As a recent graduate of a MLIS program, and based on discussions with classmates/recent graduates from across Canada, I am a little distressed by the sense of confusion recent graduates have regarding what it means to be a librarian. There seems to be a lack of clarity regarding a unified vision or mission of librarianship.
Over the past few decades university based library programs (for librarians) and community colleges (for library assistants) focus most of their attention on creating professional skill sets and identities. While there is debate surrounding the concept of librarians as professionals, others are moving the discussion beyond professionalization. Instead of the focus being solely on librarians, it is expanded to the communities librarians are meant to serve.
As discussed by John Vincent from the Network in the UK “unless one puts some values at the core of librarianship (such as fighting for social justice), then it’s just an empty box of gadgets – which is why, I think, people get so het up about challenges to their “usual” role – if you aren’t clear what your role is, so you construct one based on professional identity”.
As more and more public library systems across Canada are recognizing and beginning to shift program and service development from internal processes to needs based library service and community led library service planning (e.g. Edmonton and Halifax) – library schools need to begin viewing these developments as fundamental shifts in the way that library systems are working with community.
For library schools, this shift should not be viewed as an add on, or an additional course – instead it should be viewed as a mainstream approach: impacting the way public libraries and their staff across job classifications do their work. There is a huge potential for library schools to prepare future librarians and library assistants to do this work. This gap needs to be filled. It will either be filled by library schools or by library systems hiring staff. Discussion in universities or community colleges on this approach will ensure that library staff can work with community to determine the role library staff can play when meeting community identified needs.
Ample literature has been developed, and one of the key outcomes from the Working Together project was the development of a university course – with content – which can be adapted by each library school to prepare students for the new realities of library work. In addition, there are a number of publications – either publically accessible or soon to be published – which should become part of the core curriculum. Some quick examples can be found here.