Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thank a librarian

This is an official apology to librarians everywhere. I could blame Gerry Porter, my Miniature Mysteries protagonist since she's the one who spoke the offending words.
Or I could blame Margaret Grace, my aka who wrote the words.

But instead I'll step up and blame myself for not being more clear about what real librarians do.

Here's my mistake: Gerry Porter, amateur sleuth and retired English teacher, volunteers in her library's literacy program, helping older people attain their GEDs. I've done that myself and think it's a worthy activity. In the book, Gerry explains that her student has been promised a job in the library once she gets her GED, a job helping at the reference desk.

Uh-oh – it certainly looks like SOMEONE thinks all you need to be a reference librarian is a GED. Gerry knows better. Margaret Grace knows better. I know better but it certainly didn't come across that way.

What I had in mind was the job I had as a high school student. The public library was right next door to the high school in my day, and I had a job there after school. I shelved books, glued ivory colored pockets to the backs of books, and ran errands for the librarian. The summer after I got my diploma, I was promoted to working at the desk answering questions. They weren't the kinds of questions real librarians answer now. More like: where are the books Mrs. Andrews assigned for summer reading? What does antidisestablishmentarianism mean? It was a different era and a poor town, and I'm not even sure there was a real reference librarian in those days.

I'm well aware that librarians today are highly educated and intensively trained in library and information sciences. Their curriculum includes classes in research methods and statistics, information and records organization and management; policies that influence the creation of information and access to it; issues of legality, privacy, equity, and ethics in this information age. And that's just the beginning. There are concentrations in digital libraries, school libraries, youth services, and specialized libraries such as those in corporate, medical, museum, or other organizational settings.

I set one of my periodic table mysteries, The Boric Acid Murder, in the Revere Public Library of today. I had the full cooperation and encouragement of the current Director, so I know at least that turned out okay.

My library job at sixteen was the first "clean" job I had. I went home smelling of delicious paper and rubber stamps instead of hot dogs and pepper steaks, from my job at a food concession on the beach.

I loved working in the stacks, surrounded by books and wanted to give my character that experience. That's what I had in mind for Gerry Porter's students.

I never meant to make it seem that anyone could staff a reference desk; I meant it as something wonderful to aspire to.

Please join me in hugging – or at least thanking -- a librarian today, to help make up for my awkward, sludgy prose.


Mare said...

I work in a high/middle school library and I'll take a small hug. LOL. My boss has her MLS and the lady who does our cataloguing has her LTA. I can understand the misunderstanding, but with the "unskilled" labor which makes a library run smoothly I'm surprised that the librarians in questions didn't make that leap. I think that setting your library and using a library position as incentive for a GED is a marvelous idea. Please, please keep up the good work.

Lesa said...

Hi Camille,

I'm a librarian, and your comments didn't bother me, but I do understand why it bothered others. There are three reasons - there is still a group that can be morally superior as to who a "real librarian" is, and there is a political divide somewhere where some librarians have such an attitude. Then there is the attitude we all fight - anyone can be a librarian. All librarians do is read anyway, right? So, everyone who works in a library is a "librarian" and why do you need an MLS to do that job? And, the third reason is current. With this political climate, there are so many budget cutbacks, some municipalities are showing they don't care about the MLS. Libraries are having budgets cut in a time when circ is up. In bad economies, people use libraries all the more. But, librarians are losing jobs. In our community, school librarians are all in danger of losing their jobs. It's a scary environment for librarians. So, lots of your readers might resent that comment.

Thanks for the hug! Your explanation in today's blog was perfect.

Tx Lyn said...

"Financial assistance" when I was in college came in the form of a 40 hour/minimum wage job at the library. All day, except for time in classes, four of us girls and one real librarian received books and prepared them for shelving as well as repaired books. Ah! The glue! Ah! the Addressograph machine. Aahh! The books. Long, long time ago.

pwl said...

This brings back such memories. I was a helper in the high school library, and later the president of the library club), and then worked as a Page in the local library (Children's Room). This was my favourite job of all time, and I wanted to make a career in library science. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. I can still remember part of the Dewey Decimal System :)

Hugging a librarian is a good idea!

Kathryn Lilley said...

My Mom's a retired librarian (note to self: call Mom & send a hug!).

Marlyn said...

I'll take that hug!
Thank you, Camille.

Camille Minichino said...

How great to be spending the day with librarians and friends of librarians!

And it's not even closing time ---

Thanks to all.

Shannon said...

Hi Camille,

I wouldn't lose too much sleep over it. It was fiction, right?

And I agree 100% with Lesa about the attitudes of some librarians versus the attitude that we fight when it comes to the people, the boards and the councils to which we answer.

And I say this as someone who never earned her MLS...heck, I don't even have a Bachelor's degree. But I've been successfully running the library I work for (I am the library Director) for eleven years and have answered hundreds of reference questions, even without all of the advanced training. I'm also the IT person, do computer repair, order, process, manage a budget, check books in/out and even, gasp, shelve books. I work for a library in a town of 4500 people with 2 contracting cities and patrons from eleven other surrounding towns.

Your comments didn't bother me; they would have been the type of comments that led me to believe anything can happen with a minimum of guidance and/or experience. Haven't we witnessed that recently?

Sharon Owen said...

The first thing I learned when I was hired to work in a college library was that I was not a librarian. I am a Library Information Technician, which to some might sound more important, but a loose translation of my title is "A person who works in a library but does not have a degree in Library Science." The second thing I learned was never, ever, let our student aides answer reference questions. Librarians are rightly proud of their title, but those I work with know they couldn't do it without the rest of us. Hugs to all library workers, and an extra hug back to you, Camille, for encouraging young people to work in libraries.
Sharon Owen

Anonymous said...

Sorry that I'm a little late in here. Another wonderful article and one that I will print out for a dear librarian friend. xoxoxox

Tx Lyn said...

Sharon Owen? My word! I was just thinking of Warren Norwood, then my inbox shows me a comment left by Sharon Owen? If you, Sharon, have no idea what I'm talking about, that's okay. But if you do, pop your head up again, okay?

Tx Lyn