by Connie Crosby, Toronto Chapter, KM, Legal, Taxonomy and Leadership & Management Divisions
We have a big opportunity to use our skills in initiatives beyond the library, to contribute to teams that bring together a range of skills. In the book The New Polymath (http://www.thenewpolymath.com/), Vinnie Mirchandani describes teams made up of experts with a range of backgrounds coming together to innovate in ways not previously seen.
Becoming an independent consultant has been an eye-opening experience for me. I work with teams of extremely smart, insightful people working with information who come from a range of backgrounds, not just library. By contrast, I find so often librarians want to hold ourselves apart as “us” versus “them” (librarians versus non-librarians) but really, it should just be “us”. We are all on the same side, working toward the same goals.
And I am starting to take exception to those who try to hold librarians as somehow special. Distinct perhaps, yes, but not somehow better than others. In the process of justifying our place in the universe, I fear that librarians—primarily in the United States and Canada where we do not have licensing in our profession—have inadvertently excluded others in our workplaces and industries who we really should be respecting, working with, and learning from.
Many Library Technicians have horror stories about the difficulties they have faced in working with “MLS’s”, often times being passed over for jobs or promotions, or doing the same work as an MLS but with lower pay. So much of what we know in the library industry is learned on the job, that I often wonder how this can be. I think back to my own library school education a number of years ago: while I learned a lot at the time, very little of it today resembles my working reality, and very little of the program resembles today’s program. I can’t help but think that, once we have been in the working environment for a number of years, the experience counts for so much more.
We also often forget there are others in the information world, many of whom are also without the MLS degree: researchers, information consultants, information architects, knowledge managers, records managers, user experience specialists, indexers and taxonomists among others. While those with library degrees often excel in these areas, they are not prerequisites for success in the job. Since leaving the library workplace for consulting, I have come across and worked with so many different types of people, many who (much to my surprise) know an awful lot about information.
We do not own this, folks.
I therefore have a difficult time understanding the elitist mindset of some librarians. I do realize that in an economic downturn when we are all struggling to keep a roof over our heads, the effort to survive forces us to find ways to distinguish ourselves, and promoting our degrees over others’ is one way we often do this.
However, we need to keep in mind that different skill sets and personalities on our teams contribute to successful projects. I believe we can also learn a lot from one another, and have always benefited from working with others of backgrounds different from our own. If we are all going to work together, we need to be mindful and respectful of one another.
I know we fear losing our identities as librarians. But I am here to tell you: fear not! Your paranoia is not justified! There is such a great opportunity here for learning from others. For while we learn from others, and treat them with respect, they learn from us and hopefully show us increased respect as well.
I know that when I tell people I am an information management consultant, their eyes glaze over. When I tell them I am a consultant with law librarian training, it suddenly captures their imagination and they have an instant vision of how I might help them. And when I work on projects with other consultants, they have an appreciation for my background and what I can bring to the project.
I am proud of my library degree, and continue to identify myself as a librarian. But, having worked as a technician in the past and working as an information consultant now, I can see that putting ourselves into an ivory tower is such a mistake. Exclusivity does not help us become stronger.
I would love for us to embrace the other information professionals out there, and have us welcome them into SLA more than we are doing now. It would enrich our own experience so much, bringing fresh viewpoints and ideas into our divisions and chapters. And it would give them a way to learn from us (i.e. librarians) as well.
And in your own working life, I encourage you to look beyond the physical limits of the library, and put yourself forward to participate on teams that might normally be outside your realm. They need you. And, you need them.
Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Rich Vintage Photography
Connie Crosby is a consultant specializing in library management, information management, knowledge management, and social media inside the enterprise. Before consulting, she was a law library manager for 10 years in a Toronto law firm. Connie is a founding director and contributor for the co-operative law blog Slaw.ca and also writes for her own blog at http://conniecrosby.blogspot.com. She is an instructor with the iSchool Institute at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, teaching continuing education courses on social media and an organizer of PodCamp Toronto, a gathering of social media professionals and enthusiasts in Canada, co-organizer of Knowledge Workers Toronto, a monthly meetup group. Her 2010 book Effective Blogging for Libraries is part of the Tech Set series from Neal-Schuman Publishers.