Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

Inside Higher Education published a story on changes at the University of Oxford’s libraries, implying that the changes were treating librarians like baristas, who apparently all wear “large bright badges offering help to customers,” at least in the UK.

(Is that an American thing as well? Whenever I see baristas I’m often still a little groggy waiting for my caffeine that I don’t notice.)

Here’s the description of the offensive badges:

Gill Evans, emeritus professor at the University of Cambridge and a regular user of Oxford’s collections, noticed at the start of term that staff in the reading rooms with “embarrassed expressions” were sporting big yellow badges saying “ask me.”

“They were issued with T-shirts too, though a fair few of those could be seen discreetly hung over the back of chairs.”

Big yellow badges distinguishing some people from others? I seem to recall that was a favorite tactic of a certain dictator a few decades ago, although not even Hitler added insult to injury by making the people wear special t-shirts as well.

That the librarians had “embarrassed expressions” is subjective, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

However, according to a spokeswoman for the library, those librarians aren’t embarrassed at all.

But the library responded that the badges and T-shirts were not worn under duress and were designed to “enhance the visibility of staff” and aid “apprehensive” users. “We wanted to find a simple way to reduce that apprehension and encourage readers to seek assistance when needed,” a spokeswoman said.

So the library responded that the librarians liked the badges and t-shirts. Of course the library responded that way. How else would they respond? That someone had ordered the librarians to wear badges in public regardless of what they wanted? Does that “we” in “we wanted” actually speak for the librarians?

Somehow I doubt it, at least not for all of them.

No library has ever forced me to wear a badge or a t-shirt or a nametag or anything like that, which is probably a good thing for all of us because I wouldn’t do it.

And why not? Because I’m a professional librarian and not a fast food worker or a store clerk. I don’t wear uniforms, name tags, bright badges, or t-shirts. If I wanted to wear special badges I’d go work at Walmart.

Partly it’s a matter of environment. When working at an academic library, I might start wearing badges and t-shirts when the teaching faculty started doing the same thing. When I see a professor wearing a bright yellow badge saying, “Ask Me about Physics!” then I might relent. But probably not. Regardless, it would never happen.

More importantly, it’s a matter of status. Who wears badges, name tags, and uniforms? People who have no autonomy or control over their own work, that’s who. Soldiers, store clerks, and other people whose work is directed and controlled from people above them, people who ultimately don’t wear badges and uniforms.

People who wear special badges and t-shirts rarely choose those items for themselves. The items are chosen for them by other people. Professional indignities, from wearing nametags to working in cubicles, are almost always forced on people by other people who don’t have to endure them.

On the other hand, maybe I’m making too big a deal out of it. Just because I have a shred of dignity and don’t want to wear bright badges or special t-shirts doesn’t mean other people feel that way.

So I’ll put it to you. Bright badges? Special t-shirts? Does your library force you to wear these? Would you want to wear them? Would you feel embarrassed or silly doing so?



  1. This is a pretty strange place for Godwin’s Law to show up. Lots and lots of people have to wear name tags, and they’re not all peons. I wore a name tag as a teacher, and the administrators wore them too. When I someday get a job as a teacher librarian, I will likely wear one then, too. My friend is a manager at an electrical engineering company, and he wears one. My dad is a manager–with a real office–at AT&T, and he has a uniform.

    And I’m betting that this was a start of term thing–something to help students and other patrons get a feel for who’s who. It is really, really not a big deal. On the first day of school, would I be willing to wear a t-shirt that says “I’m the school librarian”? If I thought it would help my students, yes.

  2. …Coincidentally, I had a hankering to watch “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” again – which I will gladly borrow from my local library branch: takes to long to load off the internet.

    It has to do with American fear of the intellectual, of being set apart from the crowd in high school. And I’m not surprised the British also want to adopt badge-wearing and t-shirts even though their scholars conquered whole nations during their study-breaks.
    Same old thing of leading horses to water. There will always only be a few thirsty horses out there at any one time and no amount of badge and t-shirt wearing will change it. Your deconstruction is on target.

  3. I’ve had to wear name badges at every library job I’ve ever had over 20ish years, from page to library director, but they were usually subtle and unobtrusive.

    I’ve never liked them, but I didn’t think they were a big deal either.

  4. Library Spinster says:

    I’m supposed to wear a smart card badge on a lanyard. The picture on the badge no longer looks like me (I was sick last year and lost a ton of weight). The only thing it’s good for, for those of us in the branches, is that waving the card will get me into the comparatively nice staff ladies’s room when I have a meeting or training at Central.

