To Librarian or not to Librarian, that is the question!

It says in my URL that I’m a librarian, but that’s both true and not true. To most people, anyone who works at a library is by default a librarian, from pages on up to administrators. But there is a very real divide between library staff (paraprofessionals, often those without an MLIS degree), and those officially designated librarians within a system. And then there are those edge-cases, becoming more and more prevalent (of which I am about to become one); the library staff member who DOES have an MLIS degree. They (we?) are considered staff, not librarians, but sometimes their job duties can be indistinguishable from “official” librarians. Even I, as a student, am doing many of the same things, often in concert with, the librarians: research, committee work, grant proposals, etc. All this would be fine I suppose, except there’s a real difference in prestige and pay-scale between librarians and staff, and that’s a problem.

It’s a problem for a lot of reasons, not just my personal feelings of inadequacy, but also for equity and diversity reasons. Often, the people relegated to staff jobs are those who could not afford either the time or the money to get an MLIS/MSI, which means there is a higher preponderance of marginalized people in the ranks of staff than librarians. In a profession that already has a diversity problem, this is not a good look. Then there are those of us who were able to afford the degree, but cannot find the higher-paid but correspondingly rarer librarian job, or simply have skills better suited to traditionally staff jobs (like IT or manager). And sometimes, people are given a position that looks like a librarian job but not given the status to go along with it for various reasons.

All of this is not new. People have been calling this out for longer than I’ve been in library-land (I know I’ve seen Violet Fox tweet about this issue before, but there are others who I just can’t remember specifically because my brain is bad at that). So I’m not saying anything new. But I am adding my voice, because I have seen this in action, and felt the disparity myself. And maybe some of it is my own insecurity, that because I don’t have the title I’m not “allowed” to do this or that piece of work for the libraries. But I know it’s not entirely that, because I talk to coworkers who feel the disparity as well, even those who have started as staff and moved onto librarian and have noticed the difference in pay and respect. Some people might suggest that there have to be levels and hierarchies and things: but do there really? Are you sure those things are actually necessary, and not just comfortable?

So all of this is to say that I feel very conflicted about claiming the title librarian, and my usage of it for myself varies depending on my audience. But I’m claiming it, because I’ve realized that in my heart, I’ll always be a librarian, even if I never work in another library system. This is who I am, and what I was meant to do (and it only took me two decades and two extraneous degrees to do it! But that’s a thought for another post). I am a librarian, even if only in my head yet.

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