Annoyed Librarian
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Public Library Privilege

A few months ago, someone wrote an opinion article for LJ about “big tent” librarianship, arguing that “all librarians are intrinsically connected in their personal motivations for entering the profession” and “are connected by core beliefs across the different library types.” It was written “to combat the illusion of separation that currently exists within the field.”

I read it at the time, and thought, eh, okay, interesting idea. It’s not terribly new, and is pretty much what the ALA has preached for decades with its bills of rights and mission statements and other documents that supposedly cover all libraries. The ALA implies that librarians all have something in common, though the existence of the SLA, MLA, and AALL should tell us something.

The same author, a real go-getter it seems, has also be active in the campaign against HarperCollins and the creation of the Ebook reader’s bill of rights. All well and good. The library needs more public intellectuals who aren’t prattling about social media all the time and actually write about substantive issues in the field.

Putting the two together makes me question the big tent notion of librarianship, though. I realized that as a librarian, I don’t really care what HarperCollins does with its ebooks. Except for literary novels that might one day be studied, most of the books my library needs aren’t published by the Big Six publishers.

I also don’t think librarians are intrinsically connected in their personal motivations for entering the profession.  Many of the academic librarians I’ve known became librarians because a planned professorial career didn’t work out.  Being an academic failure probably isn’t what motivates public librarians.

I also don’t believe the separation that exists among librarians is an illusion. Librarians really are separate, and the problems they face are often not connected. That libraries have some things in common means very little when tacking individual problems.

We can start with the HarperCollins example. This is primarily a public library issue, and of the reams of commentary on it, I’ve seen only two academic librarians writing and absolutely no one from a special library. Academic libraries don’t use Overdrive much, they often don’t buy popular fiction at all, and if they do it’s often not considered part of the core collection. The missions of the types of libraries are just different.

The overall licensing versus ownership issue affects academic libraries, but in ways that public librarians rarely think about. One big issue for academic libraries is access to serials, especially in the future, and most journals have long ago adopted a licensed access versus ownership model. However, academic libraries are working with several institutions to solve the problem of preservation and future access to content that isn’t strictly owned, both for books and journals. As far as I can tell, not one public library participates in either Hathi Trust or Portico, to give just two examples of organizations trying to deal with digital preservation issues.

Academic libraries have been dealing with the problem for fifteen years,  but it’s like some librarians just realized that there’s a problem and now they’re shouting to high heaven. I’ll exclude longtime ebook DRM critics like the Librarian in Black, but the commentary I’ve been reading from some librarians makes it sound like they’ve had their head stuck in the sand for a decade.

Another big issue these days is library funding, and that separates all sorts of librarians. In any given state, there will probably be libraries at private universities and public universities, public libraries, school libraries, law libraries, state libraries, and corporate and special libraries of all sorts, and every type has a different funding model.

Libraries funded by the public are having problems all over, so there’s some commonality, I suppose. If a state or city is in budget meltdown and public workers are under attack, there goes some funding for higher education, schools, and public libraries, but even then the treatment is different.

Schools are starting to eliminate their librarians entirely. Public libraries are closing branches or cutting hours and staff. What about in higher education? I’ve heard about a few layoffs, various workarounds like furlough days, and lots of jobs left unfilled after people leave, but I haven’t noticed any drastic campaigns against academic libraries as such. They just suffer as the universities suffer. As long as there are universities, they will have some sort of library, even if it doesn’t look like today’s libraries. On the other hand, school librarians are already disappearing and  many people are envisioning dark but possible futures without public libraries.

The public versus private distinction is greater than between public and academic. There are thousands of libraries around the country that are privately funded, ranging from libraries at private research universities to small liberal arts colleges, religious schools, corporations, law firms, etc.

While librarians at those places have issues in common with others who work at similar types of libraries and while they have problems of their own, they are often immune from the problems that public and school librarians have. Librarians have to demonstrate their value everywhere, but it’s a lot easier to do that in some libraries than in others.

What happens to one doesn’t necessarily affect the rest. Every public library in my state could close tomorrow, every corporation could eliminate its librarians and archivists, and it wouldn’t effect my job one whit. If the universities started closing, I’d be in serious trouble, but the public librarians probably wouldn’t notice much, and the school and special librarians not at all. The bottom line is that we’re not all in this together.

