Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

National (Public) Library Week

Here’s one of my favorite comments from last week: “I am outraged and demand to see more mockery of special, corporate, military, government and school librarians. And archivists.” I could probably get a whole post out of this, but I’ll just pick a quick category of librarians to mock: law librarians. Most of them are just glorified research assistants for law professors, even though they have the same advanced degree plus an MLS. How did they let that happen?

Instead of going on, I will present more evidence for my thesis about public library privilege.

No, I’m not going to talk about the guy who said “libraries don’t make sense anymore,” but who then made it clear that by libraries he meant only public libraries. Yeah, thanks, we know. That’s all anyone ever means! Maybe he’s right. In fifteen years, public library buildings might be like phone booths are today. Everyone will have abandoned them, and librarians will  be answering reference questions from their sofas at home.

This is more about public library privilege and how the ALA fosters it, which explains why most of what the ALA does is completely irrelevant to large numbers of librarians and why PLA is mostly redundant.

This week, in case you have been living under a rock or were busy hanging on the edge of your seat watching the ridiculous budget drama in Washington, is National Library Week, or rather, National (Public) Library Week, since absolutely nothing about this week has anything to do with any other type of library, despite the rather pathetic attempt to claim otherwise.

For example, take a look at the National Library Week “Proclamation,” which is designed for public officials to proclaim. I’m sure thousands of public officials took them up on the opportunity, though I could only find evidence of four online: a state library board, a university, a community college, and one town. This proclamation is sweeping the nation!

WHEREAS, libraries provide free access to all – from books and online resources for families to library business centers that help support entrepreneurship and retraining;

Pretty obvious right from the start that this applies only to public libraries as a category. Sure, some academic libraries provide free access to all, but many don’t. No school libraries do, and only some special libraries. Nevertheless, we then find this inclusive statement:

WHEREAS, our nation’s school, academic, public and special libraries make a difference in the lives of millions of Americans today, more than ever;

Awww, ALA, do you mean the rest of us work in libraries, too? Or are you just trying to get the support of the 92.5% of libraries that aren’t public libraries and 68% of librarians that aren’t public librarians? (Calculated from various ALA Fact Sheets.)

WHEREAS, librarians are trained professionals, helping people of all ages and backgrounds find and interpret the information they need to live, learn and work in a challenging economy;

This might apply to most libraries if the phrasing was changed to “live, learn or work.” Otherwise, not really.

WHEREAS, libraries are helping level the playing field for job seekers, with 88% of public libraries providing access to job databases and other online resources;

Public libraries again.

WHEREAS, libraries are places of opportunity providing programs that teach all forms of literacy, promoting continuing education and encouraging lifelong learning;

Still mostly public libraries. Academic libraries (3% of all libraries) and school libraries (81%!) don’t promote continuing education. They promote education.

WHEREAS, in times of economic hardship, Americans turn to – and depend on – their libraries and librarians;

Well, some Americans turn to — and depend on –their public libraries.

WHEREAS, libraries, librarians, library workers and supporters across America are celebrating National Library Week.

Yeah. We’re having a huge party in my library. Woo hoo.

NOW, THEREFORE, be it resolved that I (name, title of official) proclaim National Library Week, April 10-16, 2011.  I encourage all residents to visit the library this week to take advantage of the wonderful library resources available @ your library.  Create your own story @ your library.

The ALA has an unnatural relationship with the At sign. That’s all I’m saying.

The National Library Week “events” are mostly public library related as well, except for one applicable to most libraries, and one that doesn’t make any sense at all. National Library Workers Day (tomorrow) is applicable to most libraries. Academic librarians love library workers, because without them we wouldn’t be able to have so many coffee breaks and conferences. Someone has to make sure the work gets done while we sip lattes and discuss the latest ACRL report.

But National Bookmobile Day? Do we even have bookmobiles anymore? It turns out we do, and I sheepishly admit there are more bookmobiles in the US than I realized, 930 as of 2008. There were also more bookmobiles in my state than I realized, since I’ve never seen one. Over 10% of the nation’s bookmobiles are in Kentucky for some reason. Maybe Kentucky should build some more libraries.

And Support Teen Literature Day? The always enthusiastic YALSA folks have compiled 38 different ways to support teen literature, and my library will be doing none of them. I see a lot of teens, but they’re too busy reading for required courses and hooking up to read books for teens.

The most bizarre is considering April as School Library Month to be a National Library Week event. We could make one of those Venn diagrams that instruction librarians used to be so addicted to and show that set A (the month of April) can’t be contained within set B (National Library Week).

Let’s reverse it instead. National (Public) Library Week should be merely one event during School Library Month. This is both more logical and more important than the reverse. Why more important?

Partly because about half of all librarians are school librarians, which makes them the largest majority. Mainly because it’s school librarians, and not public or academic librarians, that have really been under siege, and that was happening before the recent recession put so much pressure on state and municipal governments. It’s been happening for decades.

