libraries go corporate

March 26, 2008 at 9:16 am 1 comment

Jill recently wrote about libraries being privatized over at New Librarians.

While it hasn’t been literally privatized, the public library system I volunteer at is undergoing a slow, though no less hostile, takeover. Librarians across the city’s system who retire/leave are being replaced by office managers (non-degreed unless the branch has no librarian on staff, in which case one is hired so state/federal funding isn’t lost). These people usually have no library experience and have been hired as “yes” people so the library director can do whatever she likes without resistance.

The effects of this have been particularly grim at the branch I volunteer at. There is now one librarian on staff (with whom I work) and the new branch manager is young (half the age of the rest of the staff), “bubbly,” and has no library experience whatsoever. She has made no effort to learn how to be a librarian (again, something Jill has talked about), so no adult/YA books have been ordered since January. She’s evicted my librarian from their dual office so she can spend the day locked inside, e-mailing downtown about all the “insubordinate” things her staff does. She cannot spell (or use spell-check) and makes no effort to interact with patrons.

And she’s just one branch manager at one branch. Slowly the city’s library management are all becoming yes-men to the library director. The crazy thing is that the library director is actually a degree-holding librarian.

(Naively?) I thought that libraries would be one of the few places where power politics would not come in to play. What high stakes are there? What great rewards to thereby obtain, aside from the greater civic good? This does not mean that librarians cannot be ambitious–I consider myself so–but even in our ambition, we are still stewards of a community resource. It is difficult to get over the shock of finding someone so clearly belonging to some corporate ladder managing something as innocuous and selflessly giving as a citywide library system.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. J  |  March 26, 2008 at 11:07 am

    This doesn’t sound like someone who would do well even in a corporate setting.

    But I think librarians have a hard time marketing ourselves and the reasons why we and our paraprofessionals need specific training for what we do.

    Our jobs are much more complicated than the general public realizes (and I don’t have a problem with that. If we’re doing a good job, the general public shouldn’t necessarily be aware.) I think that we actually face more issues today than we have in the past. Look at that librarian in California who got fired for reporting a man viewing child pornography. This is just one example of the many moral and ethical issues that we face on a daily basis.

    And the materials we deal with have become more complicated as well. I think reference librarians in general are doing much more instruction, whether you are in a public or academic setting, because the way people find information has changed so much with the internet and other electronic types of resources. Being able to use the resources well requires specific training.

    So, I do have problems with people with no apparent interest or background in libraries running the places. I have issues with any staff (MLS or otherwise) who doesn’t care about learning about new things and doesn’t want to be involved in professional development.

    Sure, these aren’t necessarily problems unique to libraries. But I don’t think we can use that as an excuse for inertia. It’s time that we make ourselves heard. ALA isn’t going to do it for us. We know there is value in both the library and the professional librarian and well-trained library staff.

    Reply

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