The public rhetoric about libraries is almost exclusively about public libraries. When some talking head from ALA prattles on about the importance of libraries, it’s about public libraries. When some citizen writes a pro or con letter to the local newspaper, it’s about public libraries. When someone speaks or writes in generalities about the issues or problems or concerns of “libraries,” they’re usually talking about…you guessed it, public libraries.

Even most of the “famous” librarians out there talk about issues exclusive to public libraries. You can read blog after blog and tweet after tweet and see very little especially relevant to other types of libraries other than the occasional technotip.

So if a representative group of librarians gathered together, I’d be hard pressed to find even one thing they all had in common as professionals other than possessing a similar master’s degree. Assuming we all have something in common is similar to white privilege, but we can call it public library privilege. Just as our society tends to conceive of whiteness and white culture as the norm and everything else an irrelevant deviation, most people assume public libraries to be the norm.

The rest of us don’t do reader’s advisory, we don’t deal with book challenges, we don’t put up cheesy “Read” posters in our libraries, we don’t fret if bestsellers aren’t available, we don’t have boards of trustees that we have to play politics with, we don’t care about librarian stereotypes, and we don’t have children around. Unless we work in a publicly funded university, we often don’t even have the general public around, which means we often don’t have homeless people or drug addicts hanging out. Everything from the nature of our funding to our myriad missions to our daily routines is different from life in a public library.

Public libraries get the most attention from the public and the ALA, and the large numbers of librarians who don’t work in them are largely ignored. It used to annoy me, but now I don’t really care, because my library has its own problems to solve, and they probably aren’t the same as yours. There are things we can all learn from each other, but there are things we can learn from people in other professions as well. We might all hang separately one day, but there’s little reason for us to hang together.

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Comments

  1. will manley says:

    AL…I disagree. Academic librarians should be concerned about school and public libraries because these are the libraries who prepare students for college. If there is a common theme among the academic librarians with whom I communicate, it is that students are basically clueless when it comes to doing any research beyond Google. Whose fault is that: the politicans who are cutting back school and public libraries or school and public librarians who have abandoned their educational mission
    for an infotainment function filled with games, bestsellers, and basic internet access? Academic librarians should be concerned, very concerned about what is happening at the school and public level. You are inheriting the result.

  2. Annoyed Librarian says:

    Will, just because I happen to work in an academic library, I’m not just talking about me. What does some librarian in a corporate library or a law firm or the CIA or any number of special libraries around the country have in common with a public, school, or even academic librarian. There’s no common mission, funding, or clientele for all libraries. It’s a polite fiction that the ALA and others like to proclaim, while really most talk of libraries is about public libraries.

  3. Corporate Librarian says:

    As someone who works in a corporate library I have to agree on this one. The issues I deal with are completely different from what public and academic librarians deal with that it is hard to relate to them. I have to deal with Elsevier charging $50,000 per journal title for online access, international copyright issues on a daily basis, and regular requests for books that we are unable to find a copy of anywhere in the world. Does this make my job any better than the job of a public librarian? Heck no, but it sure makes it different.

    In my mind it is a lot like comparing a high school chemistry teacher with a kindergarden teacher. They both have the same (or very similar) degrees, but have very different jobs.

  4. Librarian of Many Colors says:

    I have worked in public, governmental, contract, and corporate libraries. (I could never break into the union school gig here or have the time to wait on academia openings)

    They are all different. Expectations. Results. How you approach the job.

    In the corporate world, they generally don’t care anything about your library, they want reliable information NOW! DRM, Dewey, MARC, e-books, indexes, card catalogs, OPACs, etc. They want answers yesterday for the cheapest price. They don’t want an education, or how to do it themselves (trust me, they have Googled their hearts out before they come to you) they want answers to hard questions. Plus you aren’t all things to all people. If their particular department does not kick in (libraries in the corporate world are cost centers)you don’t have to provide support. Unless their boss knows your boss and your life will be hell if you don’t answer. Corporate politics are akin to living in a third world country.

    Public libraries, you try to educate the public and be all things to all people. You are funded by the public so you damn well better provide equal service.

    And so on.

    These are just two differences. One could go on and on.

