Wednesday, February 01, 2006

More about librarian development - seriously

Unlike faculty or deans, but rather like lawyers in a well-run larger firm, librarians have a ladder of development. The title "librarian" implies at least a Master's degree in library science. Very often in law libraries, there will also be a J.D. as well. Some of us are admitted to practice in one or more states and sometimes had practice experience before becoming librarians.

Librarians are usually hired at an entry-level position, and learn on the job. They grow, usually have the opportunity to go to continuing education, be active in professional organizations, and learn within their hiring organization.

Most libraries still have two large divisions, Public Services and Technical Services. Public Services tends to be the face of the library that most people are familiar with:


(sometimes there are other functions in Public Services as well, but these 3 are ALWAYS public, as far as I know).

Technical Services is the part of the library that orders books and other materials, keeps track of them, stamps and labels them, keeps the budget and catalogs everything. These are key to making things work well, but are usually invisible to library users.

Librarians need to know and understand about both sides of the library, even if they only plan to work on one side or the other. They need to understand how the whole system interacts, and how decisions and actions in one department will affect everything else. They need to learn lots of different ways to answer every question, because their favorite book or database may not be there. There are lots of things to learn, and to keep on learning, because everything is changing, rapidly, all the time in libraries. It is a very challenging profession that way.

So, ideally, a new librarian comes on, with good training, as Jim describes, and some good experience, in how libraries work. They begin working and get more experience in how a different library works, and more learning on the job about ways to do more different library jobs, more different ways to do their library job. They grow in the position they have been hired to do.

The new librarians go to continuing education through American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) annual meeting or regional meetings or other library organizations. They join committees and and special interest sections, both of which also teach them more, and help them network with other librarians with similar interests. Soon, they possibly even are elected to positions of leadership in these organizations. They may also be doing similar work within committees at their law school or university. More learning, more networking. Librarians tend to learn a lot about cooperation and collaboration. It is that sort of profession.

The new librarian may be promoted to a new position within the same library. They may simply take on new responsibilities with the same job title -- I hope they get more salary! Or they may be ready to move to a new library and take on a new position. Librarians move up a job ladder, learning new skills, taking on steadily increasing responsibility. It is a fairly orderly process reflected by job titles, job descriptions. You can see it in the resume, and talk about it with the applicant.

Along the way, one hopes that the new librarian also gets a chance to teach and write. The first chances to write may be in newsletters or now, in blogs. These are low-risk, low-investment writing adventures. The author does not need to invest huge amounts of time. There are no expectations of footnotes and heavy research duties. Most librarians do not have any release time for research or writing, ironically enough. Universities that have tenure for university librarians tend to have release time for librarians to write. But most other places do not really have anything in place that formally creates release time for librarians. Understanding this may help faculty members value the writing done by librarians better.

Librarians were originally the most scholarly of scholars. Some of us are still valued as scholars. Many of us are practical sorts who focus on keeping the library running smoothly so that the faculty, students and deans can do their scholarship and administration in peace. A balance of both is my ideal.

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