Children and LibrariesThe Monkey heaves a big sigh of disillusionment after checking LISNews and finding this link to an official statement from Elizabeth Buchanan, Director of the Center for Information Policy Research of the School of Information Studies of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. The statement is undoubtedly responding (although Buchanan doesn’t directly say so) to the Marathon County (WI) Public Library controversy, in which four $46,000/year Librarian I positions were demoted to $36,000/year “Customer Services Librarian” positions.

It’s pretty clear that the demotions came about because the library profession struggles to come up with a clear description of exactly what the bearers of an MLS – or MIS, or whatever our degree is called now – who aren’t managers do in the Google era that makes them professionals. Buchanan, unfortunately, gives us very little to work with. (And to those who might be reading this who are library paraprofessionals – don’t worry, I’m not dissing you; I believe paraprofessionals are essential folks in every library. But this “Why is a library ‘professional’ really a professional?” discussion has been going on for decades, and I feel we’re at a critical tipping point.)

Here’s a sample of what Buchanan says:

We firmly believe that the role of a professional librarian should be valued, and, should be compensated appropriately as other professional degrees are. The value of professional librarians, and the complex work they do, should be taken very seriously. Libraries are indeed a public good, bridging information rich and poor and providing unfettered access to information. Professionally trained librarians, in collaboration with other library workers, benefit all members in a community.

Um, yeah, but what is it that the new holder of an MLS does, exactly? Am I missing something here?

Until we can clearly state, at a time when the Internet threatens our professional status, why we deserve to be considered professionals, it is going to be rough for us to let folks know what we do. As a librarian who serves young people and their parents, caregivers, and teachers, I know what I do:

I can make the printed word exciting for the youngest child, binding stories, songs, and rhymes together. I can persuade children to want to pick up a book, even when there are computer screens flashing all around. I can sell a book to a classroom of skeptical middle-schoolers. I can tell stories from different cultures and connect them to those cultures’ literature. I can find the information – whether on the Net, in a book, or somewhere else – that will help a young person write a paper or finish a homework assignment. Technology alone can’t connect with young people the way a living, breathing person can.

And you know that if you’re a youth librarian, you can do all this stuff, too. These skills are what make you a professional. The parents and teachers we work with regularly know what we can do. We simply need to make sure we let everyone – in particular the folks who don’t see us at work every day with young people – know why our jobs are critical to keeping each new generation of kids literate.