Saturday, April 14, 2007

Professionals in the global economy

"Deprofessionalization" is occurring in more and more fields these days as the North American economy attempts to seek its real level in the new global economy, particularly with regards to somewhat higher quality goods from Southeast Asia and cheaper goods & services from Mexico, China and the Third World. What we are facing must surely be an overall drop in per capita income as library professionals are replaced by paraprofessionals and technicians or outsourced altogether, doctors are replaced with nurse-practitioners, and lawyers are reduced to TV salesmen with a lot of clerical staff left behind to do the work.

A lot of professional-level work is being handed down to people who don't have the paper qualifications (although some may have the capacity) and therefore the professional imprimatur guaranteed by our professional associations through certification of degrees or individuals. Society is taking a chance with quality in the name of economy and is basically *expecting* professional results. In some, perhaps many, cases they get these results. In some, perhaps many, cases they didn't get professional results from those bearing that label. If the latter is the case, then our certification apparatus has failed. On the other hand, it is more likely that supporting the apparatus (professional associations through dues, schools through certification fees and membership dues, individuals through the cost of education and certification) has just proved too costly an overhead for employers pressed to meet taxpayers' and shareholders' expectations.

It is clear that libraries expect professional input in decision-making, as they are maintaining professional managers in most cases. Yet, these professional managers rose through the ranks of Acquisitions or Cataloguing or Reference departments and gained the wider picture necessary to this class of personnel through networking with colleagues in their professional associations and at other regional institutions. Where will the next generation of library managers come from? Or will history merely repeat itself, with technicians and library assistants (who are already organizing professionally) seeking to protect their profession through certification as we (and doctors and lawyers) have already done?

Author: Charley Pennell, April 19, 1996
Principal Cataloger for Metadata Metadata and Cataloging
North Carolina State University

Note: Although these comments were made over a decade ago the situation has not changed significantly!


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