  5. Librarian of Many Colors says:

    I have worked in public, governmental, contract, and corporate libraries. (I could never break into the union school gig here or have the time to wait on academia openings)

    They are all different. Expectations. Results. How you approach the job.

    In the corporate world, they generally don’t care anything about your library, they want reliable information NOW! DRM, Dewey, MARC, e-books, indexes, card catalogs, OPACs, etc. They want answers yesterday for the cheapest price. They don’t want an education, or how to do it themselves (trust me, they have Googled their hearts out before they come to you) they want answers to hard questions. Plus you aren’t all things to all people. If their particular department does not kick in (libraries in the corporate world are cost centers)you don’t have to provide support. Unless their boss knows your boss and your life will be hell if you don’t answer. Corporate politics are akin to living in a third world country.

    Public libraries, you try to educate the public and be all things to all people. You are funded by the public so you damn well better provide equal service.

    And so on.

    These are just two differences. One could go on and on.

    p.s. How come the AL is not a mover and a shaker? I think that some bloggers here have a better marketing plan to get noticed.

  6. will manley says:

    AL, I just don’t buy your argument. Library going is a habit. School and public libraries are the gateway into that habit. They are foundational. Young people who get into libraries and develop a respect for their potential to educate, enrich, and inform, will be more effective library users in college and in their jobs. I totally agree with the library ecosystem concept. I am premising my argument on the assumption that academic librarians and special librarians benefit from a clientele base that understands libraries and respects them. This is why your post from this past Monday was so important. You emphasized the benefit of children’s services in your post. The spin off from that emphasis is that we have a much better chance of developing lifelong library users and supporters. I know this sounds idealistic and a bit sappy, but at heart I think most librarians are idealists. This is a noble calling that we are in and it starts with getting ‘dem kids interested in school and public libraries. ps…so sorry you were not named among the 2011 movers and shakers. My advice to you, AL, is to wait until next year.

  7. However... says:

    Having worked in both a public and academic library, I would agree that the missions are very different. However, one similarity I’ve noticed is the fight to remain relevant (whether it be campus-wide or community-wide). I can’t speak for special librarians, but my guess is they’re having trouble maintaining relevancy too, since they tend to get laid off pretty often (particularly in corporations). But I do agree with the AL that public libraries have the squeakiest wheels in the bunch.

  8. some librarian says:

    Will, I have to disagree with you. I’ve worked academic and public libraries and there is a *reason* you don’t see a lot of crossover with people moving from one area to the other and back. They are simply different jobs (not better or worse mind you, just *different*).

    The truth is, public libraries don’t do much in the way of educating people in library research. The few times I’ve tried, I’ve been met with open hostility. At *best* you help them get fond memories of the institution as an enjoyable and useful place. I am becoming increasingly convinced that education is no longer part of my role as a public librarian and instead, I’m just the organic form of Google.

    On the other hand, academic librarians *are* educators. Back in the day, I would sit down with people in both classes and one on one and help them learn to help themselves. It was much more satisfying to tell the truth.

  9. Caroline Sisneros says:

    I need to pipe in here and agree with Will Manley. There is a library ecosystem. I have only ever worked in academic or special libraries (and I did not choose to do so because I failed in another career). I have always emphasized to my students that their access to the information rich environment of the university will be cut off and it would be a good idea to learn what resources are available from their public libraries. With the cuts in funding to school libraries I spend a lot of my time trying to train them that there is research beyond Google. It would make my job a lot easier if they had been exposed to the concept a lot earlier in their learning lives. In addition when school libraries are cut where do their parents take them, public libraries. In a corporate environment it would be much easier to convince a manager the worth of the corporate library if that manager began with a basic respect libraries in general.
    On a related note, I have always perceived an underlying lack of respect on the part of some academic librarians for public librarians. Many academic librarians don’t need to use their public libraries so they don’t know what goes on. I suffer no such delusion. One, one the hardest working and most professional librarians I know is a branch manager for LAPL. Two, while unemployed I started volunteering at my local public library. I continue even after a year of employment because I feel I make a real contribution to my community.

  10. Nicole Fonsh says:

    “What does some librarian in a corporate library or a law firm or the CIA or any number of special libraries around the country have in common with a public, school, or even academic librarian.”

