Advocate? Activate? Who feels they can decide what I should do to be a professional?

On Twitter over the last few days I’ve seen debates over whether people should be actively promoting the library profession. And I have tried to stay out of it, because apparently, unless I’m willing to sing and dance and say how much I just loooooove libraries and the library profession, I’m not allowed to define myself as a librarian, and that pissed me off, which would lead to a more incoherent than normal blog post.

But the whole thing is ridiculous. I’m a librarian, but I don’t love “libraries” as a concept. And I’m not an activist, I don’t “do” promoting activities for any service other than my own. Yet I remain a librarian, regardless of whether I think libraries are the best thing since sliced bread or not. I did the qualification at University, and I continue to prove my professionalism through my work and the Chartership and Revalidation process: nowhere did I sign a form saying “to be a librarian, you have to do everything someone else thinks you should do”.

I’ve also stayed out of it because I was busy using my free time to live my own life. Why should I be expected, because of the larger profession that I am part of,  to promote to others a service I don’t use, and never have used, (public libraries – it’s never about anything other than public libraries) in order to be able to be accepted as a “proper” librarian? Why can I not just have a job, do it well, make sure my users are happy with what I do for them, and go home at the end of the day, to continue with my own life, without being accused of being lazy? I am involved in plenty of professional activities to aid my peers that I don’t shout about – but because I’m not saying “I love libraries” in general, I’m useless? Making sure my service is the best it can be, and I’m doing the best that I can for both my users and my peers should be enough – that is how I advocate. Not by doing what others declare I should be doing.

I don’t see what entitles anyone to judge my actions and make sweeping statements, with no knowledge of my circumstances, or what I feel able to do in my own free time.

Author: Jennie

Law, libraries, books, crafts, and general geekery.

6 thoughts on “Advocate? Activate? Who feels they can decide what I should do to be a professional?”

  1. Jennie, I absolutely agree with you and this is from someone who spends a lot of time advocating how good a certain organisation is and that more people should get involved with it. However when it comes to Libraries…I don't know, when I think about them I just don't feel passionate enough to start a group or join a march (all of which are great things to do) but like you say we're still Librarians. I have an undergraduate degree in Librarianship in fact and am Chartered, you cant get more Librarianry then that! Also I have my own life to lead and working in a Library/knowledge setting all day the last thing I want to do is advocate the use of Libraries…my friends will think I'm mad.


  2. I think they key to what you've said here is this:

    'have a job, do it well, make sure my users are happy with what I do for them'

    By making those users happy you're advocating for the profession in the best way you can – you're not just telling them about the benefits of a library & trained librarian, you're giving them the benefits, every day.

    I think we need, as a profession, to make sure we're supporting the whole profession – and that includes not getting bogged down in these discussions about who's doing enough advocacy, whether it's the right type of advocacy etc.

    What we should be tackling are the people who aren't making the effort to be professional in their work – who coast along and treat users like a nuisance. We know they're not as common as stereotypes would suggest – but they do exist, and they damage the profession.

    We know advocacy is important. But we integrate it into our working lives however suits us best. That's what you're doing – and no-one should tell you that's not enough.


  3. I think you are all getting activism and advocacy merged here. No one is saying you should set up groups and go on marches in your free time. That is activism. Advocacy is, as Beth says, when you promote what you do and make sure you are meeting the needs of your users and that they are aware of the services you provide. If you do not do that you risk being seen as irrelevant and are a target for cuts etc. I did try to explain in my blog post that I do advocacy at work but activism in my free time. Activism is not for everyone and no one is saying anyone is less of a professional if they do not do it. Everyone who is cross about the suggestion all librarians should advocate have all listed things they do at work that in my view are advocacy. Not one person has said they do no advocacy at all and I can't imagine a job where it isn't involved.
    I think that is the point that is being made.


  4. I tend to stay out of these things when I don't think I have anything to add, but I do want to add my support for doing your job in a professional manner like you say. I don't think anyone would publicly argue otherwise, but I do think it's really important to ensure we're doing so at all times, particularly in a profession that is 'at risk'.

    I totally agree with Bethan's comment: “What we should be tackling are the people who aren't making the effort to be professional in their work – who coast along and treat users like a nuisance. We know they're not as common as stereotypes would suggest – but they do exist, and they damage the profession.” I have (sadly) encountered a number of these in the profession, and it's probably one of the reasons I tend not to be a library user myself. It's also probably one of the reasons that most of my professional activities outside my work are within our professional bodies and through those activities I support continuing professional development both for myself and other members of the profession.

    I don't want to get into an argument about semantics of advocacy and activism, or how much time should be spent supporting the profession and how that time should be spent, as I think it's totally dependent on each individual's circumstances.

    I'm really glad you've written this post so thoughtfully and I am very proud to be working in a profession with people like yourself.


  5. I'm like Jo – always a bit wary of dipping in! – but I agree with many points in this post. I am just like you I think – I try to do my job well (and I must be doing something right judging by the emails I get from users thanking me for my work) and I strongly believe advocacy is at the heart of my role. But I prefer to do other things in my free time. (Happily making an exception for Library Camp!) Also, I am not chartered and feel in no rush to do this – I seem to do my job perfectly well with an accredited MSc and a PG Cert in HE teaching, and I like my free time too much to do yet more CPD right now. All that said I am glad there are folk out there who do so much to raise the profile of libraries in their spare time too – so well done to them!


  6. Jennie, I agree with everything you've said. And (because in case it's not obvious to other readers I'm the one who's caused the annoyance) I haven't said anything to contradict it.


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