  5. As an academic librarian you must enjoy the luxury of sitting behind your desk and not being bothered all day. For those of us that actually work with people, who may not know how to identify staff members and who occasionally need to be asked to change their behavior, a staff badge can be valuable. Congratulations for writing the most elitist and insulting entry I’ve ever read in this otherwise insightful blog.

    • Agreed. I am glad to wear a badge at work–I’m proud of what I do and I enjoy helping people. The kids all know my name. Never once have I felt demeaned wearing an id badge for the library. If you hate wearing your ID tag then hand it back, I bet you there’s a thousand people waiting for your job that would have no problem wearing it.

    • Oh, spare me. These “you’re being so elitist” posts I work with the poor and impoverished, I do real work crap is getting old. You’re post in and of itself reeks of arrogance and an elitist attitude because you’re putting more value on your work than ALs.

      That said dressing professionally instead of in jeans and a t-shirt identifies you as a staff member just as well as your Walmart badge that you proudly wear.

  6. Public Librarian says:

    I see both sides of the argument. This isn’t the first time AL came off as sounding elitist. I wear a badge 10 hours a day. It’s on a lanyard with keys to certain staff only areas in the library, the badge has my first name and the library logo on it. It’s not demeaning. It would be nice if it were more than colored copy paper laminated and hung on a lanyard. I want a brass badge with my first initial and last name or maybe just my last name on it.

    I work public desks for 75% of my work day and it is helpful to have a badge denote who is staff and who is not. I also like wearing a fun, brightly colored t-shirt in honor of our Summer Reading Program.

    Last Saturday I proudly wore a Santa hat while working a community holiday event. :) Guess I’m really slumming it huh?

  7. When I worked as a library assistant I had to wear a name badge. When I became a full-time librarian I stopped wearing it, because I felt the same way you do. The librarians and paraprofessionals at the public library I use do not wear name badges, and patrons seem to find them just fine. It’s pretty easy to tell who’s working and who’s not. To reference Office Space, I don’t feel dignified if I have to put on 37 pieces of flair every morning before coming to work.

  8. radlibrarian@gleamingthecube says:

    I wore a badge at all five of my academic jobs. As a special/corporate librarian I do not have one since the clientele is stable. If I could weasel my back into academe without having to move my family, I’d put on as much flair as a TGI Friday’s waitress if need be. I am almost half kidding when I think there should be a job exchange program. I know there must be an academic librarian in my area wanting to give the corporate life a shot.

  9. I work at a public library. I wear a shirt and tie with a lanyard (that has my libraries acronym on it) because it holds my keys and flash drive. I’ve forgotten my keys at home before and I haven’t been chastised so I’d say it’s not required.

    I think the fact that I’m wearing a shirt and tie in a public library (considering we have patrons walking around in pajamas) kind of gives it away. I’ve also worked in an academic library and you could say the same about that. Dressing professionally gives patrons and students the cue that you’re a librarian without having to dress like a McDonalds employee.

  10. cranky librarian says:

    First work badge I ever had to wear was at a library at a major public university. So AL?

    Actually, I wear my badge now as a petite serviette when eating my lunch. I promptly remove it when I leave the building – and take off my parking pass.


    • Public Librarian says:

      I get the same question! Instead nodding and asking “May I help you?” politely; I’d like to say WTH??? I’m dressed professionally, wearing a badge and there’s a large sign hanging from the ceiling over my desk which says ‘INFORMATION’ Duh!!! LOL

  11. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    It all depends on where you work. In an academic or corporate library there is not as much of a need to have some form of identification. In a public library setting having a simple ID on a lanyard with the organization’s name can be helpful to both the public and staff (especially in a large library — should this person be in staff only areas?)

    As for the yellow Ask Me badge — that’s just plain tacky. We got something similar years ago in the form of badge that looked like our library card. Few staff members wore it and for those that did, there was no uniformity on how their name was diplayed (written in marker, printed lettering, first name only, no name, etc.)

    Even with a badge I will still get someone walking up to the reference desk while I’m sitting under a big “Information Center” sign and be asked, “Do you work here?”

    • Public Librarian says:

      I get the same question! Instead nodding and asking “May I help you?” politely; I’d like to say WTH??? I’m dressed professionally, wearing a badge and there’s a large sign hanging from the ceiling over my desk which says ‘INFORMATION’ Duh!!! LOL

  12. HoosierHelper says:

    The phrase “academic library” seems to be thrown around all too often today to encompass any position related to higher education. While the statement is true, there is a big difference between a giant main campus library at a state university and a smaller specialized library that has a more intimate feel.

