Before I start – I love my job. My family have jokingly described the Library I run as ‘My other baby’ and they are pretty much right. I birthed the library, I water and nurture it. I protect and defend it. It has grown into something I’m rather proud of.
I’m feeling rather disillusioned with the information profession generally.
1. I think we’ve forgotten why we exist. Libraries cannot exist without their patrons/end-users/public. In the general stampede to stand up and shout and defend information provision for the great unwashed (and to tell everyone we’re doing it) we’ve forgotten to ask them what they actually want. Information professionals have a tendency (and I include myself in this) to decide that they know what’s best for the users, which isn’t always the case.
There’s a definite whiff of ‘Dad at the disco’ about some of the leaps we’ve made in terms of online presence, Web 2.0, etc. Yeah! We’re groovy! We’re hip! We’re down with the kids! A great example of this is Second Life. A number of libraries leapt on the Second Life bandwagon a few years ago because they thought they should. Do many Libraries have a Second Life presence now? I’d love to know. Instead of assuming that we know what our users want and imposing our will on them whilst also trying to be cutting edge means that we can forget what a good service actually looks like.
2. A Library isn’t a means to an end. We are, lest we forget, a support service. To define ourselves in the same bracket as doctors, lawyers and accountants in terms of professionalization is utterly ludicrous. We promote learning. We support evidence-based practice. We enable people to do their jobs; and/or conduct their lives just that little bit better.
I’m under no illusions about my job and my place in the organisation I work for. I support front-line practice and I enable people to undertake CPD. If people stop using the library, I’ll lose my job. It’s as simple as that. I’m not out on the front line dealing with the messy stuff in social work. I (hopefully) make the social workers’ lives a little bit easier. If I provide some information that can influence a decision in a small way that will positively benefit a family or a child, I’m doing my job properly. I can make the library as pretty and forward-thinking as I like but the moment I stop focusing on the needs of the end user, I’m sunk.
3. There’s too many people trying to make a name for themselves rather than focusing on their jobs. I do wonder when some people actually do the work they’re allegedly paid to do. How can they fit it in between the CPD and telling us what to think and how to behave? Giving someone a platform and a voice doesn’t make them God (before you ask, I’m aware of the irony of that sentence….)
I do not have time to sit and ponder the great conundrums of the information profession during working hours. Why? I’m too busy ploughing on with my job. If I had time to look up and take a breather I’d be concerned about the effect that would have on the very detailed statistics I keep that help to justify the existence of the Library. Which reminds me – it’s not just public and academic libraries that are struggling at the moment. Show me a library service that isn’t under some sort of threat and I’ll show you someone with serious delusions. We’re all fighting demons, even if we’re not prepared to shout about it publicly.
I keep trying to remind myself that Information Professionals are BRILLIANT. We’re great at doing more with less. We provide fantastic, comprehensive services. Above all, we CARE so much about what we do that we’re evangelical about it. These are all great things, and we should be proud of them. I just think we need to be more self-aware and not think that we’re the gatekeepers of all knowledge. We can learn as much from our users as they can from us.
That’s a fairly key point. I think the root of my malaise is the sense that, as a group, we’re losing sight of what we’re for and why we do it. I sincerely hope that isn’t the case. I don’t want to fall out of love with the information profession completely, but at this point, my relationship with it is pretty rocky.