Disillusioned

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.

Why?

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.

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LwL seminar – 14-December-2010

I mentioned in a previous post: CPD in three dimensions that I was going to do a seminar on CPD and Librarians with Lives. I had grand plans to do a Prezi thing (bells, whistles, etc) but then, as it always does, life took over and I found myself hastily cobbling together an extremely primitive Powerpoint presentation the night before. I have posted it here for your delectation. Don’t laugh too much:

LwL presentation – SCIE 14-Dec-10

(Note – the original presentation had an extra slide in, which I have since removed)

I took away three messages from the seminar:

1. Find your CPD niche (I’ll write a post on that in the New Year)

2. Twitter isn’t always the answer (especially if you are uber-suspicious of the medium and you have vowed never to use it)

3. Don’t let the profession take over your life (if you don’t want it to)

 

First-time voter – CILIP 2011 Elections

I’ve been a member of CILIP (in various guises) since 2003 and every October, without fail, I receive my ballot form for the elections and think ‘Ooh I should really investigate that’ before I put the paper down somewhere, promptly forget all about it and rediscover the form about a month after the voting has finished.

(Actually, that’s not quite true. On occasion I have opened the envelope, looked at the form and promptly filed it in the recycling bin. Bad Jo.)

So, why did I decide to participate this year? Blame Twitter. For the first time I actually *knew* a few of the people running for Council and Vice-President of CILIP. I read the manifestos (for a change) and then did a slightly odd thing. I voted for the candidates that:

1.       I ‘knew’….in a virtual sense at least

2.       Didn’t mention UCL in their manifesto.

Ok, the first one is probably quite normal. In any given situation you’re likely to support the people you have some sort of relationship with, unless they’ve ‘wronged’ you and you’re set on revenge – ‘Pah! I disagree with their stance on copyright. I will show them who’s boss by not voting for them. BWAHAHAHAHA!’. The second reason is actually very pathetic but having been humiliated by that particular institution twice in my thirty years on this planet I tend to give it a wide berth. Incidentally I know some really nice people that went to UCL, good friends, etc., but still. I’m not proud of how I did it, I’m just saying.

Reader, I voted. I sent the form off, rather pleased with myself for not only completing the form but actually finding a stamp and a post box and posting it.

A couple of days later I started to feel…uneasy. Had I really made the right choices? Had I been seduced by people that were part of the Twitterati – the infamous Librarian Crowd – and had fed my ego (and therefore encouraged silly old me to vote for them) by replying to some inanity I’d voted on Twitter? Also, were people running on an unofficial slate and had I blindly – and stupidly – voted for the people on that slate?

Slate. For those that don’t know, at The Place That Shall Not Be Named (you’re bright, you’ll work it out) and probably other institutions but it’s the one I have experience of) a new student committee is elected every term and one of the peculiarities of their elections is that the nominees are not allowed to canvass for votes. Not publicly, anyway. It’s a well-known secret that people are buttered-up, people decide to run ‘together’ on the quiet and if candidate A, B, and C, all running for different positions and decide to co-ordinate their efforts, an agreement is made that any friends of candidate A will also vote for B and C, and so on. Officially, slates don’t exist, but everyone knows that they do and turns a blind eye, effectively (well, not always but that’s another story…).

So, there were (are) hashtags on twitter that imply that certain people are running together. They aren’t (as far as I know) but their similar views on certain issues make them a good team. I’m not a complete moron. I’d read the manifestos. I got the measure of the candidates through their Web 2.0 output. I felt I knew them well enough to believe that they would do a good job.

I spent a good week or so after posting my ballot off feeling a bit…used. Then I got over it. Only the truly Machiavellian (I encountered plenty of those in my brief stint at the Place That Shall Not Be Named) types deliberately set out to win friends and influence people. The people I voted for in the CILIP Elections had decided to run because they wanted to change things from the inside. They all seem like good, genuine people whom I have grown to like and respect. Heck, I’d happily go for a drink with them. Moreover, they are happy to put their heads above the parapet and advocate what we’ve all been thinking about the profession and about CILIP in particular (don’t get me started…) and for that I can only applaud them. I finally feel that, if elected, the people I’ve voted for might actually be able to represent the interests of the average information professional – if such a thing exists.

My reasons for voting the way I did may not be the most scientific but after seven years of apathy I finally put some crosses in some boxes, and voted.

No, I’m not telling you who I voted for… 😉

Guest post #4: First they came for the school librarians…

Today’s very timely guest post comes from Katy Wrathall @SmilyLibrarian, who blogs here describes herself thus:

I started as a hotel receptionist book-keeper, then clerk in Civil Service, moved to IT as programmer, analyst, developer and then was an IT Consultant (Unix) jacked it in at 40 to do Library and Info Mgt degree, since when worked in Schools Library Service, then FE as LRC Manager, then info-lit project SMILE project manager, and temp Academic Liaison Team Manager, currently between engagements.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave this week you’ll know that, yet again, public libraries are in the spotlight and for all the wrong reasons. Katy explains why we need to support our professional colleagues and advocate on behalf of the profession. If we don’t, who else will?

School librarians have been fighting to retain the professionalism of their role for a long time, in some cases with little support even from their own professional body. If we do not fight for the professional qualification to be recognised and mandatory for all librarians are we saying that actually it has no relevance?

If you are a librarian in any sector you can’t fail to have noticed that Public Library Services are under increasing threat. There is a misconception about their role and the services provided that at times seems tantamount to a campaign of deliberate misinformation. The vitriol towards libraries and indeed librarians expressed in responses to articles such as those by I. J. Clark and Lauren Smith has been shocking, and, for me, deeply concerning.

It seems to me to be symptomatic of a much wider lack of understanding of the role of a librarian, wherever we work. I believe we are at a crossroads in the profession and we all need to stand up and be counted. No librarian, wherever they work, can afford to be complacent about the future of the profession. We have to work together to say what librarians are, and what we bring to our employers. We have to get loud about our skills in finding, organising, detailing and relaying information. We have to get loud about the fact that people may be able to afford to buy their own books, DVDs, computers and access to online services, but without librarians they can’t easily retrieve just the piece of information they need, they can’t have objectively selected fiction available freely and with minimum effort, there won’t be anywhere they can go to ask for help with their research and there won’t be anybody ensuring their work is acknowledged by others.

We can’t sit and wait for somebody to do this for us, and we can’t assume that they won’t come for the college, academic, legal, or business librarians next. We have to stand up and be counted, we have to tell people what they are throwing away which they will never get back, we have to act outside the stereotype. And we have to do it now.

What Twitter has taught me about librarians

*insert tongue in cheek disclaimer here*

  1. There are a lot of cat-owning librarians
  2. Librarians use the word ‘crafting’ as a verb
  3. Librarians like food: mainly cake, cheese and chocolate
  4. Librarians can be sarcastic to the point of being lemonfaced
  5. Librarians believe they have the best job in the word
  6. There’s lots of frustration at the inability of outsiders to understand the profession and what being a librarian entails
  7. Librarians will rip their own arm off and eat it to win a place at a conference and/or a free lunch
  8. Librarians could actually describe themselves more accurately as IT consultants, if they so wished
  9. Librarians are early adopters of new technology – I’m willing to bet that ipad and iphone ownership is pretty high among my professional colleagues.
  10. Librarians like blogs. They also like publicly slagging off blogs that they don’t like.