    For instance, if a feeble freshman walks into the main Wells Library on the campus of Indiana University, it can be overwhelming to the point of frightfulness. Maybe seeing a person with a name-tag, a clear marker of a person there to help, is all it takes to keep the underclassmen from bolting to the door to never return again…

  13. elena schneider says:

    I refuse to wear a badge and also do not expect my student employees to wear them. Not because I ‘feel’ we are above name badges, but because of people who took advantage of knowing our employees names and tricking them into some inappropriate things. Sexual harassment being one of the offensives, along with accessing records that only staff should have access to.

    If you don’t know if a person is an employee, even though they are behind a desk, or doing obviously library employee related activities, you can ASK. You don’t need a name badge. Now off my soap box….

    • One institution where I worked allowed you to have a name tag that just said the name of the library, if you were worried about the situation outlined above.

    • Library Spinster says:

      When they insisted on badges with our pictures on them, we were given the option of having just our first initial and last name. Out in the branches, it’s clear who’s staff and who isn’t, so the lanyard around my new has just the slew of keys to this that and the other, unless I have a meeting or training elsewhere in the system.

    • I don’t see how wearing a name badge leads to sexual harassment or being tricked into accessing records that should not be accessed.

    • I know at least one of my student workers was tracked down outside the library (luckily, nothing bad happened except a socially awkward encounter) by someone with her name and an online student directory.

    • That said, I’m not anti-name badge, I’m anti-full name on a name badge. First name or just an identifier of the institution is more than enough.

      I’m also not pro-name badge. I’m “meh” to name badges..

  14. Charming Billy says:

    Nothing wrong with badges. They’re helpful to patrons. Welcome to the real world!

  15. Charming Billy says:

    People who make a habit of standing on their dignity generally don’t have much to stand on.

  16. As a person who’s worked in coffee shops and box offices galore while in school, I’m finding this post pretty insulting. There nothing wrong with working at Walmart or as a store clerk, and there’s nothing wrong with the people who do. There’s nothing demeaning about needing money.

    I don’t particularly like wearing a nametag at work, but even if I was asked to wear a gaudy shirt, I wouldn’t think I’d have had it better under Hitler. Godwin’s law is something to be avoided.

  17. Depressed Librarian says:

    I think there are saner ways to address this issue. Insulting baristas and other hardworking folks isn’t helpful. Besides, aren’t bankers and lawyers and politicians–people with “status” who supposedly have autonomy and control over their work–expected to wear certain attire every day? And haven’t we all seen librarians wear goofy and inappropriate attire to work? It’s a multifaceted problem that could be discussed in a more constructive and positive way, even in a short blog post. This us-against-the-world attitude doesn’t help. Luckily for us, our users aren’t regular readers of LJ. Otherwise they’d wonder why so many of us are negative, caustic, surly, and unapproachable—and then we’d lose them at a time when we can’t afford to.

    • bflolibrarian says:

      This is not about insulting anyone. No one, not baristas, cashiers, or any other worker should be treated in a generic, commodified way. Unfortunately, this has been the case in the low wage service industry for some time and it is repulsive that it should now become more pervasive and effect educational and cultural workers as well. This is not about identifying a staff person to help you, which is a good thing and which can mean librarians wear librarian pins of some sort. It’s a about trying to model libraries after Barnes and Nobles or other chains, it’s about dumbing down an educational interaction and molding it into a consumer based model of behavior, which has nothing to do with learning or creating dialogues–the work that librarians are supposed to be involved in. “Ask me,””Satisfaction Guaranteed,” and other generic service industry slogans workers are forced to wear are dehumanizing, impersonal and ultimately without value to anyone other than to those who are trying to control others’ labor.

  18. As a public librarian working in an institution that has replaced full-time librarians with paraprofessionals and part-timers, wearing simple “Librarian” tags has allowed what remains of the librarian staff to identify and distinguish themselves with some level of pride(since many people who come into the library think everyone who works there is a librarian). These tags were hard won since many of the managing librarians did not want to offend the paraprofessional staff that was replacing and attempting to do the work that had once been done by librarians.

    On the other hand, prior to donning the Librarian identifier tags, all staff from page to manager, were told to wear bright red pins that said “Ask Me” or “Satisfaction Guaranteed” (prompting more than a few patrons to ask for medium rare burgers and other such food items). In this way, we could all be indistinguishable and then there would be no need for those uppity librarians with degrees and educations that you would have to pay a bit more for.

    So, as others have suggested here, it really depends on what the tag says. To be identified in a dignified way as a professional is a good thing, but to be forced to wear a generic one-size fits all slogan is quite another.

    • I find this attitude concerning paraprofessionals really offensive. We have many on our public library staff now with paraprofessional titles such as “Library Assistant” who have an MLS but have been unable to find a position as a librarian but want to work in a library, no matter what the position.

