28 September 2006

What do we call those people in the libraries? No, not the employees, those *other* people.  The people who wander in voluntarily just to find stuff, read stuff, or nap on the overstuffed chairs.  What do we call them?  I stumbled upon just such a discussion in the archives of the jESSE library education listserv for the sake of a class assignment.  The thread was called “Customers” and – as you might imagine – many people took issue with calling their people-in-the-libraries “customers” or even “clients”… for some reason, no one argued against “patron” really, but one fellow did bring up the old tradition of calling them “readers” which I found absolutely endearing, however, that was immediately squashed by someone pointing out that people do much more than read in libraries (depends on how you define “read” I say).

All in all, one thing has become very clear to me – not only from this listserv discussion, but also from discussions in classes.  The issue is not about what we call the people-in-the-libraries, it’s really about what we call ourselvses.  We’re trying to express far too many variables with “librarian” and that’s what keeps getting us into trouble.  On the listserv, some people were offended that others were offended by “customer” because, in fact, their libraries were commercial and charged for their services.  Therefore, they had customers.  Others worked in medical libraries and had seperate issues of their own with using the term “patient” for their … um… visitors.

In my classes, our discussions completely change depending on the student – are we talking about a school context? a public library context? an academic context?  And the expectations of each “librarian” are completely different.  An academic librarian should have at least two Masters degrees.  A school librarian should have teaching certification.  A law librarian should have a JD.  And then that brings us into library science curriculum.  Did you know – in some countries, library science is treated as a vocational degree?  Are we trying to lump vocational and professional work together here in the States?  Supposedly (I said “supposedly!”) one of the first library schools here was a school of “Library Economy” and thus, women were the students because it was far more “economical” to hire them than men.  This was a school for training the library clerks – the true librarians were still academic men who were paid better.

So… I’m having a lot of issues with this whole profession right now.  I. Myself. Personally. Really like the whole librarian idea.  Especially in today’s world of info technology and social software and possibility, possibility, possibility.  History, however, makes me question the … validity? scholarship? clout? of this field.  How can we -new library students – take ourselves seriously if no one else does? Even in classes and in the literature I detect… I detect a constant subliminal apology.  It really drives me crazy.  In fact, it almost makes me not want to be associated with this field, but I’m young enough apparently to be optimistic.  I see a lot of cool, smart, savvy people in my classes – my fellow students.  I see very capable people teaching some of these classes.  Surely, with a population like this, library science can’t stay marginalized forever, right?

I guess my biggest complaint about library science classes so far is just how dated they feel.  The role models they’re giving me are all dead and gone.  Who are the movers and shakers recently??  They should be in this material now, related to everything else we’re reading.  Why haven’t any of my classes even mentioned Web 2.0 or Library 2.0??  Hello – buzzwords!

Perhaps I’m being too impatient.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But I just wanted to voice these concerns now, so that I can look back in six months and ask myself, “Well, Self, do you feel better now? ”  In the meantime I am still amused and delighted with discussions about “clients” vs. “customers” vs. “patrons” and I still love books and I still think information rules the world.