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Is Tech Support Professional Work?

From Alaska, we get another depressing article on library woes, which asks the question, "Are local libraries in process of checking out?" Yes, that’s bad, but at least there’s nothing in the article about librarians breaking out of their shushing stereotypes.

Library branches have cut back hours. The city has to choose between closing the library some or firing firefighters or something worse. Times is hard.

The article does a pretty good job of laying out the issues, which is surprising in a news article about libraries. We hear nothing about stereotypes or the librarian shortage. Two things stuck out for me in particular. They’re not related, but I want to mention them anyway.

First, there was a statement by the Anchorage Mayor, Dan Sullivan, quoted in a portion about computers in libraries:

"That the public library should be a place where the poor and unconnected can get online, learn and hunt for jobs is a common thread throughout national library associations.

But not everyone agrees that Anchorage libraries need to be that.

‘We are the most wired community I think on the face of the Earth,’ Sullivan said. ‘Between all the different cafes that offer wireless … I don’t think that the library is particularly the only source that people might have for Internet access. There’s lots of choices out there.’"

Not being one of the poor without computer access myself, I can’t say what it’s like. But it seems to me the Mayor is missing the point here. He’s confusing access to wifi with access to computers. "The different cafes that offer wireless" aren’t going to be of much help to someone who can’t afford a laptop computer. How typical is it to have a laptop, but not be able to afford Internet access?

I would think it’s not that typical, but the Mayor is still missing the point. If there are poor people who have no computers and use the library for worthwhile purposes, then those people are harmed by library closings, regardless of the abundance of wireless cafes. It’s like telling the students who need books for their school research that Amazon has all the books they need.

Second, from another point of view about computers in libraries comes this bit from one of the librarians:

"Librarian Stetson Momosor works at the Muldoon branch. Her job has changed a lot since she began working in the Anchorage libraries 20 years ago. ‘It’s a fine line in terms of trying to guide people to the technology that they need,’ she said, ‘and yet, we’re not equipped, I’m not equipped, to be a troubleshooter on a computer.’

She thinks the libraries need to hire more tech-support staff."

Leaving aside the fact that "Stetson Momosor" has got to be one of the coolest librarian names I’ve ever heard, what are we to make of her problem? The twopointopians and oneohonions would say that she’s an inferior librarian because she doesn’t have the adequate techie knowledge to help her patrons. They wouldn’t just come out and say it in public, of course, because they’re so nice and all, but they think it and say it in private.

But why should librarians have to become computer troubleshooters at all? Or explain the latest shiny gadgets? Why shouldn’t they just hire tech support people and let the librarians focus on issues of education, literacy, and access to information? Why waste all this time promoting skills to professional librarians or believing that this is some necessary librarian skill set? Why not just hire some teenagers for $10/hour and be done with it?

At my library, we have tech support people to deal with these issues. If my computer at work breaks down, why should I spend my time trying to troubleshoot it? I have other things to do, so I call in Janie the Tech Wiz and she fixes me right up. Likewise, if I need any fancy gadgets for presentations or traveling or whatever, I simply pop down to the basement and have Q outfit me. I don’t need to spend my time thinking any more about it. I have people to do that for me. They do an outstanding job, and I’m very appreciative of their work, but they aren’t librarians.

We must ask, is tech support professional work at all? Does it really require an MLS to do most of the things that the twopointopians and oneohonions think we should be doing?

I’m not trying to defend librarians who refuse to learn anything new. That’s what my critics sometimes claim I do, but they only think that because they can’t read very carefully. I’m defending librarians who have a lot of other worthwhile professional things to do. Why should every librarian learn the skills of relatively low level tech support people? Is there no division of labor in libraries? Or do the proponents of tech mastery think there’s nothing else going on in libraries?

At what point do librarians just say, you know what, I have higher level things to do. That college kid we hired can fix our computers and show the elderly how to use a flash drive. If we followed this model, we could cut a lot of professional librarians from libraries. We don’t need professionals with master’s degrees clearing printer jams and explaining how to fill in web forms.

