While I was taking a stroll around the park this lunchtime, and as usual checking up on my twitter feed a post caught my eye. It was an interchange about the experts database that my institution provides and the question asked was “Why are no librarians on this?”. I can’t say I was surprised. While I’ve not tried here, at previous places of employ I have asked to be included on such a resource. My enquiries have been met with a mixture of outright negativity in some cases, and in others bafflement. “What”, the database maintainers asked, “Would a librarian have to offer? These databases are for corporations and the media to track down people of interest!”
It’s dismissive, disinterested and disingenuous attitudes like this that result in a feeling for many librarians that they are simply an add on to an institution. They’re just as, if not more so in some cases, qualified and experienced as the people they work alongside. Their work ethic is often second to none, given the increasingly need to show a return on investment placed on them. In most cases they serve on course and project committees across the institutions and are the life blood of the channels of cross departmental communications. Quite frankly without them the institutions would find their operations arguably significantly compromised. But is the sweat of their brow returned with a belief that librarians are at the heart of the research and education support agenda?
No. So it is perhaps no surprise that this interplay on twitter reminded me of some thoughts I’d been having about loyalty – loyalty that is to one’s employer or organisation. You chat to many (though not all) academics and what you hear is a fervent belief in the institutions or units that they work within. They might not see eye-to-eye with every policy decision enacted by the organisation governance, and some policies might rankle but on the whole they speak with great affection and loyalty about their institutional homes. For librarians in my experience this is not the same experience.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many aspects about the organisations I have worked with over the years that I have enjoyed and even respected on occasion. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some wonderful students and staff. But do I feel any loyalty to anywhere I’ve been employed? No. Not in the slightest. What I do is a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. It might sound a little mercenary, but I guess that’s the only way to respond to the environment within which I work. It’s work for hire, nothing more. Pay me and I’ll sell your brand and beliefs far and wide, just don’t expect me to be espousing them when I’m off the clock; I’ve better things to do with my time.
Is loyalty important, since librarians are doing their jobs ok? Yes it is. Loyal staff are more likely to work harder, stay in post longer and go that extra mile that they might otherwise feel disinclined to. Everybody – institution and individuals – benefit from this.
Could institutions do better and are there institutions out there who do clasp librarians and other academic support staff more closely to their bosoms? I’m sure of it, though I’ve yet to find myself in that happy circumstance. Perhaps what is lacking is a culture not so much of belief in what librarians do by the other staff, but of understanding and appreciation. Librarianship is at times an occupation that deals with some terribly monotonous work; but we do it and do it well so that others can be enabled and even enhanced in their own (arguably) more crucial work.
Maybe, just maybe, what might engender a little more loyalty in your library staff is if these academics once in a while just said “Thanks” to their librarians, because I know when someone says that to me – it just makes my day.