School librarians seem to get little respect, and they always seem to be among the first to get cut when school systems have budget problems, and school systems are always having budget problems.

So if you really want to support something, skip National (Public) Library Week. The public librarians can mostly take care of themselves anyway. Do something for School Library Month. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what you should do, since the AASL isn’t as creative as YALSA at coming up with celebratory ideas. I plan to sit in a very small chair and read a book, which is what I used to do in my school library.

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Comments

  1. will manley says:

    AL…I agree with you about the importance of school libraries. For me they were a refuge, but that was back in the 1950s. Somewhere in the mid 1970s school libraries morphed into “media centers” and they have never recovered their prior importance as an educational resource.

  2. Montano says:

    You’ve done it. You’ve opened my eyes. I am a public librarian. I thought all us librarians were in this together. It never occurred to me that there was inequality and privilege in our own community. So, it’s a little disturbing to discover that public librarians are the Americans of the library world. Doh. I read the industry news so I knew that school librarians have been getting the shaft for a long time but I didn’t have to worry about it b/c I was safe in my job. Thanks, AL.

  3. Wishes she had gone to law school says:

    “Most of them are just glorified research assistants for law professors, even though they have the same advanced degree plus an MLS. How did they let that happen?”

    Do you see how much money they make?! Without the crazy new-lawyer hours. Just the crazy lawyer money.

    But I’m a public librarian, and we can’t afford to pay our staff or buy books, let alone order all of ALA’s fancy posters and geegaws to celebrate National Library Week.

    I have more important things to do than sit around an proclaim how important I am.

  4. Legal Beagle says:

    Sounds like someone is cranky in her/his ivory tower.

    I have worked as a law librarian for the past 20+ years and have yet to see a law professor at our law firm, much less one doing glorified research.

    What do I see?

    I see senior partners who want information yesterday, if not sooner.

    I see my JD, along with my MLS, and BS in engineering being tested every day because requests are vague and lawyers don’t have time for you to ask for clarification, that is your job, you figure it out.

    I see that if I give incorrect or late information, it can mean a deal loses millions of dollars, or worse case, an innocent person will not have justice served. And what comes with that, a pink slip. Tenure? bwaaaa haaaa haaaa haaaawwwwwwww. I guess in academia, poor information just leads to a student getting a C instead of an A.

    On the other hand, I get paid very well and it is an extremely satisfying job. Once you get used to the stress.

  5. Melissa says:

    The at sign thing needs to be done away with. I’m getting sick of seeing it in non-humor capacities.

    Kentucky (I’m in the Western part of the state) is in need of libraries. I think Livingston county is building a new public library, maybe? There are some counties on this end of the state that refuse to build libraries. There are also several counties that are cutting school librarians.

    I’ve never been fond of national whatever weeks. I think people should be paying attention to the important bits all the time. But those tiny chunks of caring make people feel special, so who am I to take away their happy.

  6. Randal Powell says:

    So how good of a job are these school libraries doing? After 13 years of using school libraries, and receiving lessons from school librarians, how capable is the average person of high-level library research? After 13 years, they should be really good at it, right?

    Those of you who work in an academic library, ask random students what an index is and how they would use one to conduct research. Ask some other easy questions.

  7. de la Tour d'Auvergne says:

    “I am outraged and demand to see more mockery of special, corporate, military, government and school librarians. And archivists.” Yeah, like AL or anybody who comments on here would ever know or care enough about military libraries even to mock them.

  8. Kanchou says:

    First, I am a county (public) law librarian. And we certainly are not anybody’s research assistant.

    Second, most academic law librarians are also law school professors in their own rights. For example, this gentleman’s title is Law Librarian AND Professor of Law

    http://www.law.yale.edu/faculty/BKauffman.htm

    It’s quiet common for academic law librarian to teach classes beside just legal research.

    Third, county (public) law libraries are certainly seeing additional influx of patrons due to the economy. And court librarians are also telling me that they are seening different kind of workloads even if they don’t open to the public.(And many court libraries are opened to the litigants, if not the general publics.)

    http://www.lb9.uscourts.gov/directory.php

    Fourth,
    “Do you see how much money they make?! Without the crazy new-lawyer hours. Just the crazy lawyer money.”

    http://www.aallnet.org/products/pub_salary_survey.asp

    I know everything after 1997 is member only. But you have to take my word for it that it didn’t get raised that much since then.

    Fifth, one thing I like about law librarianship is that we are willing to hold each other accountedable. At AALL national and local chapter meetings, I had seen law firm librarians hunt down academic law librarians to give them some “constructive feedbacks.” i.e. “I have this summer associate/new associate who took your legal research and writing class, and him/her is deficient in abilities to do this and that ….” Much more rare, but I had seen it happen before, court librarians give feedbacks to law firm librarians for poorly researched briefs submitted by “your attorney.”