fill in the blank]" is never a good way to phrase it. No one goes through pregnancy to end up having to clean up baby puke, but it happens. A lot. It's not the reason you had a baby, but it's part of the job, especially if you're short-staffed. I think the impression some people have that "librarian" is not a job you need a master's for, though, might come less from having witnessed a librarian help with a copier, and more from the general public just having no idea what librarians do, especially NOW--now that there are computers and databases and more than just books and quiet. There is still a widespread assumption that librarians get to read books at work, and that libraries are peaceful places to work.

Folks having no idea what librarians do is similar to the image problem I think we work harder and focus more on, which is folks having no idea what libraries offer. We market our programs and offerings and there are still people coming into libraries wondering how much a library card costs, or shocked that our computer classes are free, or that with a library card they can access thousands of full-text journals and magazines from home. We do our best to publicize what we offer. And, if it bothers us that folks think librarians don't need degrees, than it is on us to publicize the degreed-level work we do.

Unfortunately, the general public is not as likely as we are to spend hours at the Library Day in the Life wiki reading up on all the different ways to be a librarian and all the different projects on which librarians work. So how do we publicize what we do?


That's a question I need to think about more. The other I think Andy's asking is, "What should degreed librarians be doing?" What should their work days look like, etc. If you're a degreed librarian and don't think you should be working the ref desk, helping with copiers, etc., then the ideal thing to do is to find a job where that's not required of you. A large number (a majority?) of the folks who participate in Library Day in the Life are not working ref desks, so we know these positions exist (though we also know that, right now, both these AND ref desk positions are hard to find).

Andy got two different kinds of angry response yesterday (and some happy and relieved responses, too). There was my kind: I felt it was implied that having an MLS automatically, by definition, makes one better equipped to perform certain tasks--and makes one more deserving of opportunities to perform them. The latter (deserving) I can swallow more easily. The first I disagree with (key words: automatically, by definition).

Others were angry because they felt like Andy was saying that some work was beneath him (really, beneath degreed librarians, but it read kind of personally), but not beneath them (this was not what bothered me about the post). If it had been phrased, "I wish my daily work was more challenging, and more related to what I studied," it probably wouldn't have hit folks the way it did. If it had been phrased, "I need my daily work to be more challenging, and more related to what I studied," then more people may have been moved to respond with practical advice, which sounds to me like what he may have wanted: "What should we [the degreed] do?" It's a good question. I think it is valuable to have degreed librarians working the ref desk, but yes, many inquiries do not entail challenging work. To me, that's just part of the job. I imagine that rote, non-intellectually-engaging tasks make up part of the days of neurosurgeons, architects, college professors, and so on, too. I think Andy is saying that maybe that shouldn't be part of the job if you have an MLS--that it would be great if the ref desk had the equivalent of Gmail's new Priority inbox, and filtered and forwarded the less quotidian tasks to the degreed librarian. The trouble to patrons is that having someone say, "Let me call a librarian out to work with you" slows down the transaction and makes it less seamless. The librarian has to trundle out from the back room where s/he has been working on more intellectual stuff, the patron has to restate his or her inquiry, etc. Maybe this should be the case. Andy argues that it hurts the image of librarians when librarians are seen helping with copiers instead of on inquiries like these, and this approach would make librarians seem more "special," somehow. It does seem nonsensical, though--although I know some unions require it--to call a librarian out if the paraprofessional on the desk is perfectly capable of fielding even the more complicated inquiries. If you've got knowledgeable paraprofessionals, you (the librarian) might never or only very rarely be called out to the desk (perhaps about as often as one turns to a print reference source). That presents its own image problem: for who are you then? If you're not out there often, you know less about the needs of the community, and they know even less about what you do and how you do it. They might even (shudder!) start to think of the paraprofessionals they see daily, and who after all can answer 98% of their questions, as the branch's "librarians."

It could be that the library jobs that allow one to use one's "master's degree brain" are ones that just don't involve working with the public that much. What to do if you want to use that brain but DO have to work with the public that much? I guess, try to bring an ok attitude to the mundane stuff (so you don't feel miserable), and think and write and design and implement and present and, also, do what Andy's already doing: engaging that brain not just at a local branch level, but on an international stage like this internet of ours. If you are not given opportunities to shine and think hard at work, you can make them to shine and think hard online, and this might help somewhat in terms of wondering how one's really using one's degree on a daily basis when one feels mired in printer troubleshooting. Maybe blogging at the award-winning Agnostic, Maybe; spearheading a campaign to get Ben & Jerry's to have a library-themed flavor, running #andypoll on Twitter, and so on, are the ways in which one uses one's library degree. I know it hurts (annoys, bores) one to not be able to use it as much as one would like at one's place of work, but at least we do have this space in which to think and ("unofficially," and without pay) contribute to the profession and do the kind of work we want, need, or--as I hear in Andy's tone in both posts--feel we "have a right" or "deserve" to do.

1 comment:

Andy W said...

Bravo, Emily, on your reply. Maybe one of those jobs could be "translator" since this is not one of my finest posts but the best I could do with such a large intangible.

It's a tough one because it's hard to present without sounding like a complete ass, to know it's on the minds of some of your peers but without a way to articulate it, and with the variety of library experiences out there, it's not going to be something that resonates with other librarians and be able to empathize or understand.

I may not be able to phrase it right the first time, but dammit, I'll keep trying till someone at least gets what I'm going for (even if they don't agree with me).