Momosor is quoted at the end asking, "What is our core? What’s our purpose?" She’s talking about libraries, but we should also ask this of librarians. What is it to be a professional? What should the concerns of professionals be? And just how professional are some of the things librarians are being asked to do?



  1. AL, what is our core, what is our purposed?

  2. Comment system should allow preview and editing. Try again…AL, please, what is our core, and what is our purpose?

  3. brettlwilliams says:

    Yeah, AL, stretching this one a little here. Some libraries can hire extra staff to do tech support like this, and it can be shunted off to a student or a IT support staff member.

    Some of us have institutional and financial barriers to this stuff too, so while ‘I have more important things to do’ works for management, a lot of us just have to step up to the plate and learn this stuff.

    Some of it’s inane, and some of the usage is inane, but people use this stuff and they expect us to know the answer. If all we can do is do the xkcd ‘Tech support’ google tech support, then that’s what we can do.

    So no, tech support is not professional work, but information is. We may not have the tech skills, but we should be able to find the information… and when you have the info, the tech skills follow.

  4. As librarians, we make a distinction between showing someone how to save to their flashdrive and explaining the difference between J-Stor & Google, but library patrons don’t. We do need to unjam the printer and explain how to sign on to the queue for the umpteenth time because every 7th question will have something to do with education, reference or literacy. A tech worker MIGHT be just fine at this…but they don’t HAVE TO be. And what are the chances of the tech worker refering a “should I cite this blog in my paper?” to a librarian…and if s/he does, what are the chances that the library patron is going to step away from the computer and go to the librarian’s office to talk about it? Pretty slim. The more time we spend in whatever broom closet is designated as the office, the less sense anyone has that we’re doing anything, and the more likely we are to get bumped in favor of an additional firefighter.

  5. LibraryStudent says:

    Aren’t library jobs eventually going to turn into computer help jobs anyways? Librarians might as well start beefing up on computer know-how now— it may mean their job in a few years.

  6. hinterlandlibrarian says:

    “Is there no division of labor in libraries?”
    Answer: Less and less. The “more mature” I get, the more I see division between “professionals” and “other staff”, between “experienced” and “newbies”, and between MLS and that newfangled MLIS. I still believe our ultimate goals and values remain the same; we just see the way of getting there differently. And we have forgotten how to communicate with each other with respect about the things that matter instead of the things that separate us. Forgetting to communicate about what matters will ultimately be the downfall of the “profession.” I just don’t want it to happen in the next 11 years. Let me me out first.

  7. another f-ing librarian says:

    i remember the days before computers were available for use in libraries. as a patron back then, i remember being *very grouchy* about how slow the publication process was. sometimes i needed really up-to-the-minute information. but publishers were slow, and libraries slower. *that’s* one of the things librarians should be focusing on in the tech world. not downloading plug-ins and taping down network cables so people don’t trip. and not explaining that the library does not have their gmail password. figuring out scope, quality, and update frequencies of electronically-accessible resources take time. connecting those resources to people who would find them useful takes even more time; showing people how to cite electronic resources, and providing access takes more time yet. i’d even go a step further and suggest that it mightn’t be bad to *have* troubleshooting skills; but perhaps it ought not to be the librarian’s job to apply them, except in an emergency. librarians do have *lots* of other, information-related things they could really be doing instead.

  8. I think you have two different points here, but they are not mutually exclusive. One: yes, libraries need to have computers so that patrons without them can stay informed and competitive in a modern world. Two: someone has to maintain these computers and in a perfect world there would be tech staff to do that. As AL has noted (ad nauseum) this ain’t no perfect world. Budgets get slashed, part timers don’t get benefits, paras make less than those with an MLS. I think the real question is: what librarian would be crazy enough NOT to be as tech savvy as possible??? In what universe is being less skilled a benefit?

  9. In my work situation we have periodical staff meetings where “Quality – I own it” is the central theme. An important component of quality service, as ADMIN sees it at least, is that all staff does whatever they can to meet student needs. If it happens that the person with the specialized skills is not available to do the job, we must step up and do it. If we do not know how to do it, we are expected to learn how to do it. If this trend continues, all staff will know all jobs, and at that point, it can be whittled down, as financial pressure to cut more staff mounts, and since there are no specialized positions, they can focus on cutting whoever makes the most money, if there is no seniority rule in place.

