I struggled for a while about putting this post on the blog after writing about it in my journal. I was hoping I could let it drop, but I find that I cannot because I am honestly getting a little sick and tired of the attitude some people have in our profession that, if you "don't get it" or "play with the latest shiny toy," then you have to be swept out of the way so someone more perky can come in. We can file this under things that bother me. To borrow the term from the Annoyed Librarian, this is about another example of twopointopians using the "us vs. them," the "we get it, you don't," and the "if you don't adapt and use it, you're not welcome here."
Michael Stephens has a new column in Library Journal, the lightweight library news magazine. In his first column, he wrote the following, which I did find somewhat arrogant and condescending not to mention alienating. The quote in question is:
If the online world is not for you, then neither may be a career in librarianship. The most prevalent LIS jobs in the next few years will probably be ones where you’re not tied to your desk and you communicate well beyond the physical walls of the building.
It’s not just students who should participate in this online world. Librarians must find their niche as well. Five years ago the conversation went on in blogs. Now it flows vibrantly across media platforms, enabling a stronger connection with library users through marketing, outreach, and the human touch. (emphasis in the original).
Where do I even start? You have to be online but not tied down to a desk. It may sound a bit contradictory at first; that was what the colleague I showed the article to said. But on reading the column, we see that it refers to being constantly plugged in to the mobile device of your choice. Then there is the thing about the human touch. Being constantly online and connected is not exactly conducive to the human touch. Sooner or later you may have to deal with a real person.
As I mentioned, I showed a colleague the column, and she had a thing or two to say about it too. One thing she said that stuck with me is the following: in all the rush to teach new technologies and fads, library schools are not teaching how to deal with people like basics such as how to do a proper reference interview. I added during our conversation that no one really teaches how to do good liaison work to future academic librarians, a topic I have written about before in this blog.
And then I thought about another colleague of mine who wins awards for her scholarship in history as well as provides excellent service to the library and its patrons. She's definitely found her niche, and it does not involve the twopointopian vision of the online world. No Facebook or Twitter for her. Should she give up her career in librarianship because the online world is not for her? If she was entering library school now, would she be told she does not fit in? And before some apologist chimes in, allow me to point out that my colleague is not a Luddite. She avails herself of electronic tools that meet her needs, keeps up as needed, and maintains an excellent local and civil war history website that has received state and national praise. By her admission though, she does not care about Twitter and really has no use for Facebook nor a lot of online social media. Should we have kept her out of librarianship because the online world, as narrowly defined by some people, is not for her?
I write and raise these questions as someone who has found places in the online world. I also use social media (feel free to check the right side column in this blog for links to my various profiles). I use online social media tools in my work as well as for my professional development. I am still figuring out my niche, but that is part of the learning process for me. But I do know that my niche does not include the attitude of "you either get it or you don't, and if you don't, we don't want you here." That attitude has bothered me since the earliest days when the term Library 2.0 was emerging (some of my earlier thoughts on L2 here, here, here, and here).And it bothers me now. When people ask if I am sorry that I became a librarian or have any regrets, I can usually that I like what I do. But statements like the one by Stephens make me wonder because I do not want to be associated with such attitudes.
"Oh, oh, Anthony. He's a big boy, he knows what he said." --Tommy DeVito, from the film Goodfellas.
And no, I am not going to "try to look at it in a charitable light." That is a cop-out. He wrote it, with the backing of his reputation, and he clearly stands by it in making it public. Now, he can choose to dig in his heels, expand the statement or try to clarify it, but the statement is out there, and it seems pretty clear.
Personally, for what little my opinion is worth, the statement seems divisive. I see plenty of excellent librarians who work hard, provide excellent service to their patrons, and the online world is not really for them. I don't think they should be deprived of a career because they are not interested in Facebook or lack a Flickr fetish.
Is there dead weight in librarianship, including some coming out of library school even as we speak? Yes, ther is, and that needs to be weeded out. But exclusion on the basis of not being interested in doing reference via an iPad or laptop in some cafe should not be part of the exclusion criteria. Many talented librarians who do cataloging, reader's advisory, acquisitions and other technical services, and yes, even front line reference do great work and don't need nor have an interest in the online world.