What’s in a name? Plenty, it turns out. While libraries and librarians are being put to the test during this economic disaster, less money is coming their way to provide the assistance that the public needs. Municipalities are closing library branches, laying off employees, slashing budgets. Some state library agencies are facing elimination. There are some elected officials who “think” that libraries aren’t essential. Why is this?
Many of us in the profession, as well as millions of other Americans, think that the word “librarian” is pejorative, weak, worthy of little merit or attention. We’ve all been through the teeth gnashing and hand wringing of what to call ourselves via countless letters to the editor in LJ and American Libraries.
Librarians are to blame for the low status they are held in but not for reasons you might think. Many people went into the profession because they couldn’t hack it as teachers. Many of us become librarians to escape the ugly, dirty business world or to just escape, period. Oh goody, I can just deal with books or AV materials and not people! Some want to be able to fly their freak flags and few other professions will let them do that. Great, I’m so happy for you.
Well, that leaves some of us to hurl ourselves against the perception that libraries and librarians are nerds, introverts, misfits and not worthy of adequate public funding. What do we do that’s meaningful for our communities? Why do we deserve to be recognized as essential parts of our communities?
As most of us know, the answer is plenty but we need to change the vocabulary of who we are and what we do. And that means entering the world of marketing, advertising, selling, public relations – all the things associated with the (yuck) business world. Those librarians and library director who do so are very successful; their municipal leaders do not think they’re non-essential. Some of these library administrators hold CEO (gasp!) titles.
How can the rest of us avoid budgetary neglect and obsolescence? It’s time to ditch “librarian” for many of the things we do: instructor, educator, information specialist, research specialist, teacher. Isn’t at least 75% of what we do education? Oh sure, we promote the love of books and reading but that’s only part of our function. Booksellers do that too!
What’s a reference desk? a circulation desk? Isn’t it time to toss these terms onto the 19th century dust heap? How about research assistance and customer service? Yes, there’s the business world sticking it’s ugly head into our blessedly clean profession. Libraries have been and are part of the process that all publicly funded agencies go through to stay in BUSINESS!
Patrons? We have patrons? Unless your library is an athenaeum or private library, you have damn few patrons. What we need are more customers coming through our doors who will tell other customers and elected officials just how wonderful our FREE seminars, workshops, children’s classes, research, loans, education, instruction, and tutoring sessions are. They are FREE because library directors, CEOs, presidents, and executives INVEST public tax dollars so well.
Perception may not always be reality but it is everything. “Good words to you!”