Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: That’s Not Professional Conduct

When we attend library school, we are united by our interest in joining the library profession. As a team of soon-to-be professionals, we work in groups to discuss current issues facing libraries; we collaborate on projects and talk about emerging trends. We are comrades and colleagues.

Unfortunately, when we enter library land, we tend to follow our interests and grow away from each other. Whether we choose reference, cataloguing, youth services or readers’ services, we follow our passion and feel that the area we have chosen is vital to the services that libraries provide. Because of this passion and dedication to our own area of librarianship, some professionals come to the conclusion that their interests and their services are more important to the running of the library than another area of librarianship. As a group of professionals, we no longer look at the importance of librarianship as a whole, but divide it into smaller parts, which results in an “us or them” mentality.

This problem is further exacerbated by budget cuts and library closures. In an effort to save their own job, librarians become even more divided as they seek to devalue another library service so that they remain “safe”. In essence, they are attempting to rob one area of librarianship to sustain another.

Unlike reference staff or readers’ services, cataloguing is a silent public service. As long as we are doing our job well, things run smoothly and therefore, we attract little to no attention. As a result, we are often forgotten. Most patrons are not even aware of our existence.  As such, we are hard pressed to defend ourselves to the public we serve when the services we are providing are denigrated by front-line staff. What is more disturbing is that many front-line librarians attempt to devalue our services and commiserate with patrons when they complain about Dewey or the library catalogue.

Is it really very professional to put down colleagues in order to make our own services more attractive? As professionals, we should be making ourselves aware of the importance of each service provided in the library – whether we like it our not. I have to admit, I dread the thought of sitting at a reference desk, and I certainly wasn’t interested in pursuing a career in children’s services. However, I discovered something while attending graduate school.  I may not like performing those aspects of librarianship, but they are a vital area of the profession and as such, it is important to understand them and why they exist.  Embrace the diversity of services that we offer – it is those services as a whole that we should be working together to protect.

As professionals, we should not be denigrating the services that our colleagues provide due to our own dislike or ignorance.  To bad-mouth one area of librarianship is to devalue the whole of our profession.  I suggest that in doing so, it exhibits a lack of professional conduct.



Filed under Our Profession, Professional Ethics

2 responses to “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: That’s Not Professional Conduct

  1. Some may not approve of the analogy, but I really think it applies. The cataloguing department is the ‘kitchen’ of the library’s operations. Without the chefs, preparing the food, the front-line staff (think waitresses) would not be able to serve the customers. As a good kitchen staff can make or break a restaurant, a good cataloguing department can make or break a library system. On the other hand, if the ‘waiters/waitresses’ did not serve the food, then all the food would go to waste… As in any good, efficient public service organization, we must be tolerant and respectful of each other’s services.

  2. Laurel Tarulli

    This is a perfect analogy. Without the chefs, waitresses are stuck with a bunch of ingredients, but won’t be able to serve the public what they want. They can try to create something with the ingredients, but it won’t be as successful because they don’t have the expertise that chef’s do.

    And, without waitresses, the chefs would have lots of food, but no one to serve it.

    While I strongly believe that the new Task Force on Competencies and Education for a Career in Cataloging will help in this regard, it will not solve the problem completely. Also, while professional associations are a great way to spread awareneness, I think that they really allow professionals to focus on their own specialized area. They do not really assist in creating an awareness of other areas of librarianship. Perhaps more in-house training or seminars are the answer? I’m not sure. I do know that the situation right now is not acceptable and the attitude towards Dewey and the necessity of cataloguing (and a classification system) is being devalued by other library professionals. Something must be done about this.

    Beyond awareness, however, is an emphasis on professional conduct. What is appropriate behaviour for a professional?

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