    I am a very new special/corporate librarian (less than a year, in last class of my MLIS degree). However, I take issue with this comment and post. Yes, we all may have different tasks and responsibilities throughout our work day and in our professional positions. But aren’t we all here to help and serve our users, patrons, customers, etc and to assist in the access to information no matter where we work? Yes, I do not have to deal with e-books and publishers regularly in my role at my job as a researcher. Does that mean, then, that I should not care at all about how it affects the profession I’ve chosen to become a part of? I think not. I went back to school after years in the corporate world and I was excited to become a part of this profession; a profession that encompasses all sorts of users, information and services. I may work in a corporate library but I have been actively involved in several public library campaigns along with some of my corporate librarian co-workers. Why? Because I care about the profession and its future. Otherwise, what is the point? We cannot and should not live in a bubble. And I would imagine we all have something to teach each other; from budgets to vendor relations.

    My sister is a kindergarten teacher and my father is a retired high school social studies teacher. Yes, their day-to-day roles are incredibly different. But do they still have engaging and thought-provoking discussions about the teaching profession? Yes! And when times are rough for teachers, they are rough for all teachers. I think this can be said about librarians as well. Because if there is not a united front and the public isn’t made aware, by us, of how vital ALL libraries and information professionals are, then maybe this degree wasn’t worth what I thought it was.

    I’m happy to be thrown in the “idealist” camp with Will.

  11. WI Librarian says:

    “we don’t put up cheesy “Read” posters in our libraries”

    We have those in my university library.

  12. GingerInGeorgia says:

    I agree with Will, and with the go-getter librarian to whom you refer. I’d add that we’re all connected by information and a desire to facilitate our users’ acquisition and fair use of it. I don’t think people go into librarianship of any vein hoping to prevent people from discovering new things and encouraging them to plagiarize. We want to make information more easy to discover and use. We offer similar materials. We provide similar services. Of course public, academic, special, and corporate libraries have differences, but that’s one thing that makes our field so interesting. People don’t have to engage in ALA activities if they don’t care about the bigger picture of librarianship; as you pointed out, that’s what groups like SLA are for. I don’t think we do ourselves a service by compartmentalizing ourselves when we really have a lot to learn from one another.

  13. Danite says:

    Will,
    I think the longer you try to make the argument, the more damage you do to your point of view. If public libraries were so foundational and habit forming, so educational of the public, then the folks we see in special libraries, almost all of whom are well educated (in the case of my library, scientists of profound distinction) would be better trained and more in the habit of using a library. That they are not belies the argument that public libraries form a special class of priveleged libraries that serve as a model for all others.

    I would bet my eyeteeth that the lion’s share of users in my library were consumers of library services in their formative years, but they view the services of a research library in house in very different terms than the nirvana of browsing and finding that you believe to be typical of all libraries.

  14. will manley says:

    Danite, I’m reluctantly forced to agree with you. For a variety of regrettable reasons, public librarians abandoned the educational mission of the university of the people for an infotainment function. I have spent my entire professional career advocating for the re-birth of the educational purpose of the public library. But in my dotage, I’m pretty much resigned to the real possibility that public libraries will disappear before they recapture their seriousness of purpose. That doesn’t stop me from putting in my two cents whenever possible.

  15. Stacey Greene Wicksall says:

    We are all under the same umbrella. It is a profession called librarianship and, just as doctors are united by a Hippocratic Oath stating certain ethical obligations, we all share an ethical obligation to uphold the freedoms designated by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, a commitment to providing access to information services in a safe environment with high regards to the privacy of our respective constituents, and a responsibility to make the mission of each of our respective constituents (whether the constituent is a kindergarten student, high powered CEO, lawyer or college student) our mission. The details of the situations faced by the array of librarians may certainly vary; however, the ethics we strive to uphold and the way we struggle to maintain our ethical duties provide a common ground for us to discuss.

    The cliche, “the devil is in the details” could be creatively applied here. Let us not seek to divide and segregate ourselves from one another, but, instead, aim to relate, discuss and learn from one another. This will keep our profession strong, healthy and progressive. If, on the other hand, we opt to become isolated and uncommunicative in the name of pesky situational details, we may find ourselves standing next to one another in a long, snaking unemployment line.

