Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do Titles Make the Librarian?

We librarians do love our labels. I think that all that our subject headings and metadata lead to cross-contamination (cross-pollination?) with the way we think about ourselves: academic librarian, cataloger, public librarian, etc. (Don’t even get me started on the professional vs. paraprofessional labeling.) Sometimes it gets even more specific. For instance, my job title is “Information Literacy/Instruction Librarian.” There are actually lots of descriptors that I apply to myself: academic librarian, information literacy librarian, outreach librarian, programming librarian, instruction librarian, adjunct professor, researcher, cat-owned, Chewbacca-obsessed, etc.  I could go on and on. Sure, to some extent this kind of quantification can be useful. An example: my “fiction selector” label helps me identify catalogs and listservs and online discussions. On the other hand, though, I’ve noticed that all these descriptors lead to a tendency to pigeon hole. I’ve started to fight that tendency, started trying to look beyond the specialist level. At a basic level, to bastardize Gertrude Stein, “A librarian is a librarian is a librarian.” I know that’s still a label, and still a kind of pigeon hole, but it’s a much bigger one. More elbow room.

It's a curious thing and I wonder how many other professions do the same. When discussing this idea with a friend, she made me realize that I’m not sure how much of this propensity is internally vs. externally imposed. I know that it would get awfully confusing around here – especially for the higher ups – if we were all just called “librarian.” So yes, there’s a need to have some distinctions, but when I think about how long it took me to even consider what other kinds of librarians are doing, I can’t help wondering if all my descriptors get in the way.

I bring this up because pretty much everything Cari Dubiel said in her guest post applies to all librarians (and librarian-alikes). Yes, some of the particulars she listed are more appropriate for public librarians, but her general ideas, especially how we need to “recognize that [we] don’t know everything,” are important skills for everyone. Having so much in common with her reminded me of how much I’ve learned from librarians who don’t inhabit the same pigeon hole as I do – and of how important that has been to my career’s evolution. My ideas about graphic novel collections in academic libraries? Completely adapted from public libraries and *gasp* book stores. Gaming in libraries? A gift from my friends in the teen librarian business. The way I teach research skills that reflect what college students actually do instead of some perfect model of how I think they should? Straight from the research of someone who started out as a school librarian.

What I’m trying to say is this: Just because you intend to be a [fill in the blank] librarian doesn’t mean you have nothing to learn from individuals who work in other parts of this profession. Instead of concentrating on the differences – a tendency towards which we are predisposed by definition (Subject Analysis, anyone?) – concentrate on the similarities. You never know what you’ll learn.

What about you? Have you ever borrowed an idea from someone who works in a library that’s very different from yours? What was it?

Come back Friday for another guest post. This week you’ll be hearing from Ayanna Gaines. Ayanna is an incoming Associate Librarian at Ventura College in California. Prior to her 3 years as a part-time reference and instruction librarian at Ventura College and 1 year at Cal State University Channel Islands, she was quite active in the Illinois library scene, working as Assistant Librarian at Elmhurst College and being on more committees than you could shake a stick at. 

1 comment:

  1. It's gratifying to hear that academic librarians have so much in common with what I've learned on the public service desk. I don't really have a pigeonhole either. Reference desk, people manager, cataloger, trainer, technology guru, ILL person, bookmobile clerk, window cleaner, writing teacher - I've done all that and more in my job.

    From academic librarians, I've learned how to teach academic honesty, how to teach students to find journal articles and cite sources, and how to navigate the sometimes dangerous waters of OhioLINK. Not all my colleagues know these things. I'd love it if we could network more. We have students from many neighboring colleges here every day, and a huge branch of a local college coming to town in 2012. As far as I know, there will be no librarian there. So we here really need to know how to serve that population.