Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Librarians, cataloguers and stereotypes

Hello - again! Only a week after delivering my last post to you, I am here again. And, I have to admit, I am feeling passionate. "Eh?" I hear you cry! "Passionate? But you're a librarian, you're neither passionate nor energetic, but rather, retiring and quiet" - apparently.

"Ah", say I, "I think you have me confused with that stereotypical, nay, mythical librarian". For, there is no such thing as a stereotype, as we are all unique, and if you are still living with stereotypes then you are at best deluded, at worst guilty of discriminatory beliefs. 

So what's this all about, you might ask. Well, I'll tell you.

I've just read an article in the THES regarding careers advice to librarians, which is itself a review of a report produced by Sconul - "Leading Libraries". The subtitle (stay with me, I'm a cataloguer!) of this report is enlightening, if not significant: "The view from above", for the aim of this report is to illuminate the path to a senior management position within higher education for librarians, which it is expected is the holy grail for librarians, but in many cases remains elusive.

The 62-page report makes for interesting reading, being almost like a collective 360 degree feedback on how librarians are perceived by those folk already in more senior positions in HE. I've no doubt the aims of the Sconul "Leadership Task and Finish Group" 
"to develop a range of initiatives to enhance the collective leadership capacity across SCONUL and to support individuals and groups of staff in member institutions in their leadership development"
are admirable, and perhaps I'm overreacting (having never had the opportunity to take part in a 360 degree process) but I find some of the comments provided to the Task and Finish Group by "senior members of the executive of a range of [UK] universities" a bit hard to swallow. 

As the THES report suggests:
"Rightly or wrongly, many senior managers seemed to buy into traditional stereotypes about librarians ..."
Too darn right this is "wrongly"! Senior members of UK universities suggest it's up to librarians themselves to disprove this stereotype, but I believe that in a 21st century society which advocates for equality, diversity and tolerance, the onus should be on the stereotype believer to operate more objectively, or at the very least a meeting of minds in the middle would be preferable. Hence my blogpost ...

Let's be clear here that the profession is somewhat female-dominated, at least in the hierarchy below senior management level, and there have traditionally been many barriers to such progression. Hazel Hall, in an article published on 9th May 2017, reports on the Chartered Institute of Libraries and Information Professionals (CILIP) and the Archives & Records Association (ARA) Workforce Mapping Project, reveals that:

* nearly 97% of library and information professionals are white, 
* over 78% are female, 
* men in the profession earn more than women, 
* there are more men in senior management roles,
* and 55% of the people in the profession are over 45 

So, given these figures, it is possible that the white, male, senior manager, aged 45+ might be able to crash through the library bookcases and launch themselves into a career as a senior manager in HE. However, should he be unfortunate enough to fit the perceived stereotype of a library and information professional then his chances of tearing up the covers and pages of the book, and turning them into something else are slim.

There is much in this Sconul report that is laudable, much that is common sense, much that is applicable to a person in any profession wishing to progress their career, and it is organised into helpful sections, supported by quotes from those senior executive members, and it's mostly good stuff. However, there are some things that are almost offensive.

In relation to ambition, here's one quote:
"Be able to show passion and energy rather than the stereotype retiring and quiet profile"
This raises a couple of eyebrows: one that says there is a place for the quiet and retiring profile in any organisation and at any level, for they are the ones whose words are most insightful because they [those words] are rare and well-considered; the other that says all librarians are retiring and quiet, which, in my experience is most certainly not true. 

So the stereotypical librarian is quiet and retiring, but as one quote from the section entitled: "The librarian within the institution", and suggesting that significant opportunities for reinvention were around, says, the lot of the cataloguer is that they are not only quiet and retiring, but also never "go with it" and never capitalise on opportunities. Which in my world of cataloguing is utter nonsense! I, as a cataloguer, am always looking for opportunities for myself, for my team, for the library and for our students. I simply don't understand the comment.

And in the same section, we [cataloguers] are encouraged to put ourselves out there and raise ourselves 'above the parapet' - like we hide behind the library shelves, or something! Coming up with creative and innovative solutions also requires the same parapet activity. Oh c'mon! Librarians, including cataloguers, are renowned for their creative and innovative solutions and interpretations - there are hundreds of examples of this out there on the internet, available for all to share including Clare Sewell on Research Data Management for postgrad students and other researchers, Kaye Towlson & Julia Reeve over at Writing Pad East Midlands aimed at engaging students and researchers with their assignments, and creative training methods for new cataloguers over at HVCats - ok, I'll give you that, that last one's a bit cataloguing-specific, but if such creativity works in this situation, it's likely to work in other areas of HE.  

Following these excellent examples, let's end on a really positive note: 
" ... some library-related skills and strengths ... [are] ... useful ... Analytical approaches are valuable ... " 
Fantastic!! A skill I particularly associate with cataloguers and others involved in operational processes. 

Having commented upon some of those things that I found difficult, I concede I am at least grateful that someone in a senior management position in HE knew that cataloguers actually existed!

Reisz, M. (2017) Career advice: librarians 'must defy stereotypes' to climb ladder. [Online] London: Times Higher Education. Available from: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/career-advice-librarians-must-defy-stereotypes-climb-ladder#survey-answer [Accessed: 6 November 2017]

Baker, D. & Allden, A. (2017) Leading Libraries: the view from above. [Online] London: SCONUL. Available from: https://www.sconul.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/LL%20View%20from%20above.pdf [Accessed: 6 November 2017]

Hall, Hazel (2017) Diversity and Equality in libraries: as services, as workplaces. [Online] Available from: https://hazelhall.org/2017/05/09/diversity-and-equality-in-libraries-as-services-as-workplaces/ [Accessed: 6 November 2017]