Wilder’s New Library Professionals

Stanley Wilder, he who got us all riled about information literacy last year, has another article in the Chronicle, this one exploring the changing demographic trends in hiring in ARL libraries. Channeling Jim Neal’s notion of “feral professionals,” Wilder analyzes the 2005 ARL demographic data and finds that 23% of professionals at research libraries are in nontraditional positions such as “systems, human resources, fund raising, publishing, instructional technology, and facilities management,” and that these professionals are more likely to be under 35 years old.

Wilder and Neal deserve praise for pointing out these broad trends, but what do they really mean and how should we interpret their significance? For example, when you include “systems” as a nontraditional position, is 23% really such a dramatic number? Is it really surprising that the new professionals are younger than their more established their colleagues?

Both Wilder and Neal bring up the quesiton of values. Is it true that those in nontraditional positions have different values than traditional librarians? What values do they have? Corporate values? And do all corporate values necessarily clash with academic values? When should academic values trump corporate values or vice versa? Does the hiring of the new professionals correspond to the increasing commercialization of research universities and are the same hiring trends evident at college libraries or non-ARL institutions?

In the end I think I tend to agree with Wilder that overall this is an exciting trend to be celebrated, if we can get all our diverse selves to work together to fulfill our mission of increasing access to scholarly information for all of our users.

2 thoughts on “Wilder’s New Library Professionals

  1. I found that article a bit of a puzzle. Yes, there are new positions in libraries and yes, the traditional functions of being managers of library operations is not generally part of their portfolio. But why should it be? Do we really need to have MLS librarians in charge of the day to day operations of inventory management, fulfillment, and customer support (stacks maintenance, circulation, interlibrary loan, public service points)?

    It has always frustrated me that leadership in libraries tends to be defined by how many people you supervise. In our library, extremely capable library paraprofessionals manage those “traditional” library functions, and they don’t need supervision. They’re fully capable of making decisions and bringing issues to the fore if needed. Meanwhile, the librarians are teaching in the classroom and one-on-one at the reference desk, developing applications for new technology, working with faculty on curriculum and their scholarship, developing the collection, assessing student learning… etc., etc. We’re doing these things in service of our timeless values, not at their expense.

    Traditional library management models, which reflect an early 20th century industrial production model of the workplace, don’t define traditional library values at all. In fact, the old way of running libraries, with more emphasis on supervision than on creativity, innovation, and collaboration, has always seemed to me to be in serious conflict with traditional library values of intellectual freedom, diversity, social responsibility, and democracy.

    I’m not sure that I’m reacting to Wilder’s article at all – but rather to what seems to me to underly a lot of the current “generation gap” conversation – that young professionals are not tolerant of old-style hierarchies. Good for them!

    I’m over 50 and those old-style chains of command make me cranky, too.

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