By Meredith Farkas | March 7, 2006
Other than perhaps being included in a blanket condemnation of “illiterate bloggers,” I never would have thought that I’d be so much as acknowledged by an incoming ALA President. Although she got my name wrong, it’s still nice to see that Leslie Burger is keeping up with the conversations in the blogosphere. And I really do agree with her suggestion that I become the change I want to see. That is a phrase that has always had a lot of meaning in my life too. I have never been one to sit around and grumble about things without trying to change my situation. I’m not 100% sure what kind of involvement in ALA Leslie is suggesting, but I kind of think I’m already “becomming the change I want to see.” I’m using online communications media for networking and sharing good ideas. I created a wiki for an ALA conference last year because I knew the ALA wouldn’t. I am chairing a free online conference. I am trying to bust the myth of the librarian shortage. I designed a usable Web site. All of these things are what I want to see the ALA do, and maybe if enough of their membership start using these tools, ALA will as well. And if there is a place for me to have a voice in changing the ALA, I’ll be happy to do whatever I can to make ALA better. I am one of those people who enjoys being passionately devoted to a cause, but I’m not the sort of person who is going to “get involved” when I don’t feel that I can really make any sort of significant difference. It’s just who I am, and maybe I’d be better off contributing to the profession in a different way. At least I haven’t found a place yet in ALA where I feel that I “fit.”
As to Leslie’s comment that “there is and will continue to be a shortage of entry level librarians” I say “huh?” Maybe by limiting my job search to most of the entire United States I was being too choosy, but I found a surprising lack of full-time entry-level positions in my soul-killing 9-month job search. And I was looking for jobs in every kind of library. The assumption that people are all going to retire at 65 is not the reality anymore. Nor is it the reality that for every librarian who retires there will be a job opening. A friend of mine got her 18 hour a week librarian job when a full-time librarian retired and instead of hiring someone full-time with benefits, it was easier to reshuffle their job descriptions and then hire a part-timer to pick up the slack. This frequently happens these days as the costs of health insurance gets more expensive and library budgets shrink. Some libraries get rid of the position altogether when someone retires. According to the results of the survey at the heart of Retirement, Retention, and Recruitment: The Future of Librarianship in Colorado, “of these retiring librarians, one out of five (19%) expects their job will be reorganized, combined with another position, or eliminated. One out of six (17%) is concerned that their position may be ‘de-professionalized’—that is, refilled after they retire, but by someone meeting lower minimum educational requirements.” (Check out the results of their survey — really fascinating stuff!) Also, these retirees often are in middle or upper-level management, so while the jobs might “trickle down” to the new librarians, there is no gaurantee that they will. I just think that ALA is being irresponsible when they push the idea that we now or will very soon have a shortage of librarians for entry-level positions. Who will pay their rent when these brand new librarians find out this isn’t the case? And how will we keep them in the profession when they can’t even get a first job? I can’t be patient, not for those librarians who have e-mailed me in frustration after looking for a job for a year or more.
I think it’s great that Leslie wants to get feedback from new and/or tech-savvy librarians, and I think it would be a great idea to not only open up the floor at ALA, but also to have some sort of an online discussion (synchronous or if not possible, asynchronous) to get the ball rolling. Since my book is due a week after ALA Annual, I won’t be able to make it this year, but I would love to participate in any sort of online opportunity for sharing ideas about how to make ALA better. I guess I’ve already kind of started doing it here.
I really do appreciate what Leslie Burger is trying to do, and I’m thrilled that she has become part of this lively grassroots discussion about how to make ALA better. While I don’t agree with all of her ideas, I respect her effort to listen to everyone.
As for me, I’m going to keep on becomming the change I want to see in my own little way… right here.