  16. Randal Powell says:

    I think that AL is right in describing things as they are, and Will is right in describing things as they should be. I think school and public libraries “should” help to educate people to do academic-quality research by providing the equivalency of a library science research methods course – not a watered-down version either, the Masters course. This is especially true for school libraries, where they exist, because there would not be much use for them otherwise, would there?

    Such an education would help people in many ways, they could: create better work for college, conduct more effective research for business and entrepreneurial efforts, truly become self-sufficient learners, orchestrate cool conspiracy theories and write books about them (a personal favorite), et cetera. I think that if a serious effort were made to provide this kind of heavy-duty research skills education, then use of all libraries and public databases would go up and our economy would become much healthier; people would have more confidence in educating themselves and starting their own businesses.

    I think that I can generalize and say that people are not being given such an education in school libraries, public libraries, most academic libraries, and even some library science schools. This is something that would make a big impact on library usage, the local economy, and the intellectual life of the community, and it would not cost hardly anything to implement.

  17. Disgusted Librarian says:

    I have worked in both academic and public libraries and have long since given up on any Utopian view of libraries, or librarianship in general. The simple fact is that most of the librarians I have come into contact with decided to become librarians because they did not know what else to do with their lives, this being especially true of public librarians. What we all may have in common as librarians is a general love of books(in whatever format), information, and organization. I agree that the tragedy of the public library is the foolish trend to be an infotainment center. If we are honest, public libraries have generally (not always) had a cushy ride on the public dime. I am afraid that those in positions of leadership have forgotten the number one rule of the public library: know thy patron body. Instead, they have become wrappped up in repackaging themselves, reinventing their purpose, becoming a business – don’t forget to say customer instead of patron-and cozying up to the political and economic big wigs. On top of that, with all that easy public money coming in, the techno babes have plenty to indulge their love of fun technology stuff, all the while telling us how important social media and transliteracy is, and how soon the death of the book will come so get those e-readers ready. Their mission is one of self-indulgence and self-importance. In truth, public libraries are a luxury. They are institutions begun by and funded by the public they serve. Librarians within them should be more than glorified sales clerks or smiling customer service reps. That is exactly how they will lose their relevancy. A good public library IS many things to the public it is supposed to serve. It is reader’s advisory and reference, children’s services, bibliographic instruction, and research help. It should provide access to enjoyable popular reading, classics, the most credible reference sources, databases, research materials, popular electronic media, etc. It does not provide these things on an academic level; the purpose is to provide these things to the general public it serves. Above all, a public library should be exceptionally careful with that funding – not treat it as a golden river that will never dry up. Public librarians are the guardians and supposedly intelligent collectors of the goods that the public pays for. I, for one, could care less what HarperCollins decides to charge. The policy seems fairly reasonable. They have a right to profit. They also provide jobs and do actually have to pay the writers of the books. Is HarperCollins given the right to come in and scream about our weeding policies? Perhaps public libraries get so much attention because they serve the general population, not a specialized segment. The saddest thing I see about some public libraries today is their seeming lack of respect for or understanding of their own uniqueness and purpose, and the fact that so many in positions of leadership take it for granted that the public gravy train will always be there.

  18. Britt says:

    One thing I think we should look at in this is the MLIS. In the practicing world of librarianship, I do find that public libraries do have a sort of privilege, possibly because we are (by nature) much more accessible (and therefore much more visible) to the majority. However, in my MLIS program, public librarians and youth services librarians get the short end of the academic stick. We have amazing adjuncts, but if you want to do any kind of public library or youth research, you’re hard pressed to find faculty to advise on that work. So while I feel that public libraries get a lot of attention, public librarians do not, and we are facing serious deprofessionalization because of it. If it’s the librarians that make the institution (and I believe that we are), could this professional disconnect contribute to why some don’t see the potential in cross-advocacy? This post seems to reflect that, as it really focuses on the differences in our jobs as a barrier to working together.

    I wrote a student’s perspective on big tent librarianship over at Hack Library School, where you see a “representative group” of (future) librarians coming together on all kinds of issues through posts and comments. It seems we consider our job differences assets and resources to offer one another towards improving our shared services and core motivations. I see a lot of people trying to break the professional disconnect down in the MLIS before it even starts. I think that’s going to be a large part of making big tent work.

