ASSOCIATES (vol. 4, no. 1, July 1997) - associates.ucr.edu
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*SOME NOTES ON OFFICE POLITICS, SEX IN THE STACKS AND OTHER THINGS THEY DIDN'T TEACH ME IN LIBRARY SCHOOL* by Noel D. Young (The author attended Library School at Indiana University, Bloomington, and is a former Library Director who has worked in a variety of academic and public library settings.) I recently read the article from the first issue of Associates entitled "An MLS Degree: Is It the Right Thing to Do?" Over the past several years, not a few people have queried me concerning this very issue. My response has been an unmitigated, "No!" My reasons for this response, although personal, are based on a more objective view of the structural position of Librarians within the total library and information industry than that offered by the original article. The author of the above-mentioned article begins by stating that support staff (or anyone) must carefully analyze his or her motivation for deciding to pursue a MLS degree. There are several critical thinking fallacies to avoid when analyzing one's motivations. In addition to this examination of one's psychological motivations, one must also analyze sociologically the structural characteristics of the library and information industry. It is within these structural dimensions where the individual acts. First of all, library schools have a vested interest in keeping new students moving through their pipelines. One cannot logically expect library schools to counsel those bringing dollars to their place of business not to attend; they too, wish to keep their jobs. The closing and drastic reorganization of several library schools in the 1980s should make us think a bit more critically about the availability of library positions for Librarians as well as pay scales and the mobility of the degree. It is really quite absurd to have a Master's degree (and, more often than not, two), language skills in one or more foreign language, and get paid somewhere in the 20s. This ghettoization (or feminization) of the library degree is usually maintained structurally by the addition of a spouse who has at least a similar-type job in status and pay. This arrangement amounts to nothing less than a subsidy of the library "profession". A second crucial aspect to keep in mind of this structural dimension is the degree program itself. The MLS is not a liberal arts degree; rarely does one work with ideas for their own sake. Rather, the MLS is a poly-technical degree and we learn how to manage and organize things. Although there is much discussion about upgrading the status of academic librarians to that of faculty, or faculty equivalent, there is little, if any, discussion concerning the downgrading of the MLS to an undergraduate degree. (This might even make more sense for public librarians.) Most Librarian positions in academic and public libraries can be handled well by a college graduate (or less) with some library training. Further, as paraprofessionals are well aware, this training also can take place on the job. This is not to say that Master's (or even higher) degrees do not have an important place in the library. It is beyond the scope of this brief article, but I submit that the British model of librarian education (where Library Science is an undergraduate degree) has some important features that we Americans might find useful. There are good, well-meaning, and socially responsible reasons for pursuing a MLS degree and becoming a Librarian with an upper case "L." It is unfortunate that most of these reasons are easily negated by the office politics of the corporate culture, especially that found in academic libraries. We all know persons whom we believe to have been promoted to a more powerful position with more money, not through their innovative solutions or principled stances to certain organizational and personnel problems, but through their Machiavellian actions; actions ranging from yes-saying to the boss to undermining one's colleagues' work to sleeping one's way into favor. Public and academic libraries are not generally places where innovative perspectives are greeted with open arms and embraced. Indeed, more often than not, persons with alternative perspectives are viewed as "impudent young upstarts from wherever". The "wherever" is often a place recognized as "better" than that where the accuser attended library school. The accuser feels threatened and immediately defends his or her position in the hierarchy by lashing out. Again, one cannot logically expect the old guard to support changes that might negatively effect their status position, thus exposing their inadequacies and incompetencies. The old adage, "If you can't do, teach." needs to be amended: "If you can't teach, be a librarian." This can also be extended: "If you can't be a librarian, get promoted to Head of the Department." A further extension is also necessary: "If you can't be a successful Head of the Department, become the Dean of the Library." A third structural consideration in the personal motivation to pursue a library degree has directly to do with pay scale and other conditions of employment. The chances of earning a middle-class standard of living as a Librarian are not great. Geographic mobility is limited and your employment in the community is tenuous. I submit that improving one's own status in a particular library will not help to improve the status of the profession as a whole since it is closely linked to that of the entire library and information industry. When viewed from this perspective, organization of library workers for collective action might bear more fruit than individual and essentially random acts. Union workers in all industries have better working conditions than their non-union counterparts. The purpose of this article was not to refute the original article, but rather to add a sociological dimension to it. There are good reasons to pursue a MLS, but they should be tempered by the above structural considerations. It is within this social structure where individual actions are heavily influenced, often in ways that are not easily apparent. If your motivations are still pure of heart, then go for it, but you still need to be able to pay rent -- or the mortgage. As for myself, my library training has provided me with valuable and important research and organizational skills, but I would not do it again, nor would I recommend it to anyone else.