      In addition, I was a paraprofessional with a B.A. and a B.S while working fulltime and earning my Master’s in order to merit the elevation to librarian. The public does, indeed, consider all staff to be “librarians,” but this does not bother me enough to wish to have a nametag denoting my higher education and expertise. Our staff refers patrons to the librarians or paraprofessionals with an MLS whenever needed for in-depth assistance; and when those patrons return, they know who to ask for assistance.

      At one time all the staff had name tags, but the use of them has declined as people either lost their tags or “lost” them.

    • bflolibrarian says:

      What “attitude” regarding paraprofessionals? They are valued employees and have an important role to play. That role isn’t to be exploited and replace full-time experienced librarians, whether or not they have a degree. Because an MLS chooses to work (out of desperation or otherwise) as a clerk, all of us should pretend that the degree or the profession doesn’t matter and that everyone at a library does the same “service” work? What a handy way to cheapen and push down a profession that should be one of the most valued. This “attitude”is why we are where we are now.

      If there is no distinction needed and we all do the same job, why “elevate” to librarian at all? Perhaps for you it would be fine for all employees to do the same job, education or not. How this sets the bar high for librarianship I can’t imagine. Or maybe the profession means nothing to you and it’s OK that it should be more diluted and devalued than it has already become.

  19. I work in an academic library, but not in a public services position. However, I do shifts at the reference desk, and when I do, I put on my badge, which has my first and last name and where I work. Everyone in the university has the same badge, and generally those that work where there is public contact (information booths, service desks of various types, etc.) wear a name badge. I find the name badges are especially helpful when I have to attend a large university function, and I’m in room with lots of people I don’t know, and have never seen before. I don’t mind the badge, because I think it is helpful for students to know who is and who isn’t library staff. You can’t always tell by the clothing people are wearing. That said, I would draw the line at library t-shirts. I refuse to wear the tacky polo shirt with the university logo, because I don’t wear khakis to work, the only appropriate pants for those shirts. Ugh!

  20. Name tags can do a lot of good for an organization.

    I don’t know what the tags look like, but you’re probably right in the assessment of the bright overly large tags with a overused message coming off as unprofessional. I have seen some library tags that have been quite elegant and professional.

  21. At my first library job, I wore a photo badge, complete with first and last name. I covered up my last name, as the neighborhood wasn’t the safest, and several of our employees had already had stalker issues. One of my co-workers had one of those gigantic Census badges that she wore to do the same thing.

    My current job asks me to wear a name badge and not be without it, but I hang it off a belt loop and no one seems to care.

    The way I see it, it’s a nice feature for those who had a driving need to know the name of everyone they come across… but you don’t need to know my name for me to answer your question, so I’d be just as happy if you didn’t. (Also, it freaks me out when someone I don’t know and have never met before greets me by name like we’re friends.)

    • Public Librarian says:

      I have had this happen as well. It is very creepy. I don’t wear my badge all of the time and often it’s flipped the wrong way. When this particular patron started saying my name all of the time it was pretty creepy. I am not really into patron’s calling me by my first name like we’re friends. I have discovered recently that I think I’d be happier if I worked the public desk less. I like collection development, PR/Marketing, event planning and even teaching classes much more than answering *dumb questions, doing circ work or servicing the copier. I mean answering questions like, Can I get email here? How do you use the mouse? Can you fill out this job application for me? etc. I feel like an information waitress at times. Patrons have even snapped their fingers in an attempt to get my assistance.

  22. I Like Books says:

    Ah, get over it. Librarian is a customer service position, so if you’re not going to wear a badge, then wear a funny hat, or do SOMETHING so the customers can find you and be serviced. I thought librarians were continually wringing their hands because users don’t come to them for help– the first barrier to overcome is to identify the librarian! They can’t always tell just by looking at you, and not everyone is as bold as the stranger that asked me if I was a librarian (no, and I didn’t work there). These days it’s not as easy to identify the librarian as it used to be when you just had to look for the lady with her hair in a bun and reading glasses on a chain, so give them some help.

    No, dressing professionally does not identify you as a librarian. Librarians are not the only people that wear ties into a library. Even if librarians at your library all dress professionally, and they are the only people who dress professionally, the users won’t know that. Wear something that distinguishes you from the visiting businessman, business or law student, minister, professor, or fashionable janitor, like a badge, a t-shirt, or a funny hat.