  19. Alesia says:

    I differ on some points. I’ve been academic librarian at public research universities for twenty years and now I’m at a community college. I took a work-styles assessment the other day (part of my required online training at my job) and I’m labeled an “idealist”. So it’s probably not surprising that I think that many librarians likely hold the value that access to information is important.

    All of the public universities I worked at provided community access (they were all federal depositories which has this as a requirement)so if a public library closed, it’s possible those libraries would see some increased demand for access (whether or not they would provide it is questionable).

    I think most universities do have a board of trustees so someone at the university is dealing with them though it may not be the library administration. My community college has a Board of Trustees that makes final decisions about budget, hires, etc. I wouldn’t have my current job if the Board of Trustees voted had voted against it (agreed that this would be unlikely in most cases).

    Lastly, I followed blogs and Twitter accounts of public librarians. I do learn some tech tips but I often take away sparks for bigger ideas especially in the area of outreach, library advocacy etc. (e.g as a director I have to advocate for library resources to the college administration).

    I also have a world view that is more focused on whole “ecosystem” rather than the individual parts so I often find/see connections among seeming unrelated things. So I tend to see where the similarities are rather than the differences.

  20. Jenny Baum says:

    I realize this isn’t the main point of this article, but I wanted to point out that NYPL partners with Hathi Trust:
    http://www.nypl.org/press/press-release/2010/05/24/nypl-takes-giant-step-preserving-its-digitized-collections

  21. Fat Guy says:

    If we all have so little in common, how in the heck are we having this conversation in the first place? The two easiest ways to discard an argument are 1) apples and oranges and 2) straw man. This post has a little of both.

  22. Jake says:

    I’m not going to get into the commonalities that all librarians share, mostly because Andy Woodworth does a good job with that (http://agnosticmaybe.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/harpercollins-and-big-tent-librarianship/), but also because I can see both sides of this debate. I think that the Annoyed Librarian’s piece makes some good points about what separates academic, public, school, and special librarians, among others from archivists, and I saw these divisions from the start of my MLIS program, which were reified in the courses offered. So the following is done in the spirit of “If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.”

    What if the next move of other, more academic, publishers is to limit access to e-books in a way similar to HarperCollins? What if an e-book could be accessed or viewed, analogous to circulating, as I see it, 26 times? What would happen to our distance learning program then? What about e-books placed on reserve to be accessed via course management software? A class of 20 students wouldn’t last half a semester under that regime, and thus the library’s budget wouldn’t, either. So you see, Annoyed Librarian, we’re all in this together, we’re not so dissimilar. Let’s hang together instead of separately on this issue.

  23. ItGirl says:

    I have a MLIS and work in a revenue-generating department that has no books. I used my MLIS background to convince my employer I could be a great researcher.

    I often find I have more in common with business professionals than other librarians.

  24. Tim says:

    First they came for the public libraries and I didn’t care because I wasn’t a public librarian…

  25. will manley says:

    Tim…brilliant.

  26. The myth of big tent librarianship

    so you all say that most librarians share common interests. but the truth is that it’s a dog eat dog world when it comes to getting recognition from our masters and getting treats.

    just take a look at the “ebook bill of rights,” itself. you have 2 librarians who post this in February, but you also have these people, http://readersbillofrights.info/, who apparently have been doing this for a while, “we’ve been working on a similar project that we call the Readers’ Bill of Rights for Digital Books http://readersbillofrights.info/ which covers many of the same issues that you’ve outlined above.”

    where’s the tent?

    why don’t the current writers join under the tent with these other writers to create one single movement? would the current team defer back to the others? or even go back to http://waybackmachine.org/20010101000000*/http://www.geocities.com/bibliofuture/ … 2001 for an early attempt at ereader independence?

    the point was that the moment was right to get noticed and some people took the advantage. but I’ll believe in the tent when I see the tent. but right now, I see at least 2 tents.

    all libraries are the same when it comes to survival. we share one tent when the weather is good and money is plentiful, but when the funding is short and the weather is threatening, we’re all running out to find our own shelter. watch to see what happens to the tent if S. 493 is passed and hundreds of libraries need to replace that money.

    you could also cite the ALA. and you can ask 10 librarians about their opinions of the ALA as a big tent, and you would get 100 reasons on how it fails.

