Draw to the field
On an individual level, Liz McGlynn Bellamy writes about her draw to librarianship, as well as her journey of understanding more than just the theory and practical knowledge she was learning in library school, but rather the “underlying purposes propelling” her “to act in the first place” (McGlynn Bellamy, 2015). McGlynn Bellamy also writes that librarianship is more than practical tasks, “it does have theory behind it; our actions have purpose” (McGlynn Bellamy, 2015). This sentence especially rings true for me. Initially, I wanted to pursue librarianship many years ago, but economic factors, such as the recession in 2008, as well as technological advancements, deterred my decision. I ended up spending many years studying business and project management in the post-secondary sphere, but it was not until I began to apply myself in extracurricular activities that I found purpose. I quickly found I was able to influence the lives of others and pursued greater and greater roles as vice-president and president of student government, student governor on the board of governors, and as a Member of Provincial Parliament candidate in the 2018 provincial election. In the latter, I became passionate about information and media literacy, as well as upholding democracy in our current political climate. After my failed foray into provincial politics, I decided to enter the public service profession of librarianship so I could continue educating others about information and media literacy, as well as advocating for democracy.
In his article, Jeremy Bold writes that “we can no longer accept libraries as given institutions and therefore we need to encourage the examination of the nature of the library as an institution… and the most effective and important ways for it to stay relevant in the future” (Bold, 2011). In this day and age, Bold’s sentence remains ever present. One of the reasons I put off library school for so long was the uncertainty of the profession. Back in 2006, I could have sworn libraries were going to be replaced with technology. Lo and behold, librarianship remains alive and well because librarians and library professionals have managed to stay current with technological advancements.
The Profession of Librarianship & the Gender Bias
Librarianship is generally recognized as a female-intensive profession; however, Roma M. Harris (1992) points out that a disproportionate number of men reside in positions of authority and administration, and therefore “control” the profession (p. 3). Although librarianship may be considered a profession today, in recent years many theorists would have argued that female-dominated fields, such as librarianship, “lacked” the professional attributes necessary to be considered a profession (Harris, 1992). Goode, a critic in Harris’ article, claims that “librarianship would always fall short of true professionalism because… the public is not convinced that there is a basic science of librarianship: the skill is thought to be clerical or administrative” (Harris, 1992). In this case, one could assume the public is likely to be predominantly male. In order to be taken seriously as a profession, critics suggest for women to mimic developments in higher status fields, as well as adopt a masculine “professional” identity; however, adopting a masculine “professional” identity would be detrimental to the core of librarianship – public service (Harris, 1992). Garrison, who Harris quotes, writes that the role of the public librarian should be modified “to establish librarianship on a scientifically oriented, abstract-knowledge base and to train the librarian as the indispensable expert in knowledge retrieval” (Harris, 1992). I am more inclined to accept Garrison’s point of view over the opinion that women need to adopt masculine “professional” identities. In fact, librarians practice a concept known as “democratic professionalism” in which librarians “discover what the clients need and fulfil those needs by using specialized knowledge and skills” as well as “provid[ing] access to information” and leaving “it to the client to analyze and use th[e] information effectively” (Harris, 1992). In my opinion, democratic professionalism is a positive step forward from the monopolistic views of many male-dominated professions. Instead, democratic professionalism presents patrons with the tools required to answers inquiries, free of cost. In the present day, I believe librarianship to be a reasonably well-respected profession. Anyone who is interested in becoming a librarian or information professional requires not only a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s degree to even be considered for an entry-level position. Through enhanced educational requirements revolving around theoretical and practical knowledge, and the organization of professional associations, librarianship has only begun to be recognized as a profession.
A larger problem exists within librarianship: the gender gap and the concept of “big” and “small” librarianship. As noted earlier, women constitute the majority of library professions, but men tend to hold the majority of administrative positons, and thus, control. With men in control of the profession, women tend to be “poorly paid relative to male-dominated professions” (Harris, 1992). Not only is compensation generally lesser than their male counterparts, women within the profession are not being promoted to administration, whether by choice or circumstance. Along with lower pay, librarians must also deal with the effects of the political environment, including budgetary cuts. Fobazi Ettarh writes about the effects of burnout, or the prolonged exposure to the workplace and its stressors, as well as job creep, which is defined as the “slow and subtle expansion of job duties” (Ettarh, 2018). Additionally, librarianship possesses another key flaw. According to Ettarh, librarianship is dominated specifically by white women, and thus the “production and maintenance of white privilege”, which is glaringly evident if one were to look into the dark history of librarianship (Ettarh, 2018). In her article, Ettarh acknowledges that the library is a flawed institution, especially in regards to diversity, or rather the lack thereof. Barbara Fister also sheds light on librarianship’s dark history and highlights librarianship as a “civilizing mission” to mold new Americans to a common culture (Fister, 2018). In recent years, librarianship has instead taken on a role of advocacy for democracy.