  10. Most professionals have to adjust to increasing technological demands with fewer support staff; that is the way of the world. It’s important that libraries have computers…librarians work in libraries…therefore librarians work with computers. I don’t get the disconnect. Teachers are expected to learn to use new tech products (like smartboards) and also maintain them. Might not be fair, but it’s true.

  11. Librarymans says:

    LibraryStudent commented: “Aren’t library jobs eventually going to turn into computer help jobs anyways?”

    Ah, how original! The same mantra that has been going on for the last 20 years. If that is your opinion, just quit now and save your job for someone who actually cares.

  12. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Reader – “In what universe is being less skilled a benefit?”

    Ummmm … way too many library universes? Please. After 30 years I have worked with far too many unskilled-never-going-to-get-skilled librarians. That trend continues. The incompetent (young as well as old) remain in their positions due to seniority, tenure and administrators who do not manage effectively. Being unskilled can be a mighty positive trait in LiberryLand.

    For all of you who work in a library where everyone is competent, skilled, whatever … I am green with envy.

  13. Librarymans,
    Because library student thinks that librarians may eventually be viewed as computer help jobs (if they aren’t already) that means he/she should quit and save the job for someone who cares? Seriously? It has to be all or nothing? Why can’t he/she think that and still be a caring librarian? Life is not always one thing or another, all black and white. I think that’s the problem with the blog: you’re either with us or against us. The world is full of gray areas, librarymans. People are complicated. A thoughtful, dedicated librarian can be a techie and still hold their head high. Open your mind and maybe read something other than this blog and you’ll see that all the library students and techies of the world are not out to get you.

  14. Techserving You says:

    I don’t have time to write a lengthy response right now, but I want to point out, for the umpteenth time, that not all librarian positions have something to do with reference or with dealing with the public at all. I spend most of my time in my office (which actually is quite huge and a corner office with floor to ceiling windows – but no, I don’t have an assistant to give me foot massages and bring me martinis) so patrons might not know much about who I am or what I do, but I am not in danger of being cut. My actual librarian work does take up all of my time (rather than 1/7 of my time) and I don’t have time to clear printer jams. If I happen to be wandering the floor and someone asks me for help with something like that, I direct them to ones of our hourly part-time workers. Providing quality service to patrons doesn’t mean wasting the time of the person who happens to be closest to the patron. Also I am curious if this cross-training idea extends to all areas of librarianship or just the areas that most directly impact patrons.

  15. DLJ and Techserving,

    There is a big problem with removing specilizations and cross-training not just across but up-and-down. If I am am Jack of all trades, can I be a master of any? It also de-professionalizes the part of library work that is professional to try and train everyone to provide whatever it is that the student needs.

    There is a reason that most professions have specialists, people who are more trained than others in particular areas. It is a more efficient use of the organization’s time and money. The patron should ultimately be better served when we apply our resources most appropriately to allow librarians time for the things that we can’t delegate to those with less training, knowledge, or pay.

    Libraries seem to have the idea that to be fair to our workers we need to say that everyone can do everything.

  16. Dances With Books says:

    AL,you actually give some credit to the 2pointotpians. In some cases, they will actually flat out say that a librarian is inferior if they are not tech gurus and repairpersons as well. All one has to see is their constant lists of “librarian competencies” and such to get a sense of it.

    You do make a point. When do the librarians say that yes, we can let the tech guy/gal who was hired to do, well, the tech stuff and support? In my academic library, even though it is Backwater Rural Branch (BRB) U., it is not the most efficient use of my time if I have to be troubleshooting a computer when I can call the technician (whom I love and appreciate, and who we are losing and not replacing, but that is another story). And no, as you point out, this has nothing to do with me not wanting to learn. If I wanted to be taking servers apart and repairing computers, I would have learned that trade, gotten Microsoft certified, so on, and likely be earning more money. And I would not be a librarian. It does not make my techs any less professional.

