1/8/13

If You Have To Tell People You're Valuable… You're Probably Not

Cafe Press
I'm going to modify a quote from one of my least favorite politicians, Margaret Thatcher, and then apply it to something I'm seeing in the library profession:
Being valuable is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.
The same can be said about being funny, or cool. If you have to explain why the joke is funny, it's because it isn't funny. At least not in the perception of the person you are having to explain it.

Now, this was a long introduction to something that tends to happen whenever there is an article, blog post, or public questioning of what librarians do and the value that they bring. The latest culprit? "10 Least Stressful Jobs for 2013" where Librarian fell between "Hair Stylist" and "Drill Press Operator" as one of the most stress-free jobs you can have this year. Of course, University Professors came in with the top honor. I'm sure as soon as the article's author, Kyle Kensing, hit "publish" on the CareerCast  website, he stood up and shouted "Oh, It's About To Get Real All Up In Here!!" as he waited for 10 different professions to start picking apart the metrics used in compiling this list and explain to him why he is an idiot.

Like clockwork, the comments started coming; the counter-posts started flying, and; the "who does this joker think he is?" tweets and Facebook updates hit the social media spectrum.  Perhaps my favorite (so far) was the tongue-in-cheek post by Andy Woodworth, "How to Troll Librarians and Make Money in Five Easy Steps." In that article, Andy explains that if you want to make a lot of money off of the emotions of librarians, simply follow his five steps of baiting librarians with vague "best" or "worst" professions, add stereotypes, and surround the post with ads that pay you per visit. To modify another quote: "If you insult them, they will come." Don't believe it? Start your article with this phrase:
In a wool suit, nicely accessorized, sitting in the boardroom of the Hughes Main Library, she looks every bit the librarian she is.
and see what happens next.

Look, Librarians are just like every other profession out there. We have some really poor performers, and we have some really good performers. We tend to be seen as an easy way to cut the budget during hard times, yet we also tend to be seen as one of the most important pieces of our communities when we are under attack by those same budget cutters. In my opinion, we have a large percentage within the profession that are extremely valuable to their organizations, their communities, and to the profession as a whole. Those folks do not have to scramble during budget season to figure out how they need to prove their worth. They prove it everyday with their actions.

I'm sure that I will take a bit (or a lot) of criticism over this next statement, but here it goes anyway. If we, as a profession, jump down the throat of every writer that slights us with these "worst" or "best" job articles, then we, as a profession, look petty. If we, as a profession, have to teach each other how to be valuable, then we, as a profession, loose value. There's a fine line between providing value everyday and having to explain to those we work with why they should understand why we are valuable. I'm afraid that we are nearing a tipping point where all this talk of value will turn against us.

Here are just a few of the conference I found that specifically mention "Value" in the theme of the conference itself. You can easily do a Google search to see there are many more out there with this same theme. I'm not trying to insult any of the conference listed below (as you may know, I'm on the executive board of one of them.) However, the participants (whether behind the podiums or in the audience) need to enter these conferences with the goal of recognizing how to better provide value and not the goal of being better at telling people how we are already valuable. Again, to modify the explaining a joke quote:
If you have to explain why the librarians are valuable, they aren't. 

American Association of Law Libraries
Texas Library Association


Academic Library Association of Ohio
Association of College and Research Libraries


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4 comments:

Cheryl said...

Agree completely!

Ian said...

"I'm sure that I will take a bit (or a lot) of criticism over this next statement, but here it goes anyway. If we, as a profession, jump down the throat of every writer that slights us with these "worst" or "best" job articles, then we, as a profession, look petty. If we, as a profession, have to teach each other how to be valuable, then we, as a profession, loose value. There's a fine line between providing value everyday and having to explain to those we work with why they should understand why we are valuable. I'm afraid that we are nearing a tipping point where all this talk of value will turn against us."

Speaking as someone in the UK where this tactic has singularly failed, I would certainly argue against this particular point. For a long time in the UK, the profession failed to challenge somewhat negative perceptions of the library service and librarians (I am fairly new to the profession btw, came in from the private sector). What we have now seen is professional librarians replaced with volunteers. Literally. Librarians are being made redundant and replaced with Mrs Bloggs from down the road. The reason? People think librarian jobs are easy. They just stamp books and that's it. Easy jobs are, of course, often considered stress-free. And therein lies the problem.

I don't think this issue has hit the US yet (I co-founded a national library campaign in the UK so try to follow things closely and I am not aware of it happening so do tell me if it is!). But it is hitting the UK hard (hence why a lot of people were saying their particular library role is stressful - it is pretty stressful when you see colleagues being replaced with volunteers) and, I'm afraid to say, it will come to the US too unless you do everything you can to challenge the negative perceptions of the profession. It may be alarmist but, given my involvement nationally in the UK, I can assure you it is a very real problem that we are trying to battle here. And we won't win the battle by not explaining why we are valuable.

Greg Lambert said...

Ian,

Good points. However, my thoughts are that knee-jerk reactions to every article that relies upon sterotypes doesn't really help. It really falls under the concept of "if you protest everything, you've protested nothing."

My thoughts on the issue of lay-people replacing librarians is this: The community sees the value as resting with the library and its collection, and not the librarians who are the custodian of that collection. That's a big problem of local perception. The community doesn't see the volunteers as bad, in fact, they see them as saviors of a valuable piece of the community (with many believing, falsely, that once the economy turns around the professional caretakers can be brought back.)

The complaint I have is that we are so easily angered by articles that talk about how easy we have it, yet somehow we are not exhibiting the value of the profession to the community that really has the final say on whether we stay or go.

So, I understand the need to refute claims that undermine the profession, but comments on an article just doesn't have the effect those commenters think it does. Actions on the local level speak louder than comments on the Internet.

Saira said...

Greg! Loved this. One of my favorite quotes is from Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street - "The most valuable commodity I know of is information." It's the information that is valuable to the user.

 

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