    I’ve never seen any library tent. We have local communities that refuse to pay taxes for public library services but their residents still come over to use the libraries. I have peers who refuse to share their work with other librarians, forcing us to recreate the same work all over gain. libraries and librarians are in competition for resources and for recognition.

    there is no tent.

  27. Alan Thibeault says:

    Big tent? I dunno.

    I became a librarian because I admired the potential nobility of service it offered and viewed it as a good fit for my interests, life experience and personal convictions. I never saw librarianship simply as a place of refuge for folks who failed in other endeavors. There are folks in the profession who fit that stereotype, but to broadbrush an entire profession (or portions thereof) in that way is, I believe, mean-spirited, and narrow-minded and incorrect.

    I worked for fifteen years in a special/corporate settings and swore for years that I’d never “go public” – who wants to deal with homeless people, the sanity-challenged, people trying to learn how to use email for the first time, story hours, surly middle-schoolers or hostile high school kids?

    But after fifteen year I moved, voluntarily, into public librarianship in an attempt to find a way to use my work/life experiences and skills in a way that more directly benefits the public good. So far so good. It’s not necessarily better where I am now, but it’s better for me.

    I’ve struggled with funding in both settings as a result of the economy. I’ve seen staffs dwindle in both settings even as workload increases. That’s today’s reality; get over it and deal with it. Things change and those who cling stubbornly to old ways get washed down the river.
    I do not nor have I ever had anything against special/corporate librarians. I enjoyed the work for the most part while I was there. I was simply burned out on my workplace and my role in it. I wanted to do something different. The change was more about me than about special/corporate vs. public.

    As a special/corporate librarian (a newspaper librarian, actually), I was struck by the differences between myself, my work, and that of other special/corporate librarians. There seemed to be less commonality among SLA members than I’ve found between the work I do now and that of even academic or school librarians. (Perhaps part of the advocacy problems facing SLA today are a result of the varied work settings and missions among those who make up its membership – now THERE’S a “big tent” for you).

    But is one type of librarianship (special/corporate, public, academic, school) BETTER than the other? That’s really a totally objective call and one that is determined by who we are as individuals at any given time.

    Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time as a LIBRARIAN and have found rewards in both the public and corporate sectors because…well, I like being a librarian. No matter what setting I work in, I find satisfaction in helping people find the information and resources they need (for whatever reason they need it). Maybe we just need to acknowledge that THAT’s the big tent. And if you are unhappy there, you’ve probably chosen the wrong profession.

  28. Jen says:

    Wait… AL… what kind of magical university do you work at that doesn’t have children or drug addicts? Do you not have frat boys?!

  29. Annoyed Librarian says:

    I prefer not to think about the frat boys.

  30. Kanchou says:

    I am a county law librarian, I am a member of AALL, but NOT ALA or its state chapter by choice.

    In the AALL, most people seems to derive their own self-worths by the user-bases they are associated with. When people are introduced to each other, you can always see people calculate the differenence in the USN&WR ranking(Academic law librarians) or AmLaw/Vault ranking (Private Law Firm librarians) of their institutions. When I told them I am a county law librarian, other law librarians often have to ask me how many other librarians works for me or the size of my budget so they place me in that scale.

    In theory, I should have more in common with the public librarians, and I did made an attempt. But I had found that for advocacy purposes, I am usually on the opposing end with either ALA or it’s local state chapter’s position.

    It seems ALA government relation/advocacy are usually staffed by the “Social responsibilites roundtable/SIS” types. Rather than advocating for librarians/library staffs’s work condition, career sastification, etc. They actually often acted in oppossite direction. I was even told once that they felt their role is to advocate for their vision of library services, not necessary the due paying libraries/librarians.

    For example, I had give up having our state library association to advocate for adoption of mental health reform so more people will get proper treatment:

    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Kendra%27s_Law

    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Laura%27s_Law

    Talking to people in the government relation/advoacy committee, you got a impression that any reform of the mental health issue is going to result in the bad old days of institutionalization. When the realities is that the status quo is inhumane, and benefiting no one.

    I often feel that I get more benefit out my association with our local chapter of National Federation of Independent Business, NFIB, than any professional library association, especially during the last year’s ADA amendment process. I feel I got timely updates, explainations, advices, and sincere lobbying attempt to find a more balanced approach early in the legislative process.