    As for the “there’s wifi in Starbucks,” that is just so wrong I don’t think I can add to it.

  17. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    For the most part MLIS holders should not be front line staff. There are exceptions to this rule. MLIS holders are managers and should be training the paraprofessionals on all these tech issues. Also you been implementing and teaching tech/computer literacy classes for patrons. I have 4 full timers and 2 part timers who have all learned how to do most of these skills. I back them up when they can not. If your paraprofessionals cant do the basic trouble shooting required by patrons then you as the MLIS holder are doing a poor job selecting and training staff. The exceptions to the rule are complex ref questions, and staffing issues.

  18. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    “MLIS holders should not be front line staff”

    “MLIS holders are managers”

    No, librarians shouldn’t work circ or info desks. Reference desks, yes. Classrooms, yes. That’s front line, Post Postmodern, and those shouldn’t be “exceptions.”

    As for the second comment … gotta disagree with you. The best managers I’ve come across in library work were those without an MLIS. They relied upon their professional staff to do the Liberry Stuff and they did wonders with budgetary matters, outreach, raising the library’s visibility and, most important, managing people. Most librarians aren’t managers – they’re worker bees. If I’m supposed to be a manager, where are my downtrodden minions?

  19. anon.librarian says:

    Is mending a book professional work?
    Is unclogging a toilet professional work?
    Is shoveling snow professional work?
    What about shelving or emptying a book drop?

    No to all, but when someone’s got to do it and no one else is available, we have to get the jobs done. I draw the line at puke patrol though.


    NotMarianTheLibrarian commented:
    For all of you who work in a library where everyone is competent, skilled, whatever … I am green with envy.

    I work in a library where everyone is competent, skilled, whatever. All two of us…it’s not easy being green.

  21. Librarymans says:

    reader commented: “Open your mind and maybe read something other than this blog and you’ll see that all the library students and techies of the world are not out to get you.”

    Hmm… let’s look exactly at what LibraryStudent said: “Aren’t library jobs eventually going to turn into computer help jobs anyways? Librarians might as well start beefing up on computer know-how now— it may mean their job in a few years.”

    My complaint here is that this is not a developed, reasoned argument. The person simply states that this is so, in their opinion, and therefore we should just follow along. If they truly believe that, what is the point of joining the profession, as apparently we are all a bunch of monkeys with nothing better to do than surf Google and regurgitate digital drivel?

    And please don’t coddle me. I actually am the “tech guru” in my library system. The fact that I have no patience for inept students that think librarianship is about to turn into a computer support job says nothing about my capability with technology. It simply points to the fact that there are plenty of useless generalizations that people in this profession cling to that do a disservice to the rest of us.

    I, in fact, agree that a smart librarian would work hard to learn the various new technologies and keep up with trends (note – I did not say blindly embrace everything through the pipe as the panacea to librarianship). Librarians who do not are choosing to put themselves at risk because if I had to choose between firing a good librarian and a good librarian who could also troubleshoot a network, the answer is a no-brainer. This doesn’t mean I would hire a high-school student for their supposed L33T tech skills over a librarian.

    Librarianship is more than Google mimicry. Collection development is more that just Christmas-treeing an order form.

    Please stop reducing the profession to a half a dozen trite and untrue cliches.

  22. “But why should librarians have to become computer troubleshooters at all?”

    Because that’s what the market demands of us.

    “At what point do librarians just say, you know what, I have higher level things to do. That college kid we hired can fix our computers and show the elderly how to use a flash drive.”

    That kid is making more than you are, and that’s because his skills are in more demand than yours are.

    Sheesh. What is it about librarianship that causes people to think that they can determine what is and what is not their job?

    You go where the market is, or the money dries up. That’s life. Deal with it.

    I’ve got a master’s degree, but that doesn’t entitle me to demand a certain job or a certain salary. My market competitiveness determines my ability to command either. And nothing else.

  23. Techserving You says:

    No 6 – I agree with you. I wasn’t agreeing with DLJ… I was wondering if at his library they were TRULY cross-trained in all areas, or just in the basic public service areas – circulation, computer problems, basic reference, etc..

