I’m sure many of you have come across the businessy librarians who get excited by anything that comes from the world of commerce, whether it be marketing strategies or job titles or bulleted lists of inspiration. One I saw recently got terribly excited that libraries are doing almost as much with social media as top corporations are. One could shout, "Yay!!" Or one could just say, "who cares?"
That kind of wide-eyed longing for acceptance by people who go out into the world and make money is fine, as long as librarians don’t do it in the periodicals room and annoy people. The comparisons that I find most ludicrous are those urging librarians to act more like business people and get all excited by "marketing," "branding," "hierarchy-of-effects theory," and the "five forces model." The assumption seems to be that reading a few blog posts and attending a workshop at a conference will make us all businessy.
That’s not the only preparation we have, of course. There’s also that library management course taught in so many library schools, usually by people who – surprise, surprise – have never been nor ever will be library managers. But when it comes to library management courses, where there’s a textbook, there’s a way!
Thus, your average well-prepared businessy librarian comes to the library armed with a library management course, RSS subscriptions to three or four fluffy but pithy blogs written by so-called gurus, and the Wikipedia. And they wonder why we’re not all impressed with their broad learning and deep thinking on the topic.
One question I have is, if this business stuff is so easy, then why are there entire degree programs dedicated to it? We could ask the same about library schools, I know, but that would just be mean!
Besides, the best universities don’t have library schools, but they do have business schools. According to the U.S. News rankings, the top 10 MBA programs are Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, Penn, MIT, Chicago, Berkeley, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Yale. Nary a one in the bunch with a library school, but surely these programs are teaching something difficult and intellectually challenging.
Of course, there are numerous online business schools that don’t teach much and are just there to hand out master’s degrees for money. But surely those are more comparable to most library schools than the top 10 are.
Given that business administration is a discipline unto itself, and must be at least as difficult as library science, then why do so many librarians seem to think that we can all become master marketers without the necessary education? Is it really all that easy? Are those schlubs at Harvard and Stanford going through MBA programs as easy as so many MLS programs?
The answer is most likely "no," which leaves the businessy librarians in a tricky situation. They’re not trained marketing people, yet they clamor on about marketing as if they’re experts of some sort that we should defer to. If we don’t defer to them, it’s because we don’t have the extensive experience they have in taking a library management course, reading some blogs, and looking up terms in Wikipedia.
The solution to the problems of businessy librarians isn’t to bring MBAs into libraries. That’s the last thing we need. The culture of MBA students is to sacrifice everything for profit, but libraries can’t run that way because they don’t make profits. Even the libraries at for-profit "universities" like Phoenix don’t make profits. In fact, they’re a drain on the profits, which would explain why those places have such pathetic libraries.
(From the U. of Phoenix eLibrary page: "Tap into the online University Library and you’ll find literally thousands of documents catalogued and ready for your use." Wow! Thousands of documents! Now that’s what I call a library!)
The solution to the problem is for librarians to start trying to run libraries well and stop pretending libraries are something other than they are. Libraries aren’t businesses. Their goal isn’t to make money. MBA types would probably be appalled at the effort librarians exert to give stuff away for free, and that’s the way it should be.
If you’re a librarian who goes all gooey inside when you think about Ansoff ‘s Matrix or market segmentation, then you’re probably in the wrong field. And, as I always say when ending a tedious relationship, the problem isn’t me, it’s you.