PROFESSIONAL STATUS AND IMAGE
College of Library
University of Maryland/College
A Simple Case of Respect
The Invisible Librarian
The Meaning of the MLS
Salaries and Promotions
Do the stereotypes reinforce low status or does low status create the
stereotype? That's very hard to say. What is clear is that librarians
have felt that they have not been recognized as professionals by
their clientele or by the world at large. Sensitivity over the image
question may stem from this basic feeling. Inadequate pay in many
settings also contributes to the feeling. What are the reasons for the
lack of high professional status?
One factor affecting public perception of the work of the librarian is
that most people do not know about the specialized training of librarians
and the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep a library running.
Librarians are viewed by the public as "performers of visibly clerical
tasks" such as circulation, reference checking, and shelving. "Reference
work... the seemingly casual solution to a problem and the increased
reliance on computerised searches of the late eighties tend to obscure
from public view the training and application that is needed for a
librarian to perform his or her duties." (Sever, I. In Stelmakh, 1994,
The MLS, now read to mean a masters in library and information science,
is the baseline for entrance into the field. Since it is mandated
for most professional jobs, those without the degree are generally not
able to advance beyond a certain point. Currently, some people are coming
into the technological areas of the field (such as information storage
and retrieval) with other degrees, but having the MLA is the norm.
One big change, however, may affect the status of librarians is a push
for new models of reference service, especially in academic libraries. In
these models, there are variations of a "tiered system" of reference, in
which library workers without an MLS, called "clerks," "library
assistants" or "paraprofessionals," are placed at reference areas where
they answer directional questions (e.g., Where are the biographies?),
Ready Reference questions (What is the largest star in the galaxy?), and
in some models, become technical assistants for database users.
Professional librarians (those with the MLS) are reserved for more complex
research, often housed in a separate office for private reference
interviews. Such models are bound to change the profession, but the
direction is unclear. Will pushing non-MLS staff into reference work
reduce the number positions seeking those with the MLS, endangering the
profession? Conversely, will reserving reference staff for complex
research stimulate the profession and cause it to be more highly regarded?
Image has been studied extensively by those in the profession, including
the American Library Association and the Special Library Association
(which pay thousands of dollars for a Task Force Study in the '80s). One
author writes: "To some extent this interest is justified, as a poor image
can have a detrimental impact on key areas such as client perceptions,
status within society and within organizations, funding, morale,
recruitment to the profession and eventually our pay packets." (Stelmackh,
1994, p. 58)
Librarians have considered themselved poorly paid for decades,
those in the public sector and school systems. Special librarians who
work for corporations generally earn more. Administration pays well,
though the problem has been that the male members of the profession have
more easily advanced to the higher ranks.
Clearly, the most obvious condition that impacts on the profession is
technology. This is considered more in depth on our
Technology page. Technological skill is likely to increase the status
of the field.
Three other trends came up in the readings done for this site:
Faculty status for librarians in academic settings is becoming more
common. This is a controversial issue, and many
articles examining it can be found in the literature. Supporters seek
higher salaries and tenure;
detractors complain that the
two professions just do not mesh. Two university contract policies that
have been put on the Web are listed in our Resource section. This is
another way to work toward better status and an image improvement.
Unionization has been touted by some as the way to ensure stability
and maintenance of benefits and promotion schedules. The Web authors did
not research this issue in depth.
Contracting out our services is part of the future. Many factors
promote this: a trend toward contracting out in other sectors of the
economy, budget cuts in libraries, increasing specialization of
technological experts called in for projects. This trend may be a danger
to the stability of the profession, but seems inevitable. How all these
changes will affect professional status is too soon to tell.
Don't forget to visit our Resources
page for more "status" material.