  24. One of the citizens responding to the article asked whether tax payers should pay for poor to have access to computers. My answer is a resounding yes! Do you want to lower unemployment? Improve the quality of person in your community? They need access to a computer to find a job, get a better job or improve their lives. This in turn improves the community the tax payer lives in and turns the newly employed person into a tax payer.

  25. 44-year-old library guy says:

    My, we are a feisty bunch.

    There certainly is a difference between what’s required and expected to get the job done, when comparing different size libraries.

    Someone posted –
    Is mending a book professional work?
    Is unclogging a toilet professional work?
    Is shoveling snow professional work?
    What about shelving or emptying a book drop?

    Hey, I’m with you on that. I work at a small library. There’s three of us – total. And other’s might know all the tech. stuff – but if it comes down to keeping a good librarian willing to clean toilets and shovel snow, and keeping a good librarian with tech. knowledge, but won’t get dirty – I keep the first.

  26. TheIlliterateLibrarian says:

    I once worked in a small public library where everyone did everything because there were SO FEW OF US. It saved me time, energy and hassle if I could figure out what was happening with a patron computer after-hours and not have to call our tech person, who was the defacto tech person when the real tech person was downsized. This woman got angry and frustrated with everything that was outside of her training, because her training with computers was so narrow. I became a librarian to get out of the tech services field, but it’s seriously easier to troubleshoot a network problem at 7pm than to call someone who a) might not be be home, b) might not be able to fix it and c) is going to freak out about it either way. Here’s the caviat, though–I have a clear idea of my computer skills, and I know when I may be able to figure something out, and where the point is that I’m just spinning my wheels and guessing. If I get to the point where it’s not productive for me or the user, I pass it up the food chain. Then I get out of spinning my wheels, and the patron feels like their problem is being passed to someone more knowledgable (whether this is the truth or not).

    I also agree with those that point out all of the non-professional tasks public librarians (and even some academic or “special” librarians) face. No, I wasn’t expecting that 2 year old to have a “diaper failure” all over the children’s library while I was pulling books for a program. But guess who delt with the biohazard? Yeah. You guessed it. Or the thre-legged dog running loose in the library, or the kids knocking down parking signs outside? At the same time… I’d rather deal with that stuff myself than leave it to a clerk or page who may not exercise the best judgement when dealing with those sorts of issues. That’s just life. I’d love more time to focus on actual professional issues, but wishes and fishes and all that.

  27. Fancy Nancy says:

    “And just how professional are some of the things librarians are being asked to do?”

    I’d say not very professional. I’ve often wondered why I needed a master’s degree to direct people to restrooms.

  28. AlwaysWanted2B says:

    I continue to be amazed how extreme some people become. Should librarians have some basic computer skills and be able to help patrons with some trouble-shooting problems – Yes, definitely. Do they need to have extensive computer skills rivaling those of the geek squad – No. Is it “professional” work – who cares! I have an MLS and when I see a piece of paper on the floor of my library I pick it up. I don’t need my degree to do that, but it needs doing.

  29. Anch Librarian says:

    I work in the library system featured in the article, and I can tell you that the vast majority of librarians on the front lines here face some challenges with regard to technology that may be unique. Our computer network is run by the city’s IT department, not library staff. As such, they have locked down a lot of the functionality for the computer applications we have available for the public to use for fear of dastardly things happening to the network. This results in staff trying to find work-arounds to get things done because the applications don’t work they way people anticipate they will. We have one IT person assigned to the library system. If we run up against a situation where a patron is trying to do something completely reasonable that has been disabled or made more difficult by IT, we may or may not be able to help them with it at all, much less in a timely fashion. You can imagine how frustrating that can be for staff who want to be able to help, and no amount of training can get around the roadblocks if only a system administrator can bypass that block.

