PROFESSIONAL STATUS AND IMAGE


College of Library & Information Science
University of Maryland/College Park

  • A Simple Case of Respect
  • The Invisible Librarian
  • The Meaning of the MLS
  • Salaries and Promotions
  • Future Trends

  • All We're Asking: Respect

    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?

    The Invisible Librarian

    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, p. 24)

    The Meaning of the MLS

    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?

    Salaries and Promotions

    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, especially 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.

    Other Trends for the Future

    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.



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