Will you be particpating in the economic recovery that is starting to take place? The library publications and conferences have reported the news of libraries being downsized because of the economy along with the many other professions (including law) that have seen, what seems, more than their share of reductions. With what looks like recovery in sight and the promise of more jobs during the next couple years, will our employers decide it is time to quit investing in managing information or at least decide it is not a priority? Before that happens we can take action.
Decide That You Are Not Powerless.
Throughout the years we have complained about the perception people have of libraries and have worried about what to do about it. The fact is that the perception exists. We are seen as powerless people and treated in the same way by many.
In a recent Law Blog article, Ashby Jones reported on the discussion of unwritten rules in law firms that was start on Slaw.com and picked up by Legal Blog Watch. His article, Ashby asked his readers to participate in writing the unwritten rules through comments, as had been done on the other blogs. One comment caught my eye and started me thinking about how we can change the perception. The commenter wrote:
Rule No. 1: Be kind to everyone, ESPECIALLY to those people who you might think have no power: the security staff, librarians, office cleaners, cafeteria personnel, administrative staff, skycaps, and restaurant waitstaff.
I include this, not because I see the other positions listed as powerless, but because the commenter included librarians among them. Ouch! My first reaction was to get angry, but I managed to shake off that somewhat unproductive feeling and start thinking about why someone would think we are powerless. What causes this perception?
Don’t Wait For Others to Change the Stereotype
You might disagree with me, but, here’s my conclusion.
All articles that report on the “hip” librarians, the importance of libraries, the good that we as a profession do in the world, the miraculous feats we use to find that elusive fact, will not change the preconception that the public, our employers and sometimes our friends and family (yes, Dad, I am using my tuition to become a librarian) have of us. That goes for all the initiatives and name changes our professional associations take on. We have to do it ourselves. How?
Can You Feel The Power?
I believe that the notion of powerlessness is at the core of this problem. If you were asked to list the preconceptions that are held about librarians, you would probably list timid, fussy, myopic, cyberphobic (fearful of computers), metathesiophobic (fearful of change), and subservient.
OK, so there are some librarians, my high school librarian was among them, who have projected an image as the angry librarian whose interest is to control. While they seem more powerful than the timid librarian, the source of their anger is most likely born out of frustration, fear, and yes, a feeling of being powerless. Most often, a really powerful librarian that goes against these stereotypes is seen as being out of the norm.
Let’s think of the word, powerless, for a minute. Webster’s provides the following definition:
Function: adjectiveMeaning: unable to act or achieve oneʼs purpose <I wish I could help you, but I am powerless in this situation>Synonyms helpless, impotent, weakRelated Words incapable, incompetent, ineffective, ineffectual, inept, unfit, useless; feeble, frail, infirm, passive, spineless, supine, unaggressiveNear Antonyms able, capable, competent, effective, efficient; authoritarian, autocratic, despotic, dictatorial, magisterial, tyrannical (also tyrranic); dominant, dynamic, energetic, forceful, robust, sturdy, tough, vigorous; important, major, significant; high-level, senior, topAntonyms mighty, potent, powerful, puissant, strong
- I can’t change it
- No one understands what I am trying to say
- I can’t make people listen
- It is too much of an obstacle to tackle
- The “powers that be” have decided
- That’s a battle that isn’t worth fighting
- No problem
- Learn to communicate
- Quit accepting what others think instead of what you think
- Manage your anger
- Quit feeling sorry for yourself
- Feel fear but keep going
- Acknowledge you are right more often than not
- Speak up!
- Be assertive
- Ask questions
- Create a vision for the future
- Share your ideas
- If you are in a business library, learn about the business and think of your self as a business person first, librarian second
- If you don’t like being thought of as a business person, find another type of library to work at where you fit in – your staying where you will give you a sense of being powerless and helps perpetuate the stereotype
- Learn the language of other professions to improve communication
- Keep working at it, you will see changes
- Act as if