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Librarian-Faculty Enmity

I first read Kenneth E. Carpenter’s “The Librarian Scholar” at a time when I had real doubts about my progress in this MLIS program.  That may not have been the best timing.  So now, while my doubts are in (temporary?) remission, I’m revisiting this article for my last response journal

Carpenter quickly disabused me of the notion that “scholar-librarian” was a happy term that I might wish to drop in some light conversation one day.  Replace “happy” with “loaded.”  It’s always good to know where the linguistic landmines in your new field lie.  “Scholar-librarian” might be called a “stop word,” as in “stop” before you say this word!

[No luck accessing Karl J. Weintraub’s article “The Humanistic Scholar and the Library” in Library  Quarterly, by the way.]

I was struck by the suggested possibility–and I hope Carpenter was only half-serious–that librarians cease dialogue with faculty members.  Surely things aren’t that bad.  Perhaps the view of the outsider regarding conflicts is always going to be disbelief–“Why can’t those Palestinians and Israelis just get along?”

I was reminded, though, of the difficulties librarians have had in recruiting content for institutional repositories.  The existence of the institutional repository hangs on faculty contributions, and its use is dependent upon faculty as well.  In this situation, it has not seemed like a wise course of action to cut faculty out of the process altogether.  That option, while it might appear easier, is hardly better in the long run, for the IR really needs that faculty interest in and engagement with the services it offers them.  So, libraries have had to reach out to faculty:  to spend time with them, observing their research habits and talking to them about their scholarly needs.  The result?  Librarians are able to draw upon their increased understanding of faculty in order to tailor the services the IR provides to the specific needs of the scholars.  And, as far as the articles report, everyone was pleased with the outcome.

Perhaps this is an inverse illustration of what Karl J. Weintraub meant by “librarians’ unwillingness to draw the faculty into consideration of library problems and the formulation of solutions” (Carpenter 399).  When that unwillingness is overcome, all parties can benefit.

When I read Carpenter’s article, one part especially hit a nerve.  Carpenter speaks in a general way about people with Ph.D.s who somehow ended up being librarians, and who feel a bit above the position but have “settled” for it.  Now, I have a Ph.D., and I suppose this is my chance to vehemently protest that this state of affairs never happens.  However, a while ago I talked to a librarian who had a Ph.D. (in another field), and she stated, “I’m a snob,” a statement which could be disheartening to someone working hard on an MLIS.  I was duly disheartened.  Was that my fate as well, to work hard to get a library position, only to discover my inner snob?

Here’s the funny thing about academia.  It’s a wonderful environment, and a great profession for a narrow slice of the population.  It is not, however, the golden ring for everyone.  Many people are drawn to it, take advanced coursework, even earn advanced degrees, and then simply walk away from it, to do something, anything else.  Some work as church secretaries.  Some work in publishing and dream of being a costume designer (that’s a friend of mine with a Ph.D. in English).  Some hang their diplomas on the wall to look handsome and collect dust while they raise their children.  Some even become librarians.  It’s not that strange that they leave academia.  The ones I know may (or may not) have fond memories of their time in graduate school, but they aren’t pining away for an academic career.  Why this assumption that the academy is a type of Promised Land that, once glimpsed, makes everything else pale in comparison?

Reading “Finding common ground: an analysis of librarians’ expressed attitudes towards faculty” by Lisa Given and Heidi Julien made me reflect on their conclusion, in which they explain that faculty-librarian relations come down to a simple thing: respect. I’ve seen that attitude expressed (although not nearly as frequently or emphatically) by medical librarians, and I’m sure a similar sentiment exists among public librarians as well.

As much as we have read and talked about this topic, I wish I could conclude this post with a pithy, thoughtful comment that would set the librarian-faculty relationship to rights. But I’m a victim of late-night, end-of-the-semester brain drain. I will say, however, that as much as medical librarians want respect from physicians, they do not want to be physicians; they have no problem recognizing that their realm and area of expertise are separate from those of the physician. Academic librarians, though–not so simple. How can they reconcile a desire to be faculty with a professional mandate to serve faculty? The apparent incompatibility of those two creates a lot of tension–not only between librarians and faculty, but within the library community and, I suspect, within the individual librarian. The problem seems both professional and psychological, and much more could be said on the topic, but I think I’ll stop here.

It’s been a great semester, everyone. Thanks for reading. With any luck, I’ll post my bibliography and even final paper on the topic of institutional repositories here within the week.

Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 3:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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Why my husband hates the library

To take a break from writing my final paper, I thought I’d recount an amusing story my husband told me this weekend, when we were on our “date night” (a span of roughly two hours, during which we went to Best Buy and talked to the Mac salesman, and then to Agua Linda).  Over a dinner of vegan Mexican food, my husband (Mr. LShevaun) reminded me of his most memorable encounter with our local public library, an event which he has never forgotten, even though it happened over ten years ago.  He gave me permission to post it here. 

Back in the 90s, he was going through a rough period, and one thing he really looked forward to was the chance to read Bruce Sterling’s new book Heavy Weather. He ascertained that it was at the public library, but when he asked, he was told it was checked out but he could put a hold on it. At this point, his memory becomes a bit hazy–did he indeed put a hold on it, or did he just say, “I’ll check back later”?

In either case, six months later finds him back at the library, still searching for Heavy Weather. This time, an employee informs him the book is not available because it is “on the bookmobile.” “What does that mean?” responded my husband in consternation, by which I think he meant, “How do I get that book if it’s riding around the county on the bookmobile?” The employee, he claims, offered no assistance, explanation, or sympathy.

The happy ending for this story, if you’re anxious for one, is that my husband did get to read Heavy Weather. He ordered it from Amazon, and he credits his library experience for making him a loyal and longstanding Amazon customer.

The flip side of this, though, is that he developed a stubborn dislike for that public library, and for years he did not set foot in it again. Even now, when he sets foot in it, he doesn’t like it. “They think they’re the Pope of public libraries,” he told me over chips and salsa. I had to laugh. The day before we had spent family time at a different public library (which is actually closer to our house), and he had happily checked out several graphic novels. He loves a good story, whether it’s one he’s reading or one he’s telling me.

So, he doesn’t really hate all libraries. But that one pivotal experience with his local library was enough to turn him off the library for years. It’s an excellent object lesson to keep in mind–if people perceive that a library does not care or will not help them, they may choose to stay away, even if they could really use the library’s services.  And it may take years to win them back.

Published in: on December 3, 2008 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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