My goodness, I think one thing we can take from the comments this week is that a lot of academic librarians take themselves very seriously indeed. Obviously this is the highest form of librarianship, or I wouldn’t be doing it (that should go without saying, I know), but let’s just loosen our hair a bit and quit pretending that everything would collapse if we didn’t show up for a few days. Why is this? Well, for the most part it’s because we’re not the ones getting things gone, at least not those daily things that need doing: opening buildings, staffing desks, processing books. This differs by library, certainly, but in a lot of academic libraries, especially somewhat larger ones, we have a group even lower on the academic food chain than we are to do all that work.
I’m never sure what to call these people, since every library seems to have a different name for them. At my library, I just call them by their first names, and I’m not even sure what their official designation is. The names always seem problematic. Some call them "support staff." This term seems insufficiently analytical, though, because we’re all in a sense staff supporting something. "They" are supporting "us," but "we" are off supporting students and the exalted faculty. I’ve heard the term "library workers," which is also vague. I work in a library; am I not a "library worker"? Some call them "paraprofessionals." This sounds a little better, though it’s not always clear in practice who is the professional and who isn’t. There are a lot of moribund, professionally sclerotic librarians out there who are considerably less professional than some of the "paraprofessionals" I know. The major difference is that the moribund professional librarian got an MLS back in 1975 and the paraprofessionals never managed to earn that prestigious degree, though they might have several real graduate degrees.
We professional librarians should be happy about our prestigious MLS and all the good things it has done for us. Because of that, we’re usually not chained to a desk all day processing stuff and checking out books and all the things those poor non-professionals have to do. We get to do more important and exciting things.
For example, we get to go to lots of meetings. Those lowly paraprofessionals don’t have so many meetings, so they don’t know what they’re missing. Then there’s coffee breaks. I know everyone has these, but ours are much less scheduled. We pretty much get up and head to the cafe anytime we like, as long as we’re not in a meeting. The ideal for us is to sit in a coffee shop and call it a meeting. That way we can console ourselves that we’re really working while we sip some java and gossip about our colleagues. Then we can claim it’s library work and deduct the coffee and danish on our taxes. I’ve had plenty of days where my "coffee break" lasts from 10-11:30am, my lunch from noon-1:30pm, and another coffee break from 2-3pm. I manage to squeeze in a committee meeting at 3:00 and then am off for the day. Once I go home I’m awake for hours because of all the caffeine, but at least I’m not in the library.
Speaking of not being in the library, we prestigious, self-important professional librarians also get to travel a lot. ALA can take up a couple weeks a year. Add in an ACRL every couple of years, a state library conference, stuff like the Internet Librarian and Computers and Libraries, a handful of software user groups and maybe an academic conference or two and Bob’s your uncle we’ve been gone for a month at least right there. And that’s not even counting sabbaticals and research trips and other fun diversions. We need to do all this to stay sharp and at the bleeding edge of this bleeding profession, or so we tell ourselves. I guess there are librarians out there who believe this, but I bet the paraprofessionals don’t. If they can’t understand why we’re often gone, that’s just their problem, though. If they want to have two hour coffee breaks and travel around the country for a month or two a year, then they should go to library school!
But that’s just mean, and I don’t want to be. ALA probably has a "library support staff appreciation week" or something like that, but if they do I don’t know when it is. I like to make every week staff appreciation week, which is why I always bring them back coffee after my breaks; that way they can enjoy the coffee without having to leave their desks. I want to thank all those paraprofessionally supportive staff out there who work hard every day to make sure the rest of us don’t have to. On behalf of all of us, thank you! Really, we mean it! Now quit reading this blog and get back to work. It’s time for my afternoon coffee break.