    • bflolibrarian says:

      Librarians do have to be approachable (and perhaps wear or be near identifying signage) but saying they are merely in customer service positions akin to cashiers or waiters is ridiculous. That’s not saying anything against the hard-working people who do manual labor, and service industry work. But, librarians if they are doing their jobs correctly, are teachers, counselors, consultants, and professionals who create dialogues with those that have questions or needs of almost any sort. Many of us are public servants who do important outreach and educational work in our communities and to equate us with slogan-wearing retail or chain food workers does no one any good. If anything, the people who do have to wear these types of vacuous generic signage should be relieved of it and be given living wages, benefits and be treated like valued individuals rather than generic replaceable automatons who are expected to serve the rapid consumer at all costs.

    • bflolibrarian says:

      Oops, meant rabid consumer, not rapid.

    • I Like Books says:

      I said that librarian is a customer service position, and so it is. That’s really the only reason the position exists.

      If you think that means I said that librarian is “merely” a customer service position, or that being customer service means you’re akin to a cashier or a waiter, then readjust your attitude. Customer service doesn’t mean non-professional, it doesn’t mean that role doesn’t involve being a teacher or a counselor. But it does mean the customers have to be able to find you, so identify yourself.

      When I worked retail I did not at all mind having to wear a vest and a name tag– it helped the customers find me, and it was okay with me if they knew that I worked there.

    • @I Like Books – You clearly do not have any experience or understanding of the field, otherwise you would know that it is far from true that customer service “is the only reason the position exists.” Unless you think that teaching, consulting, preservation, outreach, (increasingly) network/systems, etc. fit into the customer service category. Maybe every job from garbage collection to surgery fits into that category for you or maybe since you “like books” and visit the library you think you know more about the history of the profession and its current state than you seem to.

      Further, if you read more of my comments you would see that I DO think that librarians should be identified as librarians so those of us that work with the public CAN be found and distinguished from other staff that might not be as suited to handle some of the more challenging questions.

      Perhaps certain patrons should identify themselves by wearing “funny hats” when they come into the library so we know that they might need extra help. You might consider this.

      Attitude readjustment? Librarians with attitudes rule!

    • bflolibrarian says:

      @I Like Books – You clearly do not have any experience or understanding of the field, otherwise you would know that it is far from true that customer service “is the only reason the position exists.” Unless you think that teaching, consulting, preservation, outreach, (increasingly) network/systems, etc. fit into the customer service category. Maybe every job from garbage collection to surgery fits into that category for you or maybe since you “like books” and visit the library you think you know more about the history of the profession and its current state than you seem to.

      Further, if you read more of my comments you would see that I DO think that librarians should be identified as librarians so those of us that work with the public CAN be found and distinguished from other staff that might not be as suited to handle some of the more challenging questions.

      Perhaps certain patrons should identify themselves by wearing “funny hats” when they come into the library so we know that they might need extra help. You might consider this.

      Attitude readjustment? Librarians with attitudes rule!

    • “teaching, consulting, preservation, outreach, (increasingly) network/systems”

      Three out of the five things you listed are directly related to customer service. You could make an argument that preservation (Who are we preserving things for? That’s right, patrons!), and networks (For patrons to have access to our resources, public computers, websites, etc.) are also customer service related. You are in the customer service field. Get over it.

    • @me – Sounds like you define everything as “customer service.” I guess you could say doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. are all in customer service since every profession has it’s “customer.” Or wait, maybe it’s because librarians are not considered professionals as a few here insist on maintaining. If they had their way we could just get rid of librarians and put in what, non-librarian specialists (with training of course, whatever this would be – not librarian training or you might have to call it a profession again – yikes)to do our jobs, or maybe robots.

    • I’m glad you said that Ben! Those are also customer services professions! You know the difference? They aren’t so insecure in their professional status that if you make that connection they don’t immediately lose their minds!

  23. When I started working at a public library we had to wear specific t-shirts on different days of the week. A local arts event t-shirts on Tuesdays, Summer Reading Program shirts on Wednesday, and Friends of the Library shirts on Fridays. It was awful. We also wore name tags every day. Eventually we got down to only having to wear SRP shirts, much to everyone’s relief. After a few incidents with stalkers, we got management to take our last name’s off of the name tag, but still had to wear them.

    I’m now at an academic library and we have name tags, but only wear them when we’re out in the community advocating for the library.

  24. SeanOfTheBookPeople says:

    We have them, but I dont wear mine. Since I’ve worked my position for so many years, People know me with or without it. And yes I dont like wearing it because it does have my name on it and I have been approached by more than enough strange people on the streets in the surrounding neighborhood that I happen to live in as well.

    A simple, unobtrusive and conservative badge is more than adequate. It should only have the library logo and the only name visible should be “Staff” and maybe the position of the staff person.

