I am grateful to those bloggers out there who write comprehensive posts about the specific issues that face libraries today–the ebook conundrum; new uses of emerging technologies in libraries; the decline (or rise?) of reference and library instruction; library programming–the list goes on and on as new issues face libraries of all kinds every day.
I am grateful because while I enjoying reading about those things; I don’t enjoy writing about them. I find myself drawn to the vague, cultural issues that define the world of libraries to some extent. I’ve written about age, personality, perception, hierarchies, professionalism, and other topics that don’t directly advance the job of librarians but rather serve to foster a better understanding of the environment in which we work, at least I hope that’s what I do, sometimes, on a good day.
I’ve learned a lot about the culture of libraries in the past few weeks–some of it has surprised me; some of it has not. What has surprised me is a specific conversation that I had with an academic librarian who indicated that when it comes down to a division of applicants into the “will interview” pile and the “no thanks” pile, pedigree matters. By that I mean that it was suggested that the “where” of where someone obtained their library science degree is a factor in the selection process.
Maybe that should not have surprised me. But it did. In my mind, there are so many other factors that are much more important. And in all fairness, this person wasn’t suggesting that it is the most important factor, but rather that it can be a factor when all else is relatively equal.
Since I am a recent graduate and earned my degree through an online program, a statement like that gives me pause to think. The origin of my credentials is not particularly impressive. Does this translate, on paper, as I am not particularly impressive? I don’t know. And this post is not meant to focus on an individual’s concerns (me) but rather a perception in the library community, which may be restricted to academic libraries. And maybe for good reason, for all I know.
I am not someone who is impressed by credentials. I am impressed by people. I realize that when someone is looking at resumes they have to make subjective judgments based upon objective criteria that may or may not speak to someone’s real strengths and abilities. The same can be said for experience.
Which brings me to my next cultural awakening–experience matters. I know this one should not surprise me. But this awareness also gives me pause to think for this reason using myself as an example–
My chronological age does not match my professional age. As a 50-year-old human being, I believe I have enough life experience to move into a leadership position. As a professional “toddler” (less than 2 years post-MLS experience and no real managerial experience), I don’t have the profile many employers are looking for when they’re reviewing resumes. I believe that task-related skills can be learned on the job much easier than life skills, which include good communication, dealing with people, the ability to see the bigger picture, and the willingness to bring a vision and direction to an organization and to be held accountable for results.
Much has been written about the need for leaders in the library world. And I have to wonder if there is a whole subset of librarians, who came to this profession later in life, who have not come “up through the ranks” but have jumped in late in the game with ideas, and vision, and most importantly, a natural ability to lead, that is being overlooked.
I have a great job with a great organization under the direction of a visionary leader. But I always have my eye out for new opportunities. And I’m beginning to wonder if my professional age will ever catch up to my professional goals before my chronological age burns out. And I wonder who else out there feels the same way?
Is this unique to the culture of libraries? I don’t know. Probably not. But if we’re going to advance as a profession, I think we should look beyond the standard definition for what makes someone eligible or qualified. People are living longer. People are making transitions later in life. Denying an opportunity to someone who has made the effort to obtain the credentials but hasn’t had the time to prove themselves in the traditional way feels like a missed opportunity. The same holds true for not giving a new, young librarian a chance. How do you accumulate experience if no one gives you the chance to gain it?
If this post doesn’t make sense to anyone but me, then I know I am alone in my frustration. And if that’s the case, then perhaps I should switch gears and write about the latest library gripe, which is easier to address. But, like I said, I’m drawn to the obscure. What can I say? I’ve lived long enough to understand the importance of the peripheral.
Not that age matters.