Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Dangers - Deprofessionalisation

Excerpt from: "What would you do? Reflecting on the Importance of Ethical Values in Librarianship" by David McMenemy

"The increasing deprofessionalisation of library work in certain sectors should be a major cause for concern for anyone who cares about the quality of professional practice. I could beat around the bush on this issue, but instead I will come out and say it; the library profession itself is potentially the biggest threat currently to the future of the profession. Let me qualify that by simply saying that across the country, librarians have been complicit in the deprofessionalisation of front-line services, especially in public libraries. The arguments posited that we do not need librarians to staff public counters, hold keys for buildings and the like may well be valid on paper, but they threaten the long-term viability of the profession. Moving professional posts into areas of policy looks good again on paper. Allowing librarians to develop initiatives and have them delivered in service points is a good use of the librarian’s time. Yet at any point across the country library users are interacting with front-line staff, blissfully ignorant of the position of that member of staff in the hierarchy. You may think big deal! Yet it is a big deal if the user assumes that the member of staff is a qualified librarian and is offering advice and service on that level. Even the best members of paraprofessional staff are unlikely to have been educated in the values that underpin the profession; therefore we cannot expect them to deliver a service knowing what libraries mean to society, even if we are semi-confident that they do. Of course good staff will, but the expectation that all will is a dangerous one. Furthermore, the increasing drive to remove the librarian from the most important part of the job, the interaction with the library user, threatens to create a service where librarians risk not knowing, ‘anything of the ways in which the need for knowledge arises, nor how their libraries fail to meet the need once arisen’ (Foskett, 1962).
Of course, this is all in addition to the growing mantra that you do not even need a librarian to lead a library service. The arguments that, ‘we need different skills from the past’ or that ‘librarians sometimes have limited skills for modern service provision’ are all the more disappointing when spoken from the mouths of librarians.

Ethical Values and Philosophy as Strength

The solution is for us to embrace once more the writings and ways of working of a bygone era. We must revisit Ranganathan, Foskett, and the scholar librarians who thought just as much about librarianship as they practised it; and we must take ownership back of our professional values.
Study and absorb CILIP’s ethical code, have it in your mind every time you provide a service to a user, regardless of the sector you are part of. Fight for the rights of the user to have their access to information championed. Consistently argue the benefits of libraries and librarians; even in the face of the ignorant and the prejudiced, and doubly so if the ignorant and prejudiced are part of our profession and the services we work in. We urgently need to reinvent and revalue the notion of the scholar librarian – the librarian as thinker, not merely the librarian as management consultant and bean counter.
We should never feel the need to apologise for our values, no matter how politically inconvenient it may be to champion them. We compromise on those values at the expense of our professional souls. Perhaps more importantly, society will lose much as a consequence of our complicity.

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!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Deskilling of another kind!

Employers who seek cheaper labour options appear to be on the increase.
See the latest example below:

"The recent firing of 3,400 senior staff at Circuit City in the United States to make way for younger, cheaper employees and, now, the suggestion by Canadian National Railway Co. that its older employees are rigid, pension-focused and responsible for the company's labour problems have raised alarms among advocates for 'mature' workers.

The electronics retailer Circuit City, for instance, announced this month that it was firing its better-paid employees -- not because they were doing a poor job, but because their wages were above the national average for retail jobs.

The company, which announced plans to replace the discarded employees with 3,400 new employees at lower pay, now faces an age discrimination law suit in the U.S."

Source: Globe and Mail, April 13, 2007
Alarm raised on attitudes toward older workers
CN, Circuit City cited as latest examples of employer bias against aging work force