i dream of being possible

i'm bored of the perpetual budget crisis

Not too long ago, I mentioned that libraries ought to be working harder to actually train new graduates and/or inexperienced librarians to make up for the deficits of the MLIS. Or, to actually frame this differently: instead of only pointing fingers at library schools and believing that library schools are the only institutions that need to change if we are going to see substantive and meaningful change in the field, libraries actually shoulder some of the responsibility.

This was in response to a Hiring Librarian’s survey response wherein the respondent writes:

I, personally, will not hire someone who has never worked (or volunteered) in a library within 5 years.

But then also asserts:

The educational system is partially responsible because there is no way to update the system to correlate with the real-world and I understand that. It’s not that universities aren’t trying, but it is hard to keep up with anything.

Which, of course is a handy way of dodging all responsibility for how this person actually contributes to the problem they are identifying: this perceived break between theory and praxis within librianship and how we get our credentials.

All this amounts to is the constant shifting of goal posts that has the net result of keeping a largely homogenous field, homogenous. Because this person can identify that only 25% (in their opinion) of what is learned in lib school is actually relevant to being a professional and so creates another barrier of entry (ie., having a library job before you graduate in a field where there aren’t enough positions for already graduated professionals1). Yet, I imagine this same person would likely never consider hiring a librarian without an MLIS (despite the stated knowledge that the MLIS doesn’t contribute all that much to the practical side of things).

My suggestion: that libraries actually post entry level positions that new graduates have a chance of fulfilling and – wait for the radical suggestion – actually spend time training that person to gain the practical knowledge and experience they need.

As soon as I made the suggestion, I had a few people mention that one reason they can’t do this is because there isn’t the money for it. Or that ‘entry level’ positions must have a veritable laundry list of qualifications – hopefully to entice that magical, rarely seen unicorn librarian – because training won’t happen, HR barriers, this might be one of the few chances for the forseeable future that the institution will be able to hire a full time person and they need to get the most bang for their buck…

Excuse after excuse. The thing is… this notion of the perpetual budgetary crisis is, well, an artifice of capitalism. There actually is enough money for libraries. Of course, understanding this requires taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. It also means that advocating for libraries requires looking beyond our own walls and working to address the external problems and pressures that create the artificial budget crisis.

One only needs to take a peek at a typical Toronto budget to note that the Toronto Public Library (TPL) had 1.9% of the overall budget in 2012. The Toronto Police Department (TPD)? 10.8%. You can also note that the TPD’s budget regularly increases year-by-year while the TPL’s decreases. Which is super weird given that violent crime in TO has been steadily declining while library usage has been increasing.

The money is there. But we have a culture that clearly prioritizes having a largely superfluous police force where almost half of the employees made over $100,000 in 2012.

Now, I imagine a bunch of people are now thinking “Okay, but how does this help us in the present?” “Does she seriously think that librarians will successfully advocate to reallocate a portion of the police budget for libraries?”.

This is beside the point, really.

The point being: allowing our imaginations and visions for the future to be constrained by a capitalist fiction just means more of the status quo. More importantly, it pretty much means that we ought to stop working for reform of any kind, since they simply won’t be effective. And that continually passing the responsibility of change to other people/institutions (drat those lib schools! always so theoretical!) without even trying to implement changes within our own institutions that might actually help address the problem is just accepting the status quo.

And, I mean, if you are fine with the status quo (and this is definitely true of a lot of the people with stable, comfortable employment who obtained their positions within the current system) maybe it is time to just get real: you got yours and now you don’t care.

The frustrating thing about the responses to my suggestions about organizations actually investing time and resources for training their new employees, is that there is literally no reason not to do this. I understand that many businesses are no longer willing to do this because the culture of staying in a job long-term or for life is essentially dead, but this isn’t true of librarians – who really do tend to stick in their positions for long periods of time.

With this culture, organizations are foolish not to realize the tangible benefits to hiring a fresh grad with little experience and training them to be perfectly tailored for their role and for the organization. Add in incentives for professional development and the ability to easily move around within the organization, and you’ve basically guaranteed an employee for life who will only continue to add value to your organization with every passing year (esp. in the form of institutional memory).

Or. Whatever. It doesn’t even have to be this. But many of us understand that something needs to change. So. Let’s start doing things. Maybe they’ll work. Maybe they won’t. But what we have right now is shitty and we can do better.

Or. We can keep as is. Allow ourselves to be mired in and distracted by a manufactured crisis. Keep trying to shove ourselves through the needle’s eyes and, for those already on the other side, maintain that this is the only path forward. It is certainly easier.

  1. This is suddenly making me wonder how much of the reliance on student labour within libraries has actually contributed to the disappearance of entry level positions….