[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on April 19, 2007 ]
Recently an acquaintance who has worked for more than a decade at a small academic library as one of two professional librarians, both of whom hold A.L.A.-accredited M.S.L.S. degrees, thought that he had a good chance for promotion. The library at which he works, which serves a two-year branch of a state-supported university, employed, in addition to the two professional librarians, a number of paraprofessional workers as well as part-time student workers. What he saw as an opportunity for promotion came when his superior, the other professional librarian, who was the director of the library, left her position.
Although the hopeful librarian had some reason to believe that he would be chosen to become the director of the library, an outsider was hired. The basis for the hiring decision came down to this: He had experience supervising the non-professional workers, but no experience supervising any professional librarians. The person hired had experience supervising other professionals. The disappointed librarian faced a problem that many of us face. Since supervisory experience over other professionals is so important for advancement, how is a person to advance who has never had such supervisory experience?
What kind of profession is it in which an all-important bifurcation exists between supervisory professionals and non-supervisory professionals? This fetishism over supervisory experience may be understandable in a public library, an institution whose director is usually, in effect, an employee at will of the local Chamber of Commerce. In this case, however, the library is an academic library. What measure of collegiality and professionalism can exist among academic librarians when non-supervisory librarians find themselves almost hopelessly indentured as such? Advancement by going elsewhere is unlikely when supervisory experience over other professionals seems to be a sine qua non for consideration.
What brings this episode to mind is the current emailing from American Libraries Direct, an A.L.A. publication, which touts the Librarian Act of 2007. If enacted, this will finance education in librarianship which is direly needed because of the perennial "shortage" of librarians holding the M.S.L.S. What the reader is not told is the fact that the A.L.A. determines that there is a "shortage" on the basis of the A.L.A.'s own standards stipulating how many professional librarians there should be. Always, the A.L.A. finds, there are not enough professional librarians, usually because most of them will soon be retiring.
Aside from the very real threat of disintermediation, which A.L.A. publications never seem to consider, one must wonder what is the point of producing so many professional librarians, many of whom will find themselves in the non-professional cul-de-sac to which non-supervisory workers are relegated?