The Other Librarian has posted an item that has caused much discussion in the library community: He lists 10 reasons why “professional librarians” is a contradiction in terms.
1. “Librarians have no monopoly on the activities they claim.”
It’s clear that someone can provide information without being a librarian, whereas no one wants to go a doctor who has no professional training. Librarians, of course, do more than provide information. Buildings have been built without architects, articles are written by those who aren’t journalists and famous photographs have been taken by those with no photography training.
2. “There are no consequences for failing to adhere to ethical practices.”
Librarians, as is also the case with other professional groups, have no professional organization. There is no professional ethic that says that librarians are obligated to defend the freedom of information. All the more gratifying, then, that there continually are new examples of librarians who oppose censorship, even if this concerns books that are unpopular. Precisely due to the lack of an ethical standard, it is satisfying that librarians define and uphold this standard for themselves, such as the four Connecticut librarians who refused to yield to a gag order.
3. “ Librarianship is too generalized to claim any expertise.”
Indeed. That’s exactly the point that Robert Musil made in his "The Man without Qualities". The librarian rules his domain not because he reads the books in it, but because he knows where they are. On his visit to the State Library in Vienna, Musil’s General Stumm is stunned when the librarian says to him: “’The secret of a good librarian is that he never reads anything more of the literature in his charge than the titles and the tables of contents. Anyone who lets himself go and starts reading a book is lost as a librarian,’ he explained. ‘He’s bound to lose perspective.’
“’So,’ I said, trying to catch my breath, ‘you never read a single book?’
“‘Never, only the catalogs.’
“ ‘But aren’t you a Ph.D.?’
“ ‘Certainly I am. I teach at the university, as a special lecturer in Library Science. Library Science is a special field leading to a degree, you know,’ he explained. ‘How many systems do you suppose there are, General, for the arrangement and preservation of books, cataloging of titles, correcting misprints and misinformation on title pages, and the like?’ (Robert Musil: The Man without Qualities. New York: Knopf, 1995, tr. Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike, p. 503)
4. “’Librarian’ assumes a place of work, rather than the work Itself” and thus is not a job description.
Perhaps that’s why librarians for years now have tried to establish another job title for themselves. Information manager, information specialist, etc. Apart from that, it’s a weak argument. In German, the same could be said of judges and the court (Richter/Gericht). And what about school and student (Schule/Schüler)?
5. “Peer review in librarianship does not work because there is no competitive process to go with It.”
I can’t comment on this. But the competition for papers submitted to conferences recently has gotten quite strong.
6. “Values are not enough.” Just because libraries think that information should be freely accessible is no reason to praise them.
See above: If librarians stand up for freedom of expression, they truly assume an important role. One can get into trouble on this issue even in the US (see censoring of unpopular titles), but there are librarians in countries where freedom of information and speech is taken much less seriously. And in Germany many librarians are not exactly proud of those librarians who, during the Third Reich, eagerly “aryanized” their collections. Values would be enough – if one is prepared to take them seriously.
7. “The Primary motivation for professionalization is the monopoly of labor.”
On the one hand, this statement is totally legitimate. But librarians are not always successful with this. Many positions are filled by library assistants. And many management positions are held by those without library science training. In Denmark it is written into library law that a manager/director must have “relevant professional qualifications,” but it no longer is dictated that these qualifications are in the library science field. It is the most qualified who are sought, regardless of their education.
8. “Accredited library schools do not adequately prepare students for library work.”
It is the same with librarians as with other professionals: One learns what is truly important on the job.
9. “Competing professions are offering different paradigms to achieve the same goals. Computer Scientists and Engineers are discovering ways to make information accessible to the public using search algorithms, interface design, and social media platforms. Current library practices are following their lead, not the other way around.”
True, and I find this one of the more alarming developments in the library world. Librarians, unfortunately, have not been able to bring order to the Internet. Why weren’t Google and Yahoo invented by librarians? Or at least further developed and improved by them?
10. “Nobody can name a “great” librarian.”
In the long list of comments that Ryan Deschamps’ article engendered, not a few were in reply to this point: In the United States, Nancy Pearl is widely known, at least in librarian circles. Melvil Dewey surely can be considered to be famous. And Casanova was a librarian (even if he didn’t become famous for that reason). In Germany, the name Gotthold Ephraim Lessing might come to mind. And since the Times Online reported that Keith Richards
At any rate, an interesting post, which produced an equally interesting discussion