Tuesday, February 26, 2008

As it was foretold...

...so it is coming to pass.

The Marathon County Public Library in WI has eliminated three librarian positions and replaced them with customer service positions, which were offered to the librarians whose positions were eliminated. "The reorganization also aims to meet the ever-changing needs of customers, [the director] said. Librarians today do less complex work, she said -- calling for pay adjustments and more technological assistance." The poorly written article doesn't clarify what this "more technological assistance" means, and it also refers to the librarians as being "demoted" though clearly that's not exactly the case. Nevertheless, we get the general idea of what has happened.

This news item has been discussed at length on Publib and on various blogs. Many people are outraged that the librarians are being treated this way. But it's not a surprise. I posted about the deprofessionalization of librarianship in a 3-part series here and here and here. John Berry's column in the latest Library Journal (2/15/08), "The Vanishing Librarians," speaks to the same issue. Annoyed Librarian blogs about the trend frequently. Even though US News and World Report insists that librarianship has a bright future, encouraging even more people to enter the profession, those of us who are already there know that our careers as we know them are in danger.

What has happened in Wisconsin is exactly what I talked about in my previous posts. The role of libraries is changing. It isn't good or bad, it just is. It seems good for communities because people are getting what they want - and that is why we exist. It appears bad for librarians because we are losing our jobs. But I don't think our jobs should be saved for the sake of having jobs, do you?

Furthermore, you need the right people in the right positions, and if a library needs a customer service person or a program planner then they should hire someone qualified to do those things, not someone trained to do cataloging or reference or collection development. It doesn't do anyone any good to keep librarians in positions for which they are not suited.

Some librarians' jobs, as the director states, may very well be less complex. But I would argue that the role of libraries is becoming more complex and the Marathon County Public Library, from what I can see, is simply doing its best to adapt.

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