    All of this other stuff like “ASK ME!” shirts and gaudy badges are just the typical attempt to try to shoehorn the methods of a big-box retailer into a non-retail environment that far too many libraries are running to in order to try to make them, I suppose, seem familiar to patrons? Soon they will start making people wear uniforms, playing background music over the PA, and having a team cheer day or have the place open at 5:00am the day after Thanksgiving for “doorbuster” library deals.

    Nothing wrong with lighting the place up a bit, but a library is not a mall store.

  25. Frog the Librarian says:

    The last time I wore a badge was when I worked as a clerk in a bookstore. That was in my undergrad. As a librarian, I would refuse to wear one – you were right to point out that they imply lack of autonomy over one’s work.

    There is another academic library down the street from mine and the librarians there wear badges – but they are quite discreet and only used to separate them from other types of workers.

  26. justanartlibrarian says:

    I think we are confusing badges (aka security badges) with pins. I have to wear a security badge – as I couldn’t even get in the employee entrance without it. I can’t imagine any type of business or office space in my city not requiring that every employee wear one.

    I’m a museum librarian. My security badge has my name and position, but I wear it on a landyard and sometimes turn it around when I’m out of the library in the galleries and want to be left alone.

    Pins, like the ones described at Oxford, do recall retail jobs where some corporate office person – who has/will never step foot behind the cash register – has made a decision on what people who actually work the front lines should wear. It also recalls the restaurant workers and flair in the movie Office Space.

    Maybe the administrators at the Bodleian should wear them too. Maybe something like “Thank me. I’m the one who made them wear those Ask Me pins.”

  27. Since the name badge thing is obviously a metaphor of librarians’ professional insecurities…

    In a public library, what does your MLIS allow you to do that others cannot? Assuming the non-MLIS employee is properly trained…

    Not trying to be a dick, I would honestly appreciate some concrete examples.

    • bflolibrarian says:

      David, you can ask the same question of almost any profession, “what does your degree allow you to do that a trained ‘other’ cannot do?” Many paralegals do what much of what lawyers do, counselors do as psychologists, teaching assistants and teachers, etc. There is a path that anyone who is willing to put in the time and dedication can take if they want to become (and hopefully get a paying job as) a professional. Sure, there are bright people who may be able to do great work in librarianship and other professions without the degree. And there are lousy librarians out there. Does this mean we no longer should require a degree? It would certainly be handy to require fewer credentials and pay folks less. At NYPL and other places public branch managers no longer have to go further than high school equivalency if they have a few years of library experience. But, don’t we want to keep the bar up rather than push it down? The profession decides how to credential itself, and requiring a masters degree is perfectly reasonable, and I think desirable, for a public educator. It’s a path open to all who want to work toward it.

      For some reason, librarians themselves (as well as non-librarians) seem to devalue what they do more than the other professions mentioned. The attitude is anyone and their mother can do this, takes no special skills, as your question implies (though you do mention the non-mls should be trained. What would that training be if not the degree and experience?)

      The best public librarians are jacks-of-all-trades. A small sampling of what we do includes: keeping up on and utilizing the ever-expanding social medias such as blogs, FB, Twitter, web design (wordpress, joomla, etc.); having a solid working knowledge of e-readers and e-content; being able to search a plethora of online databases and catalogues, many of which have their own search mechanisms that may not be as obvious as plunking something into google; exceptional listening and questioning skills to help create dialogues with patrons seeking knowledge; be relatively well-read and educated to help patrons seeking knowledge; strong people and management skills; commitment to improving communities/lives; having the ability to embrace change and be innovative in the field (creating speaker series, writing reviews, coming up with creative programs for all populations, etc.); Public speaking ability; and I’m barely mentioning the traditional skills of cataloging, organizing, preservation, etc. that are still in play. This is in no way an exhaustive list.

      I hope that gives you an idea (and some concrete examples) of what we can and should be doing.

    • Eloquently put, bflolibrarian.

    • One of the public libraries I worked in had precisely one difference between a librarian with an MLS and a reference assistant with a bachelors – only librarians could make decisions on which books to order.

      Oh, and an actual honest to God MLS had to be in the building at all open times.

    • bflolibrarian says:

      @Librarian of Least Resistance – I see that in libraries as well, no real distinction is made so why pay librarians when you can pay someone less (as though we actually get paid so much)? If people do not know what they should be getting from librarians, and some librarians themselves don’t seem to know, than it doesn’t really matter what ones’ qualifications are. It’s like the myth that you can find everything on the internet, which most people believe, and which those of us who know realize is just a sad commentary on the state of public understanding. As a group we aren’t getting smarter; sheep are easier to control…

      It’s also handy for (lousy) administrators to have those below them fighting among themselves rather than actually telling the powers that be what can and should be in libraries. We need leadership that has vision beyond furthering their own careers by kowtowing to those that control the purse strings.