  30. It goes on! We’re still arguing whether librarianship (what a silly word – can’t we professionals come up with something better?) is a profession. When I think of other professions: medicine, law, engineering, etc., and what you have to do scholastically and post scholastically to get into them, I can’t help but think how easy it was to get into my library master’s program (one of the better rated schools mind you) and how unchallenging the course work. I have it! What we are is ‘vocationalists’!

  31. ChickenLittle says:

    The idea that MLS or MLIS grads should be “managers” is crazy! Having librarians hiding in corners somehow “managing” the library is an antiquated idea that needs to go away. If we want to save libraries and librarianship, get out there and engage your patrons in whatever manner they need! We need fewer managers and more professional front line staff to be truly professional!

  32. Post postmodern Librarian says:

    I never said the MLIS manager would be in a dark corner as managers. They have duties, they do training they do planning, they do backup for difficult situations, they order, they do outreach, they insure the library is functioning. But if you think there should be three MLIS at 40K a piece sitting on reference desk 12 hrs a day fixing pen drive or making email accounts you dont understand how to allocate resources or manage.

  33. ColdLibrarian says:

    Anch Library has it exactly right. I also work in this system. Bottom line, even if a librarian has awesome tech skills, you still need proper tech support. You can’t know everything. Our library system, due to previous library budget cuts, lost its entire automation department within the library, so the municipality gives the entire library system one computer technician. One, for five locations. Yes, librarians do need up to date tech skills-to a point-but can we also reasonably expect to be fully trained computer techs (for all hardware, printing and connectivity problems), software troubleshooters and installers, etc? There are other degrees and training that go with that. And librarians can fill other meaningful roles in the community that techs cannot. And at least in our system, there are certainly not 3 librarians sitting at a reference desk all day. We’re lucky if we have time to answer real reference questions, they (and the rest of us grunts) spend so much time trying to override our antiquated computers and helping people to print on antiquated printers, we don’t actually get to sit around fixing pens at the reference desk.

  34. I say whether you’re professional or para-professional, be willing to do whatever is required or expected of your position at the time or in the future, for the purpose of making yourself more involved and useful and therefore less expendable. When I was promoted from Associate to Librarian, I went from civil-service to at-will employment, so when I was asked to take on Building Coordinator duties as well, I said “Heck yes, I will look out for your clogged toilets and dead light bulbs!” There of course comes a point on a librarian’s career path where these added responsibilities are indeed below our pay-grade, but there are levels of professional librarianship where a little IT work doesn’t hurt at all.

  35. You would be surprised at how many people come to the library with $1,000 laptops to use our WiFi! I always thought if you could afford a computer you could afford the monthly internet charge. However, our public school district issues laptops to all high school kids and they may not have access at home. Thusly they turn up here to irritate the hell out of me by giggling and watching YouTube. Uh, I mean they come here to look for information and educational resources.

  36. I am a public librarian in a large urban area. I do everything from showing someone how to set up an email account to informing them that a flash drive exists and they should buy one to basic computer instruction. From time to time, I have to help the Windows Vista users connect to our wifi; this is the most challenging computer problem that I ever have to solve. . No – I don’t repair hardware. However, I can direct people to places that do repair hardware. I find it hard to believe that this Alaska librarian ever has to do anything more complicated than what I stated above.

    I have found that recent MLIS graduates seem unprepared for the reality of public libraries. Yes, I do outreach, speak at community meetings, and manage staff. I also spend much time doing public service and clean up blood, breaking up fights, etc. It seems to me that recent MLIS graduates cannot cope with being asked to do anything other than create a wiki post. I have one staff member who feels that her MLIS means that she never has to answer a telephone.

    In light of recent financial problems, I think the Alaska librarian should be happy that she has a job and take advantage of working in a library to read some basic computer books.

  37. Dr. Pepper says:

    Man, this article, and some of the responses are a good laugh. Are tech support positions professional? No they aren’t all professional – but then again a lot of MLIS positions are not professional.

    Having worked in departments such as circulation, systems, and reference – and not having an MLIS (I do however have an MS, an MBA and an MEd) I find it laughable that Post Modern Librarian, and other people like PML view people with an MLIS as “managers”. The MLIS does not prepare you for management and as a matter of fact most MLIS managers I’ve had were pretty awful.

