Rory Litwin has an excellent editorial in Library Juice this month. Undone by Flattery is about what librarians give up because we are so susceptible to flattery. After suffering daily with ungrateful and difficult patrons, we often feel like no one appreciates the service we offer to society. We love to hear people talk about how we are so important to the fabric of society. But because of this weakness, we feel, like social workers and educators alike, that we cannot ask for higher pay or more power over technologies or our libraries’ future. Litwin states:
So, our insecurity, then, is more basic than “public perception;” our estimation of the public’s perception of us is largely generated by our insecurity. Rather than trying to convince the public that we are valuable (e.g. with pathetic television ads that try to show our tech-savvy dynamism) we should instead look for the internal sources of our insecurity. Doing that would create more of an impetus to advance the field of Library Science as a whole and to further develop our professional standards, as well as to develop our knowledge and skills as individual professionals.
We cannot be placated by flattery. We cannot be lulled into complacency by vendors and politicians who want to control the libraries. I have seen this at the library I used to work at, where they quietly acceded to every demand and limitation the city imposed on them (regardless of whether it negatively impacted their service or their patrons), and they continued to pay for a poor collection management system without ever demanding better. This all did lead to poorer service to their patrons, which I felt greatly lessened our value to society. We should get our satisfaction from offering the best service we possibly can to our patrons in terms of personal service and technology, not from petty flattery.
While Litwin does not think librarians’ salaries are too low, I beg to differ. Sure, some libraries pay quite well, but when I see the Boston Public Library (in one of the most expensive places to live in the USA) paying masters-level librarians $36,000 to start and the Boca Raton Public Library’s starting professional salary at under $30,000 (making it virtually impossible for the librarians to live in the city in which they work), I am appalled. I think to accept that the most important people involved molding our youth (and I contend that librarians rank among them) – who include librarians, teachers, social workers, and day care workers – should be paid a wage that often places them below middle class is absurd. I know there is a huge disparity across the board between level of compensation and level of social value of one’s job, but to accept that it’s the way things should be makes me very sad. In my previous career, I was a social worker, and it always bothered me that it was popular among social workers to think of what we did as a calling so therefore that we shouldn’t ask for better pay. Our professional association, NASW, talked about how social workers should be paid better, but never really lobbied the government or came up with ways for social workers to take action against low pay. In grad school it was uncool to want to go into private practice, where there was a greater possibility of making a decent salary, because we should all be working with the poorest people and making no money. I have been surprised to find that some people in this profession seem to see librarianship similarly, and think anyone who wants to work outside of public libraries or wants better pay is a sell-out. We NEED to prove our value to our society and we also NEED to lobby to be paid what we’re worth. If we don’t, I feel like we’re just admitting that we aren’t valuable enough to demand better.