The concept of “big” and “small” librarianship is particularly evident and alarming. “Big” librarianship tends to be male-dominated and focuses heavily on academic libraries, rather than the more female-dominated public and school libraries. Furthermore, “big” librarianship is also showcased as a glamorous profession. What is most troubling about showcasing librarianship as a glamorous profession is that men tend to be overrepresented, as well as “seen as the most prestigious, and the most professional” (Harris, 1992). “Small” librarianship, on the other hand, is female-dominated and focuses on public and school libraries. Not only are female librarians within “small” librarianship undercompensated for their work, they also tend to receive smaller budgets to work with than their male counterparts. The most troubling aspect about the dichotomy of “big” and “small” librarianship is …
Democracy & Neutrality
The notion of democracy and neutrality in the profession of librarianship largely revolves around the American Library Association’s “Core Values of Librarianship” and how libraries exist in our capitalistic society as vehicles for democracy. In her article, Barbara Fister notes that libraries should not exist in a capitalist society, and justifies her claim by stating libraries receive tax dollars that go towards the creation of public spaces where no individual in society pays for the privilege of access (Fister, 2018). Fister also writes that libraries play a valuable role in helping patrons learn how to find information, recognize propaganda, and find their own voices as citizens who have the power to shape the world (Fister, 2018). As noted earlier, my main draw to the profession is my passion for information literacy and upholding a democratic society, as well as my passion for providing public service. Although I can appreciate certain aspects of capitalism, such as entrepreneurship, I tend to strongly disagree with the premise of the inequality and inequity that it perpetuates. In my opinion, capitalism exists to ensure the rich and privileged remain comfortably in control and wealthy, as well as upholding the status quo. On the other hand, capitalism also exists to create divisions among socioeconomic classes, as well as suppress the lower class through the removal of opportunity.
With a background as a failed politician, I am inclined to agree wholeheartedly with Henry T. Blanke’s publication “Librarianship and Political Values: Neutrality or Commitment”. In his article, Blanke discusses how librarians have embraced political neutrality as a means toward acquiring professional status, but argues that any occupation, including librarianship, cannot completely remove themselves from the political culture (Blanke, 1989). Instead, Blanke believes that librarians must be willing to enter the political arena and advocate for the principles of librarianship, which the American Library Association includes as: access to information regardless of socioeconomic background; democracy and right to free expression; diversity in resources and services; and the social responsibility to “help inform and educate the people… and to encourage them to examine the many views” within society (American Library Association, 2004).
- American Library Association. (2004, June 29). Core values of librarianship. Retrieved from American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/corevalues
- Blanke, H. T. (1989, July 1). Librarianship and political values: Neutrality or commitment? Library Journal, 114(12), 39-43. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=8909250714&site=ehost-live
- Bold, J. (2011, March 18). What is there to argue about in library science? Well, how about everything…. Retrieved from Hack Library School: https://hacklibraryschool.com/2011/03/18/argue/
- Ettarh, F. (January 10 2018). Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell ourselves. Retrieved from In the Library with the Lead Pipe: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/vocational-awe/
- Fister, B. (2018, February 3). This is why we can have nice things. Retrieved from Barbara Fister: https://barbarafister.net/libraries/why-we-can-have-nice-things/
- Harris, R. M. (1992). In pursuit of status. In Librarianship: The erosion of a woman’s profession (pp. 3-21). Norwood, New Jersey, United States of America: Ablex Publishing.
- McGlynn Bellamy, L. (2015, August 10). Theory matters: Constructing a personal philosophy of librarianship. Retrieved from Hack Library School: https://hacklibraryschool.com/2015/08/10/theory-matters-constructing-a-personal-philosophy-of-librarianship/
- Preater, A. (2018, April 14). Engagement with scholarly work as professional development. Retrieved from Andrew Preater. Always already librarians. Bread and roses.: https://www.preater.com/2018/04/14/engagement-with-scholarly-work-as-professional-development/