    • I’ve been both a reference assistant and I’m not sure I often had questions asked of me that required the Masters I later received. I’m not saying the degree isn’t important, but I do understand why reference assistants exist.

      I’ve also been an administrator, but I always saw my job there as making sure my staff could do their job. Hopefully that kept me from being a lousy one!

    • bflolibrarian says:

      I totally get that the demand does not always seem to be there. It’s back to the people don’t know what they don’t know problem. I do think it is up to us to help with that though. If we don’t who will? And whoever is doing the work, whatever their educational attainment, they should be setting the bar high and getting paid a fair, livable wage. Where I work we have a great assistant who often goes above and beyond what some of the demoralized, thrown-in-the-towel librarians will do, but she is the exception and does not nor will she ever get the full wage (well, a lot of the librarians don’t wither because they are part-time..). And though she is super, she still lacks the big picture vision of what we SHOULD be doing, especially those of us who work with an increasingly needy public. She has no vision for the profession and she probably could care less, it isn’t her focus.

      I’m suggesting that we step it up, redefine what it means to be a great librarian, become active agents for positive change in our communities, embrace helpful technologies, build knowledge, give people opportunities to learn and create, etc….Some of us get it, others don’t and some seem set on constantly reminding us of how little we need to know and do, that we are just there for customer service (hmm, does this have anything to do with being a female dominated profession…?).

      Wrong. Strong, committed librarians are indispensable to making a better world. We just have to stop believing the naysayers, speak up and get out there and prove it more.

    • @bflolibrarian: I don’t think you CAN ask this of any profession. You know a doctor has specialized knowledge in diagnosing and treating disease, and has been tested and certified thusly. You know a lawyer has specialized knowledge and decision making skills in regards to legal questions, and has been tested and certified as well. What is the purview of the library professional and what does the MLS make you a professional of? I repeatedly hear the same spouting of supposed librarian competencies (technology, teaching, management, customer service) but I really don’t buy that librarians are ‘professionals’ of all of these different areas. Especially after only 2 years or so of grad school. They are, indeed, jacks of many trades and I believe this is one obstacle to overcome when striving for greatness in libraries. A staff full of jacks-of-many-trades will not excel in any one area. A staff comprised of real professionals from differing areas (technology, teaching, management, customer service) will produce much better results.

      I would not trust the average librarian to craft my library’s website…

      I appreciate your thoughtful posts here.

    • bflolibrarian says:

      @David -I think you MUST demand a broad vision and at least some knowledge of many areas to be a good public librarian. I would agree that one person is usually not going to be an expert in every area and not all librarians are great web designers, programmers or whatever specialty you want to choose, though I know many who are more than capable of creating and training others in doing this type of work. We actually have librarian trainers on that do just that: get people started using new programs and technologies. Further, on top of having the broad view may of us DO specialize in certain areas, but then you would probably complain and say that we are not really librarians, just REAL professional technology or customer service specialists.

      The REAL professionals that you speak of are often hard-pressed to handle the diversity of skills that a librarian does. The technology, teaching and customer service people you call professional, but not librarians who can consolidate these skills and make sure that whatever the problem is that needs solving gets the right solutions applied to it, whether or not they actually do all hands on the work involved. We connect people and facilitate in a ways that the REAL professionals often can’t. And since when is technology and customer service a REAL profession? Please.

      I worked in large international law firm doing very specialized securities research. We found over and over again that the few lawyers working in librarian positions simply did not cut it on the research/service or even technical end of things. Librarians, trained in the legal research specialty were much better suited to the work. They combined the subject and database searching expertise required with the broader skills mentioned. Why not apply similar skills to public libraries?

      You can have your “professionals” taking over the role of librarians, but you will be missing an important holistic piece in libraries. It’s the one hardest piece to define, but it means knowing how to connect the dots in whatever situation you find yourself in and it is not a skill that everyone has. I do not object, however, to having librarians work with other professionals. We often make referrals and ask for the help of specialist who have a more narrow focus. It also depends on the library environment one is in. And if you don’t see your librarians as capable of performing at this level, then you have either untrained, demoralized and/or just lousy folks doing the work.

      I, for one, wouldn’t recommend that anyone visit the library without the librarian if they really need help. Which of your professionals is going to make sure the question is answered, know where to send the person if they can’t answer it, do the outreach and activism that you don’t seem to think can count as professional? No one I guess. Or, I know, you’ll just hire separate professional to do each piece.

