Understanding librarianship

When I first enrolled in library school (or into a school of library and information science – you can choose for yourself), I thought that I was getting myself into a profession that would help me, namely, to facilitate learning.  I strongly believe in education and advancement, both inside and outside the rigors of an academic environment, and I thought that being  librarian would enable me to help people help themselves.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was very much an advocate for information literacy; I still am.  Librarians, I believe, have a strong desire, if not professional duty, to help people learn how to learn, to understand the mechanics of knowledge; we’re here to teach others them how to use information to achieve their goals.

But what else is there to being a librarian?  At the end of my second-last term in the degree, I’ve come to realize that information literacy is not the only focus of librarianship.  We are all teachers in this profession, that much is true, but teaching is not our main duty (if there is one!).  If there were a few things that had to be instilled in the proto-librarian, the librarian in training, what would they be?   Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Information Literacy. Teaching may not be our main focus, but instructing individuals on how to use information systems and how to find, locate, and manipulate information and data to achieve their goals remains vital to the profession.  We’re here to help others, and we can do that best by teaching others the knowledge we have learned ourselves
  2. Information Organization. I’m a late convert to the cause, I must admit, but I now truly preach the faith of data and information organization.  This ought to be our specialty since we have the skills, knowledge, and training to efficiently organize information and create effective knowledge systems.  Information organization is far more than MARC records and “space colon space”.  Information organization is a knowledge and skill set that allows us to understand the consequences of arranging our data and files in a particular manner, or of understanding the ramifications of declaring X to actually by Y in an authority record, thereby reacting to or affecting our cultural sensibilities.
  3. Information Ethics. Our profession needs to work on the side of good and affect positive change.  Sure, we must be apolitical and unbiased when we are creating records, but even that action declares our progressive nature.  Let the information speak for itself, and help others speak for themselves by protecting access to information.  The public library is a public good, as is the written word, and it’s our duty to ensure it remains thus.

Would these be the tenets of a library school I’d run?  Perhaps, but I don’t have that much of an ego to think that way.  These three items, rather, ought to be the broad themes we talk about when we talk librarianship.  If some one is looking for career advice and is considering an MLIS/MLS, or if I find myself in a conversation about our line of work, I try to touch on these areas.  It’s a quick list that helps me explain what I do and why I do it, and how it affects the world on a regular basis.

How do you explain librarianship to others?  What does it mean to be a librarian to you?

Professional Ethics, Librarianship, and the Workplace

[n.b. this post was originally written for Re:Generations, the blog for new academic librarians that is organized by CACUL at the CLA. Be sure to surf over there to join in the fun! -ms]

How often do you think about ethics in the workplace? I’ve been reading some Robert Hauptman this week, and information ethics is a small hobby of mine, so lately I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. As important as ethics are to our field, Hauptman routinely suggests (and I’d agree with him) that we don’t usually consider why a proper action is proper and a wrong decision is bad. Rather, since we’re mostly all good people working on our best behaviour, rarely do problems occur.

Generally, we tend to get by on our best behaviour within librarianship, especially since so many of us believe in things like open access, open source and the stewardship of knowledge. But still I wonder, how often should we think about ethics in the workplace? If we work to serve the public interest in one form or another (as most of us do), should we not think every now and again about the implications of our actions and our opinions on the profession and on society?

We don’t have to be expert ethicists to consider how ethics affects librarianship and the workplace. It would be useful to remind ourselves from time to time, though, that the ethics of the workplace and the ethics of the profession won’t always agree with our own. Every so often we must take an action at work that might require a negotiation of our personal values with the values of our employer as well as the values of librarianship. Conflicts might arise between ourselves and a colleague or between ourselves and the organization because of these negotiations, which will themselves have to be mediated. What counts is how we mediate these conflicts and how we arrive at outcomes amenable to ourselves and to the organization.

Hauptman often argues that ultimately our personal values must override the values of the employer and of the profession. This, of course, is easier said than done, especially for so many of us who are situated in our first contracts or have moved so far away for employment and no longer have a strong network of friends and family to help us get by. Have you had a values-based dilemma at work? If so, how did you resolve it, and how did it affect you?