Monday, February 28, 2011

Hey Doc, Can I help you ?

Working with one of our computer techs today, we were approached by a student who asked advice about her personal computer. I thought nothing of it until the tech related to me that he is often approached at parties and by virtual strangers with tech questions. He compared the approaches to those endured by doctors, lawyers, mechanics and other professionals with advanced knowledge in specific areas desired by less knowledgeable acquaintances.

Are librarians approached in this same manner? Not at the reference desk of the public library or by students or teachers against a tight deadline, but by friends, neighbors and acquaintances on the street or at the gym?

I realized as he made his comment, without malice or realization of what I was hearing, that this is the problem we are facing today as librarians fighting for our jobs and the right to continue serving the public. Trying to get legislatures and executives at local, state and national levels to see us as professionals is almost futile without the support of our friends and neighbors and strangers on the street.

Is it too late? I pray not but but wonder, how can we shift the paradigm? What can we do to elevate the perception regarding our ability to improve people's lives? Our ability to discover and organize information is irrelevant if others do not covet that ability and see us as the avenue to enlightenment.

We see ourselves as professionals and believe the lessons and the tools we can share with our students or patrons are both beneficial and can improve quality of life. Unless we can convey this opinion to others in a way that motivates them to aggressively seek and promote our services, the end may be nigh.

I have spent much of this year building my skills as a librarian through actions and through reading. I have not focused my attention on self-promotion or promotion of our field but it is becoming increasingly obvious that our only ray of hope is in tooting our own horns and trying to be heard.

Merely logging usage statistics is a path to eventual extinction. We must promote our services and ourselves to a far larger group than that which may be interested in usage statistics. It is not this narrow group who will decide the fate of the last librarian, but the users themselves who rise in our support.