Saturday, April 08, 2006

The ALA and the idiocy of Library Corps

The American Library Association is one of the largest professional organizations for librarians. They have pushed for the interests of libraries and librarians. The ALA has done some pinheaded things from time to time, but that is usually when they wander away into the larger political world.

With Library Corps, they have really screwed their newest members. The whole proposal is kind of strange since the ALA boosted the number of library students and ALA members by harping on the looming librarian shortage, which seems to loom further and further in the future.

A smarter idea than keeping retirees around in libraries with need would be using some of the graduates or soon to be graduates as interns. The students gain experience, the libraries get work done and may hire the students full time or part time. Between Library Corps and libraries using library assistants without masters degrees library schools seem like a waste of time. There is still positions in corporate, legal and medical librariesbut public libraries are getting the elderly or the untrained.


Ms Mary said...

The shortage of public librarians is real and it is now. There may be plenty of new public librarians someplace- maybe in the northeast with its relative preponderance of library schools- but we seem to be unable to locate many who are willing to work in a region of the country that is known for such charming things as comparatively low salaries (of course it is cheaper to live here,)conservative politics, bad schools, remnants of reconstruciton, bigotry, and of course, 100 degree summers and fire ants. Did I mention high rates of crime, illiteracy, poverty, and humidity?
Here's a representative job posting that just came across my desk:
"The Anyrural County Library is seeking applicants for assistant director. This position manages adult and young adult services, overseeing 2 FT and 7PT staff. Additionally he/she provides reference assistance and reader's guidance for library users. This person assists in the formulation and implementation of library policies, and the planning and organization of library services. He/she also reviews, selects, classifies and weeds library materials.
Master's degree in library or information science or equivalent; two years acting in supervisory management capacity are required. Starting salary range is $25,500 to 29,500 depending on qualifications." Surely that's worth the move from Pennsylvania!
When we manage to recruit, they put in 1 or 2 years and flee back to Wisconsin or Washington, or New York, no doubt with a plethora of stories.
Where would pre-degreed interns get the experience and professional know-how to offer advice to a library in need of a consultant? I know for sure that when I need a consultant, I will get someone with a proven track record in their profession and the cv to prove it.
What the pre-grads need to do is spend some time interning in a challenging situation, honing their skills and learning to think on their feet. Why,some of them might even catch the "public service" bug and develop the missionary zeal you need to deliver Library Services to the underserved.
We need the Library Corps, we need interns with an open mind,and we need new public librarians who can appreciate that Faulkner was really just taking notes.

DeltaSunflower said...

How about a cadre of community leaders who could look back to their years of service in the public libraries of the Delta, Rio Grande Valley, Indian Reservations, etc. and speak to the need for public libraries, professional librarians, funding, support, etc.

Public libraries are dying in many communities because nobody knows what they are supposed to do beyond romance novels and summer reading club. Many of these libraries haven't had a staff person with a BA degree in over a decade. We never get applications from unemployed recent MLS grads. But Teach for America is alive and well here. Teach for America participants spend 2 years teaching in our public schools, but more than that they get involved with the community. Even after they have left and gone to Ivy League/Big Ten grad schools for medicine, law, etc. they remember this community with donations to the schools, libraries, and community organizations. A few have even gone away to get a MA in English and then returned to teach, buy houses, marry, and raise a family. Libraries can do this too.

Jonathan said...

The shortage is real and I realize it is larger in rural communities and in places that seem a little less glamorous. However Library Corps appears to be just a stop gap measure that isn't about actually fixing the problem in the longterm.

Low pay and being unappreciated is indemic to the profession. There are a few places where the pay is good and the librarian isn't expected to be a social services counselor but those are in well to do suburban communities. The suburbs don't feel the shortage as that is the best place to work.

We actually do have a shortage of public librarians in Philadelphia despite the large number of library schools. Probably due in large part to the budget cuts, climbing murder rate, and the fact that Philly is just one big blue dot in a fire engine red state. In the center counties past Paoli they need a lot of librarians. Towns where rebel flags outnumber ol' glory havea hard time recruiting especially in the northeast.

The undergrads should intern to gain more skills but that should be part of Library Corps in my opinion. Give the pre-grads or those just out a chance to give back a little bit and gain experience. I don't view it as an either or situation. The retirees who wish to assist should have a place in Library Corps. Obviously, the post grads are not going to be qualified for much but they will never get qualified while people wait around for retirees to get the urge to go back to a low paying job in a bad neighborhood.

Teach for America has a huge advantage that Library Corps does not have. If Library Corps provided a means to certification or reduced tuition payments then it might work to get people in the door. It isn't like people will volunteer to teach at risk kids in a depressed neighborhood but the same people would turn up their noses at working at the school library. Teach for America works because it has carrots to go along with the sticks. When the teachers are exposed to the children in need some will respond by continuing their education and coming back.

Library Corps as proposed would miss out on this opportunity in the hopes that those who retired from working in these depressed areas of the rural and urban landscape will come back. Those that will come back without proding are most likely already back or haven't left. Why not get a few post grads excited about the public sector and contributing for the rest of their lives to close the gap?