AUTOCAT never ceases to entertain me…
A thread about cataloging and cataloger training in library school stated after someone offered their opinion about the ALA Task Force on Library Education report. This thread went down the very worn path of the theory v. practice argument until a paraprofessional added a (very) underrepresented perspective in the current cataloging skills and training debate. She has the experience, does professional development, enjoys what she does, and (the most important point) she is training the MLS Librarian in cataloging.
I guarantee you that the paraprofessionals training MLS folk situations happen more than most MLS folk like to admit. I have gone through some cataloging training with a very knowledgeable paraprofessional at my current position. She has been cataloging and doing authority work for years, while I have only cataloged for about a year when I was hired. I’m a better cataloger because I had a knowledgeable teacher who didn’t mind teaching a librarian. 😉
Back to the AUTOCAT post. Here are some of the comments regarding this paraprofessional who took the time to make sure that the paraprofessional side of the story was heard:
“Why are you refusing to earn an MLIS? There are several online programs available, and Emory probably has some kind of tuition reimbursement available for job related courses. We really do teach things that you don’t learn on the job.” – Library School Professor
There is a better way of asking this question, and it does not involve the word “refuse.” Do every paraprofessional want to be a professional librarian? The paraprofessional who helped me didn’t even want to be called a librarian. People have their reasons: financial, professional, or they may be content as to where they are in their careers.
While the above statement raised an eyebrow, the following statements from a particular cataloger raised both at the same time:
“I wonder how many degreed catalogers don’t have a job because non-degreed catalogers are in the positions. Don’t we want degreed catalogers occupying positions because we know they are not just “catalogers” they are librarians.”
“However, all to often institutions, library executives, etc. believe that professional catalogers are not needed because paraprofessionals can be hired or the service can be outsourced. Either way, the graduate specializing in technical services loses out. If professional catalogers don’t take a stand for the future of the profession and the specialization of cataloging who will?”
If you want to alienate the part of your library staff that run the place, repeat the above. The library field has been in the throes of questioning the professionalism of librarianship for a long time. The movement of paraprofessionals taking over duties previously done by librarians in Technical Services added fuel to the professionalism fire. The above cataloger indicates a worldview of us v. them (Librarians v. “catalogers”). If the degreed librarians don’t stand up against paraprofessionals taking their duties, the future for Librarians in TS is dim.
Then again, what makes a librarian a librarian? Is it the day to day duties she performs? If librarians were librarians based on those duties, then it would serve us right to be booted out the door. Paraprofessionals are cheaper for these duties, and I have no problem with that. Do ideas and the drive to innovate make a librarian? Sure, but then again, does this mean that paraprofessionals do not have ideas and a desire for innovation themselves? Heck, where would that leave all the non-library techies who build new discovery platforms?
If administrators are not looking at expensive degreed librarians for positions, then the degreed librarians need to take it upon themselves to prove to the admins that they are valuable. Saying that you can catalog is one thing – anyone can catalog, given a few training sessions. You are not your duties. You are your ideas, your spirit of innovation, your aspirations. Why should they hire you?