Finding out what you want and what makes a librarian

This is a report from the LAS Membership committee on a survey held in Feb 2012 and the summation of points rasied during the discussion held in Apr 2012 (When Librarians Meet on Friday the 13th).

Survey of SLS participants

During Feb 2012 this year, a survey was sent out to active participants of the Special Libraries Section of LAS –  a total of 27 responses were received (amongst which 5 were from non-LAS members).  The key reason that the participants cited for joining LAS was  “to take advantage of networking with colleagues in Singapore and beyond.”

Other suggestions received were for more continuing education opportunities, conferences, workshops, sponsorship for education, programs (social and professional).  There was a suggestion for the association to be more inclusive (accept members whom are interested in libraries and not just associated with one).  There was also a request for LAS to become a voice for the profession to defend industry values and beliefs in situation where it is obvious administrators make policies that endangers such values and beliefs.  There was a call for the importance of stewardship and mentorship, such that it would help new and young librarians develop professionalism.

What makes a librarian? A SWOT analysis

This event was held on a Friday the 13th (Apr 2012) at the NLB Pod.  It was reasonbaly well attended with Librarians coming from different institutions gathering together to brainstorm about what it means to be a librarian and to put the context of being a librarian to the current changes that has happened around us.  Are still relevant?  Are there things we need to watch out for?  What values should we retain?  So a SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threat) analysis was done.  There hasn’t been a final analysis completed but the key points and ideas for the SWOT discussed during the session are captured below:

Strengths – Adaptable, Ambiguous enough to be easily adaptable, Second life of learning – lifelong learning, Customer orientation, Information organisation, Librarianship has a philosophy, Linking people with information, Framework, Librarians are (mostly) nice people, Multi-skill multi-disciplinary, Diplomacy ambassadors, Conductors & choreographers & counsellors & psychologists, Social skills, Contribute to the improvement of humanity, Stability, Reilient, Passionate, Honourable, Ethical, Team player – importance of other roles, Oldest record from the age of writing, Strong – resist pressure to restrict censorship – need to control (free flow of information), Utilize tools (including technology) – to serve our users, Equal opportunities to access information – e.g. freedom of information, Ordered – order out of chaos, systmatic, creative, Evalutative – in terms of content –> user centric, Custodians of knowledge + information + culture, Have perspectives – long views (users now & future users).

Weaknesses – Stereotyping slow pace, Perceptions, Image branding (shhh….), Diluting of core capabilities – do publicity and other work, Unattractive salary, Genealists with no depth of knowledge, Specialists that are too narrow-minded, Simple job – not challenging, You read books all day, Lack of icons/role models, Recognition, Unexciting “stamping” books, Too much humility (behind the scene), Shift/weekend work, Not receptive audience (users), Weak relationship skills, Not perceived as a profession in Singapore, Limited market & oppportunities in Singapore, Lack of benefits e.g. access LAS member libraries, Insufficient outreach, Lack of dedication/commitment to profession, Membership fee, No sense of profession – ‘just a job’, Not so IT savvy compared to young people, Develop greater awareness of what’s happening beyond our profession, Introvert, Perfectionist (detailed description of items), Can’t generate $$$ (information is ‘free’), More of a ‘cost centre’ rather than revenue generating, Perceived as ‘old and outdated’, Users do not see us as relevant, Skill not easily recognized unlike other profession, What we do are not ‘life and death’ matters, Too humble, No marketing skills, Low social –> low income –> not atractive to talents, Not good at tackling threats, Technology available to all (strengths to others, weakness for librarians), Can’t fight Google.

Opportunities – Organising info –> increased critical need, Simplify things in a world of information overload, Info overload –> need for curation, Organise – Simplify – Retrieve, Facilitation of learning in interactive ways, More interest in learning e.g. TED talks, On-the-go apps for users, Service provision, New formats in presenting info, music videos (entertaining, catchy, youtube), Digital knowledge –> different ways of learning more access to info, Using digital platforms to improve services, New channels in reaching out to users, Personalize (one-to-one relationship), Social networking –> make connections –> forums, Social media, E-resources (e-Books, databases), Technology, Print to electronic to ???, Nation building, Information curator, Information re-packaging, Information surveyor — > explosion, Collaboration, Bridge, Outreach –> youth; seniors; schools etc., Networking, Learning, Workshops, Literacy.

Threats – Perception of librarians –> not a professional career; anyone can do; devalues the work we do; shrinking, Relevance of library, Low regards for the profession, Lack of understanding of what a librarian does, Not being recognized as a professional job, Lazy impatient users used by bad education foundation, Rising costs of academic quality information may drive away potential users leading to the rise of ‘non-quality’ information, Online knowledge bases or automated self-help databases/systems has reduced need for librarians “deep” expertise, Increasing costs of electronic resources, Library will behave more like IT centre, “Mental block” on status quo e.g. not leveraging on technology; withdrawal in the face of disruptive technology, Lack of involvement in political decision making, Ignorance of roles by outsiders –> displacement of importance, User behavior, Good enough info (not authoritative), Users want things fast, Informal channels e.g. getting from professional networking, Pay per view, Digital natives, Social media e.g. facebook, People are getting/sharing info through social media, Google, Direct delivery of content to users by vendors, Shrinking physical library, Increasing cost of content, Operating cost, Perception that librarians are relatively unimportant compared to other areas like economic issues or core functions of the organisation that a library resides (e.g. a library within a stat board).

Brave souls (librarians ) are invited to help analyse the diverse viewpoints above, please feel free to contact the Project “Then What?” team which consists of Ai Ling (Chair) and helped by Joan Wee, Goh Beng Hwee, Phoebe Lim and Steven Chow to provide your inputs if any.

Reported using extracts from Membership Committee reports to LAS Council.

Editorial comments: “I think some of the threats should be viewed as opportunity areas e.g. Lack of recognition should really be an opportunity for us to work towards better recognition for our profession.  What is more threatening, in my opinion, is the level of apathy within our own members – do they care enough to try and change this problem area or do they simply want to wallow in self-pity and cry that the sky is falling?  In short, do we want to be part of the solution or be part of the problem? – Yit