I’m glad the tenth anniversary of 9/11 fell on a weekend, so I didn’t have to write something about it. If people found references to tornadoes offensive, I can only imagine the apoplectic whining a post on 9/11 would draw out of some people, no matter what I said.
A drinking companion suggested I declare this Banned Bloggers Week, the motto being “Intellectual Freedom is Our Greatest Asset (Except When It Is Offensive).” If we start banning blogs, the terrorists have already won!
What new can anyone really say about 9/11, anyway. The death and destruction, the waste of lives and money cause worldwide by 19 terrorists and the U.S. response to their actions is mind-boggling. It’s depressing if you think about it, so I suggest you don’t think about it.
Instead, think about something much less serious: striking librarians! Last week librarians and archivists at the University of Western Ontario went on strike. They were even marching in picket lines and blocking traffic, because nothing gets people on the side of strikers like having to sit in a traffic jam caused by a picket line. And here I thought Canadians were supposed to be so nice.
The dispute is over pay equity, as explained a couple of weeks ago in an LJ article about the then-impending strike. It seems that the UWO librarians and archivists make 12-15% less on average than comparative positions in other libraries throughout Ontario, the number of librarians has been shrinking, and positions are being filled with limited term staff.
For you public librarians, this kind of thing is not at all atypical in academic libraries these days.
From the news article: “During the strike, all campus libraries will remain open. However, some reference services may not be available, the university said.” And from the LJ article we learn that while the library will remain open, “some subject-specific reference services may be unavailable.”
Considering that one of the problems, according to the union, is “the reassignment of librarians into fields in which they are not specialized—for example, assigning a science librarian to the humanities library,” then the lack of availability of subject-specific reference might not be a bad thing.
As an aside, if the library is really assigning science specialists to humanities jobs, that would have to be a first. Normally, it’s the other way around, as the scientifically illiterate English and History majors who become librarians end up having to do science reference.
But leaving aside that problem, let’s look at the strike from another perspective. Take a look at this article on What Students Don’t Know, which made the rounds of academic library news a couple of weeks ago.
It reports on a two year, five campus study of colleges in Illinois. Basically, the study found that in general college students are terrible information searchers and that they have no idea what librarians do or how librarians could help them. That’s the kind of thing lots of librarians already knew, but now academic librarians have a study to cite, which always makes them feel better.
Which brings us to the question, what if librarians went on strike, and no one noticed (I mean, aside from the annoying picket line)? It could be that the students at the University of Western Ontario are much better informed than the students in Illinois, and it’s definitely true that librarians draw more attention to themselves on some campuses than on others.
However, it could also be the case that most of the students at UWO don’t use the librarians, like most of the students on every other college campus. Academic librarians have long complained that they are an untapped source of research help for students, and most of the academic librarians I’ve known really, really, really want to help the students. Yet somehow most students seem to get by okay without their help.
Librarians always play second, or even third fiddle to professors, but the last few decades have shown that professors are expendable. Up to a certain level of instruction, they can be swapped like widgets for cheaper substitutes.
Librarians, it would seem, might be even more expendable, not because they don’t do good work, but because nobody knows what work they do. An administration dedicated strictly to the bottom line might not want to come to terms with librarians. It might be able to point out that students are still doing the same sort of bad research they were when the librarians were around.
If striking librarians fell in the forest, they might not make a sound. If you’re a striking librarian, it’s something to think about. Maybe even if you’re not.