I’ve been working on the portfolio project for the end of my MLS program and it’s gotten me thinking. Yes, this is stuff I think about anyway, but it’s given me occasion to pause and reflect.
The library field is weird. No, really. I mean it.
It’s a field where some MLS programs think they should still exclusively teach theory, and some programs think that you need little more than practical applications, including computer programming.
It’s a field where you can still be the “Head of Technology” in your organization because 15 years ago you were the one person who knew how to change a printer cartridge, and a field where people like Blyberg are writing the next generation catalog after coming from the business world.
We have “librarians” who do little more than check out books to elementary school kids. And some who maybe if they’re good, (and their school understands their value), are also collaborating in developing the curriculum, in advancing info literacy, and in introducing digital literacy to their students.
We have “librarians” who do little more than copy-catalog all day, or who point to where the bathroom is. And we have “librarians” who spend their days answering fantastically challenging reference questions and their nights developing Web 2.0 learning programs for their library. We have “librarians” who run a network, some who do little more than maintain an ILS, some who develop cultural programming, and some who do ALL of these things.
We have “librarians” who are getting tenure by writing “I done good” articles and “librarians” who are creating new knowledge by drawing on the theories of other fields and pushing the envelope of what it means to be a “library” (whether they need to get tenure or not).
We have “librarians” who love their users and are fantastic at customer service and who give us a good name. And we have “librarians” (some of whom are highly esteemed in the field), who are openly contemptuous of their users.
The field is not in good shape. I don’t think adding “information” to the MLS is the answer, either. I don’t think that by further genericizing the profession by calling ourselves “Information Professionals” is any kind of an answer either.
I’m afraid we just might be making a mockery of ourselves. And we don’t have another 15 years to fix it. In 15 years the information landscape will have changed just as drastically as the web has changed us and if we don’t get serious we might just fall off the map completely.
It’s time to stop making our field generic in the I-schools, and to let our students get the specialized skill-set they need. And I don’t mean that you take a “track” that consists of three classes providing a shallow introduction to your area of specialization. I mean we need real, exceptional, challenging programs tailored to the specific specialties within our field. (Note: I don’t mean to suggest we should dispense entirely with theory, either. The theory is tremendously useful and important, it’s just not enough.)
I don’t agree with Karin (although I have tremendous respect and admiration for her work) that all librarians should learn programming. I think we need to go just the other direction. We need to get really good at what we’re responsible for, so that our organizations start cranking out the quality of service and innovation that rivals the commercial sector. I don’t want to go into business. I don’t think that the corporate model is perfect– but I do think we have to have the integrity as a field to admit that right now, they do innovation better. And for that matter, they do information better.
We better get moving, and we better get moving fast.