“I didn’t know you needed a master’s degree to be a librarian.”
If you haven’t experienced this statement firsthand, you’ve certainly read about it. It is the notion that what we are doing as a career, a calling, and an occupation requires an advanced degree of study. It’s an image issue that pops up for the public librarian on a fairly regular basis. And, like it or not, it is here to stick with public librarians for a long time.
Once upon a time, there was no degree requirement to become a librarian. Anyone with a degree could be a librarian; it was simply a matter of learning the collection, the classification system, and the established policies and procedures of the library. With the advent of the MLS and MLIS programs, this has created a new layer of requirements for budding librarians but has not been accompanied by a shift in duties and workload. On any given day, I can be standing at the circulation desk side-by-side with a support staff member doing the same thing that they are doing. So long as this arrangement exists, the perception that librarianship does not require an advanced degree will continue to taint the image of the profession.
If you haven’t seen this excerpt from recently assembled autobiography of Mark Twain, I implore you to read it now. It’s worth the click.
The restriction or removal of material does in fact present a slippery slope of what is “moral” (to use the example from the Twain anecdote) and that which is not. Moral relativism is the actor in that story in which the portrayal of the virtue of truth (and the vice of dishonesty) are unequally applied as criteria to the inclusion of materials in that library of the last century. Once you banish a book on the grounds that it features a liar, you need to banish all of the books that feature the same.
But I’m going to guess that this is nothing new, nothing surprising to the readers who find their way here. The ideals of librarianship, portrayed throughout the graduate school experience as well as to society at large, is that the library contains materials for all interests, for all ages, and for all curiosities. The reality is that we (the royal ‘we’ as a profession) are biased. We do it everyday with the resources we recommend, the search engines we use, the databases we go to, the books that we order, and the websites we read. These biases serve a very practical purpose: they prevent us from becoming frozen into inaction from attempting to be as neutral and unbiased as possible.
If the three L’s of buying a house are “location, location, location”, then the three C’s of librarianship should be “communication, communication, communication”. I don’t think what I’m going to list is anything revolutionary; I do think it might be a novel way to remember the basic interactions that keep the library moving forward.