      Though I strongly disagree with your assessment that librarianship has no professional value, I do appreciate your provocation to think hard about what it is that creates value in libraries (i.e. librarians).

  28. Our university has started a new initiative to make everyone, including faculty, wear name tags. You can imagine how happy this is making the faculty.`I’m hoping they complain enough that no one has to wear them anymore.

  29. Thanks Sarah!

  30. This has been an eye-opening discussion of our very divergent views of our profession. It has certainly ranged far beyond the initial topic of whether or not we wear badges or other means of identification.

    I agree that we have not been properly recognized as highly trained professionals, and for the most part, we are not paid as such.

    I recently saw a piece on concerning jobs which paid a median salary of $55,000, and librarians were included. I sent an email to my colleagues with the subject line of “I Wish!” and the following message, “I saw this article on my laptop home page ( last week; and I was highly amused, deeply upset, and scared that our patrons might see it and think it was true for us (all those emotions at the same time).” I got back some tales of what our patrons think we make.

    Here in Texas we are lucky if we are paid 80% of that. Several years ago when our city did a wage survey, we had to provide documentation of what our duties entailed. It was only after the completion of that survey that our salaries were raised to that 80% level.

    I certainly agree with David that I would not trust the average librarian to build our website. Our library staff is composed of six librarians who have specialized areas in which they function well; however, they are versatile enough that those areas could be broadened if the need arises.

  31. I’m late to the party but must chime in:

    Badges are fine, but why have my picture on it–my head is right there for all to see. The picture on mine is actually worse than from DMV. I am glad it breaks regularly.

    If you have big boobs, they get caught on the desk and I nearly hang myself when I get up. Quickly they tear and need to be replaced. Bottom line–not designed for women with a chest…odd for a female dominated industry.

    If I have to pin it on my chest–well let’s just say I don’t need to provide a reason for icky people to look at my chest, not to mention I don’t want to ruin my clothes with a pin. A magnet strong enough to hold it in place only works on sturdy fabrics and is cold against my skin.

  32. 1. If doctors and nurses have to wear name tags / badges, I don’t think it’s beneath librarians to do so.

    2. This once again makes me question whether librarianship is a profession at all. There’s no licensing. There are no certifications. There are no tests. There is no internship or residency requirement. Membership in our professional organization is not actually required to be in the profession. People without the post-secondary education required (MLIS) are still allowed to do the work that degree-holders do (or used to do, anyway). Much of the job has been automated, and it’s only going to be more so in the future.

    And is there any question that librarianship is not on par in stature with professions like medicine (doctor, nurse), law (lawyer, barrister, advocate), etc.? Hell, Wikipedia (yeah, yeah, caveat wiki) doesn’t even list librarian in its list of professions. Archivist made it, but not librarian.

  33. In order to obtain my MLS, in addition to completion of the required 36 hours of advanced study, I had to pass a “Capstone” examination, which entailed the writing of three essays over a 7-day period (basically this meant three research papers). I thought that was rather rigorous and was certainly a test of my capabilities and my understanding of the profession.

    In addition, I don’t know about other libraries, but our public library requires us to pursue continuing education and obtain education credits, in addition to attending professional conferences to keep current with library trends and continue our professional development. These are all requirements for satisfactory yearly evaluations which are a requirement for our employment.

    I do not know of another profession whose members are evaluated yearly for an assessment of their professional development. I think that one of the reasons Wikipedia (and the public perception) does not see us as professionals is mostly that problem of perception, which we have not been very successful in changing.

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently surveyed members of the library profession to see what we thought we were the most important areas with which we needed their help. Unlike a lot of people, I have never seen Bill Gates as a pariah, for without the Foundation’s help I do not think that public libraries would have the excellent computer facilities with which we are now associated. Ask people if they know where to go to access a computer if they do not have theirs with them or their printer is on the blink or where to find a Wifi hotspot, and most now know to head to their local public library.

    In answering the survey question, I stressed that our greatest need is more effective PR to educate the public about the role of librarians and libraries in their communities. I feel that if we are to be viewed more universally as professionals, but more importantly, to continue to evolve and be relevant in today’s Google nation, it is imperative that this be one of our first priorities.

  34. Badges okay. T shirts are unprofessional unless for a special event…like help we want you to like us so pass the millage please!!!
    Apprehensive patrons…how did they make it through the door, all cowering in fear … books, books, circling them, calling out,…runnnnnnnn

  35. Are you really saying that soldiers do not wear the uniform by choice? Last I looked, everyone in the army wore a uniform, from the generals to the privates. Though the first half of your post was legitimate, the second half descended into elitist snobbery and a general insult to more than half the working population.

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