    Should librarians know how to log onto the queue, clear paper jams and all that nice stuff that tech support does? Well, if you are talking about level 1 tech support (paper jams, rudimentary help, etc), then yes of course! Patron questions are not one-offs. Once you help them out they do want to know the difference between JStor and Lexis Nexis, and how to cite the damned thing they find. What are you going to do? Have them bounce between you, tech support, you, and tech support again? That’s just silly. Do MLIS reference folk need to know how to resolve DNS errors so their ILS can be accessible off campus? of course not – this is an issue for the computer pros (maybe someone that also holds an MLIS).

    What’s the point here? I don’t know – I lost it somewhere in my rant ;-)

  38. Mr. Tadakichi says:

    I can’t believe you guys are arguing about this. If a patron asks you for help (plugging in a flash drive, helping them get their laptop onto the WiFi, unclogging the printer) YOU HELP THEM. That’s what you are paid to do. They’ve paid their taxes and you owe them the best service you can provide. If it’s something out of your experience, well then, get the person who knows how to help.
    But to stare down your nose at a patron and say “I don’t do that. I am a professional. I have an MLS.” is bullshit. Pure and simple.
    But maybe it’s because my other job is in the private sector, where customer service isn’t beneath anyone, millionaire boss on down.

  39. The point of this blog is that AL stares down her nose at EVERYTHING.

  40. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Post postmodern Librarian – have no idea where you work but our students expect top-notch help at the reference desk all the hours we’re open. Sometimes the work is pretty dreary – how do you print? where is the bathroom? etc. But if you’re doing the job properly, you’re making eye contact with students as they walk in, greeting them and creating relationships. At which point many of these youngsters will begin to fill your reference desk hours with intriguing problems, requests for oddball information, and expanding your horizons.

    I’ve found over the years that those librarians who tried to stay in an office or off the floor were for the most part the least effective on the staff. Lots of instances over the years of people who got the MLIS and then realized it was really a service, people-oriented profession, not a “worship the books, caress the books” profession.

  41. @NotMarian – that last sentence of worshiping and caressing books conjured up images of the Golem in Lord of the Rings saying “My precious!!!” lol :-)

  42. Post postmodern Librarian says:


    Wow you pegged me right thanks for not paying attention to me. I guess you cant train your staff to do the same thing? Its impossible to have paraprofessionals smile and greet people? Its impossible for them to answer reference questions? I am sure they will be glade to hear they are useless or inept. Now as I said the reference librarian or even reference librarian in charge for the shift is available to backup up the paraprofessionals when needed. Lets not forget most people dont like to use the reference desk, its why you have tons of web2.0/101 librarians twittering messages saying come see me. This means you will only get the odd ball question once in a few days. To me the idea of having tons of MLIS librarians sitting at a reference desk waiting for the odd question is a waste of money and devalues the role of the of a degreed librarian. Your right we have to build a relationship but that starts long before people come to the reference desk. If you wait for that then your waiting for a pink slip. I am not sitting behind my desk with books. I work right with my staff and other departments both in the library and within the rest of the City to get the job day. I am so well known I cant go anywhere in this City without someone saying “Hey I know you, you work at the library” I am more like Gandalf thank you

  43. LibrarinAK says:

    As yet another librarian from Anchorage, I feel that some of this debate is missing the point of my colleagues’ earlier posts. I am perfectly capable of doing any of the PC troubleshooting we’re all talking about and I suspect most of my coworkers are as well. The problem here lies with the way the library system works within the municipality. I have watched library computers I could easily fix in the “real world” sit idle for weeks while waiting for our lone tech guy to enter the appropriate administrator password or access that computer from the server. Short of learning how to hack into the system, which I suspect would get me fired, I’m forced to apologize to the patron whose computer is malfunctioning and move them to another one while I pray that rebooting (literally my only recourse) will fix it.

    We no longer have an information desk, and we’ve been directed not to touch patron hardware, so if I can talk them through their problems while also making PC reservations, directing people to the restrooms, answering reference questions, and troubleshooting our own computers, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

  44. Tech work is the real professional work in any library these days. The work of the so called professional librarians is merely clerical and of a support nature.

