So, there I was driving home from work on Saturday and thinking about what to write for this post when the question streaked across my mind:
If young librarians are in protest, what are our demands?
I blanked for a moment. What are the demands?
Jobs? That’s a tricky demand. Websites like ALA Joblist, LISjobs, and others are full of job listings. There are jobs out there. Whether the job is near where people want to be is another factor. For all the emo consternation that is posted like a teenage poetry contest, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone write, “And I’m willing to move!” Perhaps it is something that people are leaving out, somehow implied in their pleas for any kind of work; perhaps it is not written because some graduates want the job where their families, friends, and familiar surroundings are. For the former, I wish you good luck; for the latter, well, I’m not sure what to say. It’s somewhere between “stick it out and hope for the best” and “if you want to get going on your career now, you may have to make some short term compromises”.
If there was a good demand relating to jobs to pose to the older generation of librarians, it would be in the form of a question: where have all the lost jobs gone? Budget cuts? Attrition? Smaller staffing requirements? Follow-up: what is the job outlook for the field in five years? Because I don’t have the longevity or experience in the field to get a feeling for that and I’m curious as to what the speculation might be. This is not a direct attempt to refute the ‘graying profession’ business or a new yoke to hang on the necks of library leadership. (We’d have to find a neck first, but more on that later.) I’d just like an objective re-evaluation.
Better library graduate programs? I have yet to see any specifics other than “more harder”. There is no shortage of what people dislike about the programs, what classes and topics they think are a waste of time, and there is certainly no lack of contempt for some library programs out there. “I thought it should be more challenging” goes the refrain. How exactly? What was the expectation? We aren’t assembling nuclear reactors here, people. It’s a library.
If there was a good argument for making the program more challenging, I’d say that it should have aspects of a Masters in Public Administration (because it is) and a Masters in Business Administration (because it is that too). As a public librarian, one of my most common questions is how to cut and paste on the computer. I didn’t need an MLS to show someone how to do that. What I could have used is a degree that had distinctive coursework in personnel management, funding and budgeting, public policy, and operations management (like the MPA and MBA programs have, not a unit within a management course). I liked the graduate program at Clarion; I felt it was interesting and challenging in terms of library science theory and history. But in hindsight, rather than taking a Literature of the World course (or whatever it was called), I could have used one of those aforementioned courses. I can get a passing familiarity with literature (world or otherwise) on my own; I could have really used some personnel management courses rather than learning it on the job.
In presenting a demand to the older generations of librarians, I would ask that they look to reformulate the programs to represent the current and emerging needs of librarianship. This goes directly back to the importance of a job outlook; what are the skills that those future jobs will require? And really take a hard look at the current class offerings at ALA accredited schools. (I don’t know much of anything when it comes to ALA accreditation but you may want to revisit it as something that gives a mark of excellence. It’s getting disparaged right now.)
Better leadership? I think it’s a legitimate albeit nebulous demand. The current bevy of leaders don’t stand out in the same way business leaders stand out. I can name a dozen or so business leaders off the top of my head; I’d have to think carefully as I listed an equal amount of people I considered to be leaders within the librarian profession. With the breadth of the field, even the term ‘leader’ would be a bit subjective. Are they are a leader because they have created successful libraries? Successful programs? Successful technological integration or implementation? Successful advocates for literacy and reading? Successful thinkers and library science philosophers? Even in having a number of people who display strengths in important aspects of the field, I can’t think of anyone who transcends that to the whole profession. (I have a couple of people in mind, but I’d rather not make replies about my personal choices.)
It has been touched upon in comments in other places (the kind that I can’t remember exactly where thus thwarting specific linking), but there have been comments about a lack of library leadership being cultivated within the program. And before Pete Bromberg drives over and throws a brick through my window, I’m not forgetting about the ALA Emerging Leaders program. That’s a specific action being taken by the national organization; I know New Jersey has its own variation of the program. Perhaps my question might seem indelicate, but what else is there? Is that the only option? Could there be other ways to mentor and mold the next generation of leaders within the profession? Leadership is a tricky quality; some come by it naturally and other can be trained into it. It’s a hard question, most certainly.
ALA reformation? It is a common theme that gets played out: bloated, slow, impractical, imprecise. Since I’m not an ALA member, I have to go on what I’ve been told by ALA members. But on this point, I have questions for my fellow young librarians. How is it slow? How is it bloated? How is it not meeting your expectations or needs? What should it be doing? What is getting lost in the frustrations and anger at the organization are the details, the specifics as to how they feel it is not working. What is also getting missed is that this is a chance to assert your beliefs and to work to make the changes you want to see happen. ALA is not a country club where you can hold your nose up at joining until they move the tees on the third hole for a better drive. If you want to move the damn tees, you are going to have to join and do it from the inside.
In addressing the older librarians, what should the organization you want to leave for us look like? How is it positioned to take on the challenges of the next five, ten, or twenty years? How will it reflect your influence but be a natural segue for the next generation coming through? What is the appeal, the purpose, the ongoing underlying reason for young librarians like myself to join up? On another note, relating to Council business: how do resolutions on Wikileaks, the two ongoing wars, torture, marriage equality, or the genocide in Sudan help the profession? How do these resolutions create jobs, secure funding, improve library appearance or awareness in society, or otherwise advocate for the library? Simply speaking, how does it put food on the table for both employed and unemployed librarians around the country? I realize that the argument for these resolutions are based in principles, but in this financial and employment climate (and to steal a line from the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign), it’s the economy, stupid.
I’m sure there are things that I’m missing in terms of demands and questions, whether it from my fellow young librarians or for the older generation. I realize that my post is full of questions, but I comfortable with that since I feel that I’m asking the right questions. Rather than giving in to spouting out complaints, I’d like to get to the heart of the matter. I’m looking forward to reading some answers.
Don’t disappoint me.
(I didn’t cite them specifically in the text, but I had been influenced by Patrick Sweeney’s post and Roy Tennant’s reply while I was writing this winding post. Also Jim Rettig’s “Is the Association Ripe for Rebellion?” article. And Jenica Roger’s post about optimism. And Will Manley’s “The War Between the Library Generations Has Started”. I just wanted to acknowledge those influences.)