  45. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    “‘We are the most wired community I think on the face of the Earth,’ Sullivan said. ‘Between all the different cafes that offer wireless … I don’t think that the library is particularly the only source that people might have for Internet access. There’s lots of choices out there.'”

    Maybe not…But it’s FREE!!!!

  46. Our problem is that we have so few staff that we become torn between being available at the information desk for library questions and providing extensive help at the patron computers. Which takes priority?

  47. I have an MLS and work in a medium-sized suburban public library. My job title is Technology Librarian. I am absolutely a professional, and what I do is professional-level work, including tech support.

    I resent the statements about tech support being “low level”, or something a high school kid could do. That’s demeaning and insulting! Do you have any idea what you have to be able to learn and know to maintain a library network? I got my MLS in 1991, so it was entirely classroom instruction. I got fed the material, did a little research, and wrote papers. It was easy! Most of what I do on my job I learned the hard way, either “on the fly” or from finding someone who could answer my questions.

    We are large enough to have enough staff to cover the reference desk while I help patrons at the computers. I don’t just unjam the printer and show patrons how to use a flash drive, either. I’ve taught complete beginners to use computers, helped patrons fill out online job applications, and tried to coach patrons in learning the skills they needed for projects that were entirely beyond their capabilities. I spend about half my time as a reference librarian, too, so I see all sides of library work every day.

    Don’t blanket me with the pejorative-sounding term “twopointopian”, either. I do a lot more than set up Twitter or Facebook accounts. And by the way, I’m over the age of 50, so maybe you think I’m not capable of learning anything new. Think again.

    The computer system is an integral part of the services we offer, and the patrons recognize that. When are the “professionals” going to catch up?

  48. No 6 commented:

    “There is a big problem with removing specilizations and cross-training not just across but up-and-down. If I am am Jack of all trades, can I be a master of any?… There is a reason that most professions have specialists, people who are more trained than others in particular areas. It is a more efficient use of the organization’s time and money. The patron should ultimately be better served when we apply our resources most appropriately to allow librarians time for the things that we can’t delegate to those with less training, knowledge, or pay.”

    I agree completely!!! I work in a regional library in a large system. There is no distinction between Librarians and Library Assistants other than “Librarians have more latitude to make more decisions”. As a Reference Librarian, I spend about half my day at the circ desk checking out books to patrons. I may work on the YS desk or check in/sort books, and then the remainder of my time is spent on the Ref Desk or programming. What I have seen first hand is that while the “every-one-does-everything” approach makes it much, much easier for managers, it does not provide library patrons with the best service. For example, an intricate circ problem takes ten times longer to resolve than in past libraries where I worked which had a specialized circ staff. And on the bottom line, it is really efficient to pay a professional Librarian’s salary t someone to check out/check in books for hours each day? I have no problem with helping out in other departments, but it seems to me that this should be the exception, rather than the norm. Otherwise, the “jack of all trades master of none” analogy is very appropriate. In today’s ever changing technological environment, we really need to be “masters” to be able to provide people with the guidance they need.

  49. I see this thread is old, but I am highly offended of how you said “At what point do librarians just say, you know what, I have higher level things to do.” and anything, which was a few times, of similar relation.

    First off.. bud, you need to realize the kid that shows elderly how to use a flash drive, is not the same as a professional that when something REALLY happens with your network, requires a, well professional. It actually puts me on the offensive by saying Librarians will never require the amount of skill or certifications that a real IT professional would require of even himself.

    IT isn’t about flash drives, or does he know how to restore Windows. It carries into network congestion, security leaks, registry and service edits and deployment packages, all the way to basic programming and database skills. IT Professionals, not little service assistants, may some of the best trouble shooters under pressure if there ever was one, with problem solving skills that are unmatched by the average human, the naturals at least.

    Choose your words wisely Librarian, or people will profile you as a “Your late 10c fee, please” cranky, old Librarian just like they had in school. There are level’s to all professions. That is all.

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